My Brilliant Friend’s Neapolitan Dialect.

My wife and I loved Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels (as I wrote a couple of years ago), and we’re very much looking forward to the TV series, which has gotten great reviews; I of course am especially pleased that it’s done in Italian, and a reader sent me a link to Justin Davidson’s fascinating discussion of the details at Vulture:

Italy is a 19th-century invention unified by an official language that, until the 20th century, most Italians didn’t speak. Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, the first of the four volumes of her Neopolitan Novels, takes place on the outskirts of Naples, in a neighborhood isolated by dialect as well as by poverty. Ferrante avoids transcribing the speech patterns of the street, writing out everything in proper Italian and inserting a clause to specify whether the speaker is using Neapolitan dialect or not. This saves the reader from having to struggle through laboriously rendered, potentially offensive slang à la Huckleberry Finn, and it also makes it impossible to forget how far the narrator, Elena Greco, has traveled, from her days as a postwar urchin to the heights of literary respectability.

In the HBO adaptation of My Brilliant Friend, director Saverio Costanzo addresses the problem in a completely different fashion: by casting local kids, filming in Neapolitan, and providing Italian subtitles that viewers can fool themselves into thinking they could really do without. Elena’s trajectory is the story of a woman changing her speech, and with it the trammels of class, family, brutality, and loyalty. Costanzo sets the parameters in the opening scene, set in the present, when an iPhone buzzes on Elena’s bedside table. Sleepy and startled, she answers in educated Italian, with a hyper-proper “Pronto?” At the other end of the line is a young voice from her old life; the son of her childhood friend informs her in thick Neapolitan that Lila has disappeared: “Mammà ‘nzè tròve cchiù.” She understands, but her peers wouldn’t, not without subtitles.

There is a difference between Italian spoken with a Naples accent — a cadence rich in diphthongs, gaping vowels, and mushy sh sounds — and actual Neapolitan, which is impenetrable to an outsider from, say, even a few dozen miles away. Every Italian knows a few, mockable phrases: guagliò for “dude,” vabbuò instead of va bene (“all right”) or boh, che ne saccio in place of non lo so (“I don’t know”). Movies and television, which have to balance regional authenticity and mass appeal, have created a kind of Italo-neapolitan hybrid, colorful but comprehensible. In the 1980s, the comedian Massimo Troisi helped make his native dialect safe for national consumption, but he was careful to stay within the lines of intelligibility. The dialect continues to be a source of merriment and pride: Last month, when the Naples-born TV personality Stefano De Martino taught his son a few useful phrases, the 30-second final exam became a viral sensation.

Costanzo, though, is after something much more textured and profound than authenticity or local color: He uses gradations of dialect to delineate class, reveal the characters’ psychology, and propel the plot.

I’m tempted to just go on quoting, but hopefully you get the idea: it’s not the usual information-free puff piece, it’s full of good stuff, including a useful comparison to Lampedusa’s The Leopard (and video clips to illustrate some of the points). Now I’m even more eager to see the show!

Comments

  1. John Cowan says:
  2. I wonder how authentic the dialect in the film actually is to the language spoken in Naples in the 1950s. Did the kids work with a dialect coach? I assume that even local kids speaking dialect have moved much closer to the standard than their grand-parents, the same way that dialects are fading away in Vienna, Manchester, or Warsaw.

    For that matter, if you were making a film about poor white kids in America in the 1950s you probably would have a very hard time finding child actors capable of naturally speaking lines in an authentic 1950s working class Boston or Brooklyn accent, although Americans tend not to care very much about those sorts of inaccuracies.

  3. David Marjanović says:

    In Vienna it’s not a fading, it’s a switch from dialect to mesolect: parents tried to speak to their children in Standard German, couldn’t quite keep it up, and left their children natively speaking Standard German with the contractions of the dialect, the dialectal monophthongs instead of Standard diphthongs, a shortage of passé simple, a poorly established fortis-lenis distinction and wobbly vowel length. (And very slow pronunciation in the first generation – it’s speeding up now.) The speakers of this new variety (it’s about my age) think this is the colloquial register of Standard German, not part of the dialect.

    Comparison:

    Das haben wir schon gelesen “we’ve already read that”

    Austrian Standard: [d̥asˈhaːb̥m̩vɪɐ̯ˌʃoːŋgeˌleːsn̩]
    Mesolect: [d̥asˈhamːɐʃoŋˌgleːsn̩]
    Dialect (Viennese or mine): [d̥esˈhɒ̈̃mːɐʃɒ̈̃ˌgleːsn̩]

    aussteigen “get out/off a vehicle”

    Austrian Standard: [ˈäʊ̯sʃtɛ̞ɪ̯g̊ŋ̩] ~ [ˈäʊ̯ʃːtɛ̞ɪ̯g̊ŋ̩]
    Mesolect and Viennese dialect: [ˈɒʃːtæ̝ŋ̩]

  4. J.W. Brewer says:

    Are we supposed to imagine how much better Huckleberry FInn could have been if Twain had just written all of the dialogue in standard/prestige AmEng, with little notes telling you what dialect to imagine each character was actually speaking?

  5. David: Does the mesolect distinguish more MHG categories than Austrian Standard German does? Also, are there cases where mesolect follows Austro-Bavarian in irregular reflexes? (except the hamma-type contractions)

  6. David, I really appreciate your habitual attention to precise phonetic transcription. But for aussteigen, is there really a consistent contrast between Standard Austrian ɛ̞ and Viennese æ̝?

  7. At the other end of the line is a young voice from her old life; the son of her childhood friend informs her in thick Neapolitan …

    Sounds like the opening of Cinema Paradiso, one of my all-time favourite movies. The plot has a similar trajectory of rural upbringing to making it in the city. DId it also play on dialect differences? I think my Italian is not up to recognising that.

  8. Can someone explain or give an example of the idea that the book renders street speech in standard Italian with a phrase to note the speaker’s accent? It’s hard for me to see how this wouldn’t sound awkward, particularly if it’s done over and over. And I have trouble believing this was to save the reader, and suspect it was to save the writer.

    There would be no shame in admitting one doesn’t have the mastery of Mark Twain in handling a variety of accents and dialects. But if that was the issue it should be admitted. Is there something that makes people think she had perfect command of the relevant tongues, but just didn’t care to write that way?

  9. JW Brewer made my point only earlier and better. And I do see an example in the comments. Should have read everything first

  10. Giacomo Ponzetto says:

    Ryan, the comparison with Mark Twain might be misleading because Neapolitan isn’t a dialect of Italian but an “Italian dialect” in the conventional meaning of a Romance language native to Italy, other than Italian.

    It is admittedly possible to write a mixture of standard Italian, a regional variety of Italian (dialectal in the Mark Twain sense) and actual Neapolitan: De Filippo famously did. However, as the article obliquely mentions when discussing Troisi, doing so while catering to a national audience seems to require careful limits on the use of Neapolitan.

    A full-fledged literary work in Neapolitan like Lo Cunto de li cunti has been translated into Italian multiple times. I can certainly see the need for the translation. Subjectively, as a mother-tongue speaker of Italian from the Northwest, I find the Neapolitan original harder to read than Portuguese, another Romance language I haven’t studied but that I’ve had some exposure to.

    So, even if Ferrante has perfect command of Neapolitan (and I have no idea if she does or does not), it seems fair to conclude she faced a choice between toning down her Neapolitan to keep it accessible to her non-Neapolitan readers, or translating it.

  11. Ok, I give up, what does Lo Cunto de li cunti mean?

  12. David Marjanović says:

    Does the mesolect distinguish more MHG categories than Austrian Standard German does? Also, are there cases where mesolect follows Austro-Bavarian in irregular reflexes?

    Nope. All these things are strictly taken from the standard. Dialectal grammar in the mesolect is outside the word roots: 2pl verb ending /t͡s/, 2sg clitic /st/, 2pl clitic /s/, in den shrinking to in.

    is there really a consistent contrast between Standard Austrian ɛ̞ and Viennese æ̝?

    Probably not. The important and salient point is that this [ɛ̞] is part of a diphthong [ɛ̞ɪ̯] in the standard, but not in the mesolect – and both contrast with an /ɛ/.

    OHG/MHG : standard.at : mesolect : eastern Central Bavarian, incl. Vienna : central and western Central Bavarian exemplified by my dialect, but Munich and Graz are very similar

    î : ei [ɛ̞ɪ̯] : [ɛ̞ ~ æ̝] : [ɛ̞ ~ æ̝] : [ɛ̞ɪ̯]
    ei : ei [ɛ̞ɪ̯] : [ɛ̞ ~ æ̝] : [a] : [a]*
    û : au [äʊ̯] : [ɒ] : [ɒ] : [äʊ̯]
    ou : au [äʊ̯] : [ɒ] : [a] : [a]**
    iu/eu : eu [ɔɪ̯ ~ ɔɛ̯] : [ɶ̝] : [ɶ̝] : [ɛ̞ɪ̯]
    (äu) : äu [ɔɪ̯ ~ ɔɛ̯] : [ɶ̝] : [a] : [a]***
    îl : eil [ɛ̞ɪ̯l] : [ɛ̞l ~ æ̝l] : [ɶ̝]**** : [ɛ̞ɪ̯]

    …or, because I can’t color-code things here, here’s a number for each sound, excluding the OHG/MHG column:

    1 : 2 : 2 : 1
    1 : 2 : 3 : 3
    4 : 5 : 5 : 4
    4 : 5 : 3 : 3
    6 : 7 : 7 : 1
    6 : 7 : 3 : 3
    1l : 2l : 7 : 1

    * Recent Viennese influence along the railway, currently reaching Innsbruck, or so I hear. The traditional value is [oɐ̯] as in Oachkatzlschwoaf.
    ** Not reliable; this and the above have undergone various confusions in various dialects.
    *** Bäume, träumen, räumen, versäumen… I think it’s real. But in general this and especially the above are messes in German dialectology, so I’ve probably overlooked a few complications.
    **** The /l/ sometimes resurfaces when a vowel follows. In my dialect that never happens.

  13. We talked a little bit about Ferrante’s rendering of Neapolitan in the comments here:
    http://languagehat.com/how-capicola-became-gabagool/#comments

    I’ve seen the first two episodes of the TV version and they were hair-raisingly good. I saw them at my sister-in-laws over Thanksgiving . The “grownups” and the “kids” – 20-somethings – were all spellbound. – We don’t subscribe to HBO so I have no idea when I’ll get to watch the rest.

  14. Lo Cunto de li cunti: Wiki says that it is “The tale of tales” (my guess was “The song of songs”, close enough if compared to Dante’s cantos)

  15. Thanks, David!
    Have you seen the Languages and ‘Dialects’ of Europe website? The Germanic section is here.

  16. David Marjanović says:

    …Oh. I recognize it from long, long ago, when it covered just English! This is awesome!!!

    I’ve found a complication for äu overnight: Mäuse, Läuse “mice, lice” have vowel 1/2, not 3. Perhaps that’s because they’re umlaut products of MHG û rather than of MHG ou, which my previous examples all seem to be (English root cognates: beam, dream, possibly seam).

  17. Thanks David! This puts the thing into something comprehensible in the Chinese worldview: it’s dialect-flavoured pǔtōnghuà, not pǔtōnghuà-flavoured dialect (= non-pǔtōnghuà Sinitic).

  18. David Marjanović says:

    Exactly.

  19. dream, possibly seam
    I wonder why the Swedish cognates dröm, söm, ström all have short vowels /long consonants.

  20. John Cowan says:

    This is exactly how the English of Wales and (separately) Ireland arose, except that the “dialect” substrate is separated from the superstrate by millennia instead of mere centuries. Imagine a English-language novel set in North Wales in which, when the characters are said to be speaking in Welsh, the dialogue quotations are actually in Welsh! I think that might limit the audience for the books somewhat.

    In the Brother Cadfael books, the characters may be speaking in any of Normand, English, or Welsh; the point is mentioned when relevant and otherwise ignored; everyone speaks more or less in the same 20C Modern English, Tolkien-style. On the other hand, Turtledove’s Ruled Britannia represents early modern English dialogue with actual Early Modern English (he’s good at it), but the narration and all Spanish and Latin dialogue are given in Modern English.

    David: Is that [hamːɐ] really haben wir, or has the wir simply been dropped at the syntactic layer?

  21. @juha: Huh, I guess Swedish spelling is a bit less phonemically transparent than I thought.

  22. Trond Engen says:

    The reason why short vowel is not written with double m. is that it used to be redundant.

    A parallel shortening happened in hem “home”, rem “strap”, etc. < -ei- and glöm “forget!”. dröm “dream!”, ström “stream!”, etc. < -ey-, as well as in word with inherited long vowels, e.g. dom < dómr. It’s the same in Danish (and hence increasingly regular with increasing urbanity in Norwegian). Only í resisted the shortening (if I remember correctly), e.g. slim “mucus”, lim “glue”, stim “shoal, horde”.

    Non-urbanized Norwegian does have an inherited length contrast before m, but I’m not aware that even the oldest incarnations of Nynorsk used -mm, maybe because all instances of m after short vowel were etymologically -mb and written as such.

  23. Giacomo, thanks. It makes a lot more sense to me now.

    >Have you seen the Languages and ‘Dialects’ of Europe website? The Germanic section is here.

    Wow. That’s fun! If those were the only words in West Frisian, I’d be fluent.

    Are there any one-syllable words in North Carolinan? I stopped checking after hay-and and hay-ud.

  24. In the Brother Cadfael books, the characters may be speaking in any of Normand, English, or Welsh; the point is mentioned when relevant and otherwise ignored; everyone speaks more or less in the same 20C Modern English, Tolkien-style.

    Except that’s not really Tolkien’s style, at least in The Lord of the Rings. Generally, dialog in LotR is in English when people are speaking “Westron”, and either isn’t transcribed for other languages, or is given in those languages (e.g., Sindarin). Tom Shippey, in The Road to Middle Earth, does a nice job of pointing out how the English dialog isn’t all “the same 20th C Modern English”, either: the Hobbits talk that way, but some other characters use more archaic vocabulary and sometimes syntax as well (the strongest case being Elrond, who is basically the oldest character in the book).

    (The Silmarillion and The Hobbit would be better examples of what you’re talking about, except that the language of the former is often too archaic to be 20th C.)

  25. David Marjanović says:

    David: Is that [hamːɐ] really haben wir, or has the wir simply been dropped at the syntactic layer?

    No, it’s still there; this is not like in Lower Bavaria where -[mɐ] is no longer a clitic but (part of) the verb ending.

    Here in Berlin, haben wir is [hamʋa].

  26. Are there any one-syllable words in North Carolinan?

    Saa-ee-yun, for one. The devil made me think of it.

  27. @Peter Erwin: As discussed before, there was actually enough difference between Gondorian Westron and Shire Westron to have an impact on the plot. In Gondor, they still had a T-V distinction that the Hobbit speech has lost. Unfortunately, Tolkien found he was unable to represent this in his “translated” dialogue.

    And, while Elrond may be the immortal equivalent of a terrible name dropper, insistent on informing attendees at the Council that he was born in the First Age of the Sun and can remember his father fighting in the War of Wrath, he is nowhere near the oldest character in the story. Tom Bombadil, Treebeard, Cirdan, Glorfindel, Celeborn, Galadriel, Gandalf, Radagast, Saruman, and Sauron are all older than the sun.

    I have actually sometimes wondered what languages the wizards used to communicate among themselves in private. The only one-on-one conversations between the Istari given in the books (between Gandalf and Radagast, then between Gandalf and Saruman) are recounted secondhand by Mithrandir, and there is little information about their original tongue (just an ambiguous statement from Radagast that the name “Shire” is “uncouth”). They probably did not converse in their oldest common language, Valarin, but otherwise they might have been using any of the major languages of Middle Earth.

  28. Made me think of Renato Carosone “Tu vuo’ fa’ ll’americano”. Nice example of Neapolitan in the mid 1950s.

    https://youtu.be/BqlJwMFtMCs

  29. As for Huckleberry Finn, you may recall the scene in which Jim refuses to believe that human beings could possibly speak any language other than English:

    “Why, Huck, doan’ de French people talk de same way we does?”
    “No, Jim; you couldn’t understand a word they said — not a single word.”
    “Well, it’s a blame ridicklous way, en I doan’ want to hear no mo’ ’bout it. Dey ain’ no sense in it.”
    “Looky here, Jim; does a cat talk like we do?”
    “No, a cat don’t.”
    “Well, does a cow?”
    “No, a cow don’t, nuther.”
    “Does a cat talk like a cow, or a cow talk like a cat?”
    “No, dey don’t.”
    “It’s natural and right for ’em to talk different from each other, ain’t it.
    “Course.”
    “And ain’t it natural and right for a cat and a cow to talk different from us?”
    “Why, mos’ sholy it is.”
    “Well, then, why ain’t it natural and right for a Frenchman to talk different from us? You answer me that.”
    “Is a cat a man, Huck?”
    “No.”
    Is a cow a man? — er is a cow a cat?”
    “No, she ain’t either of them.”
    “Is a Frenchman a man?”
    “Yes.”
    “WELL, den! Dad blame it, why doan’ he talk like a man? You answer me dat!”

  30. Elrond, who is basically the oldest character in the book

    Galadriel.

  31. “Looky here, Jim; does a cat talk like we do?”
    “No, a cat don’t.”
    “Well, does a cow?”
    “No, a cow don’t, nuther.”
    “Does a cat talk like a cow, or a cow talk like a cat?”
    “No, dey don’t.”
    “It’s natural and right for ’em to talk different from each other, ain’t it.
    “Course.”
    “And ain’t it natural and right for a cat and a cow to talk different from us?”
    “Why, mos’ sholy it is.”

    That could be straight out of Plato (translated eccentrically, obviously).

  32. In fact, if you changed “Jim” to, say, “Euthyphro” and translated the whole thing into Attic Greek, you could probably fool anyone but a specialist in Plato.

  33. “Is a Spartan a man?”
    “Yes.”
    “WELL, den! Dad blame it, why doan’ he talk like a man? You answer me dat!”

  34. Πάνυ γε!

  35. David Eddyshaw says:

    “Why, mos’ sholy it is” would indeed make a welcome change from all that “Yes, of course, Socrates”, “You’re so right, Socrates” …

    Both simple and complex types of language of an indefinite number of varieties may be found spoken at any desired level of cultural advance. When it comes to linguistic form, Plato walks with the Macedonian swineherd, Confucius with the head-hunting savage of Assam.

    says Sapir.

  36. @ Brett,

    You’re right, of course; I was mangling Shippey’s argument about the different forms of speech at the Council of Elrond, at which Elrond was the oldest (embodied) being present. (Gandalf is older, but he came to Middle Earth in human form several thousand years after Elrond was born, and so plausibly has speech that is less archaic than Elrond’s.)

  37. January First-of-May says:

    Galadriel.

    Gandalf, Saruman, and Sauron are, of course, all older.

    Excluding the Maiar [EDIT: and Tom Bombadil, just in case], the oldest was probably Cirdan the Shipwright, said to have been the only Elf old enough to have a beard.
    (Common fanon claims him to have been one of the Elves awoken at Cuivienen, and thus [nearly] as old as any Elf can possibly be; don’t recall whether it’s ever resolved definitely either way in canon.)
    He barely appears in the book, however; and I don’t recall whether he has even a single line.

  38. John Cowan says:

    It’s true of course that the L.R. characters don’t speak all the same way even in English, though Tolkien says that the varieties of the Common Speech used by Orcs, Hobbits, Dwarves, Men of Minas Tirith, and Elves were much more different from one another than the representations of them he has given. But nevertheless I think it is fair to say that they all speak something close to 19C-20C English, just as it is fair to say that all of Twain’s characters speak 19C American English (according to Twain’s preface, in seven different varieties).

    As for dialogue in Elvish, there are a mere eighteen lines of such dialogue, several versions of a Sindarin poem (“A! Elbereth Gilthoniel”), a Quenya song (“Ai! laurie lantar lassi surinen!”), and one Sindarin inscription (on Moria gate). Nor is it even the case that Elvish speech is always represented by Elvish in the translation: there is another song in Sindarin given only in English (one of Tolkien’s worst efforts, I think: “Snow-white! Snow-white! O Lady clear!”).

    As for the conversations of wizards (meddle not, for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup), I’d guess that they “did not move or speak with mouth, looking from mind to mind”, as Gandalf, Elrond, Celeborn, and Galadriel did on their return home from Minas Tirith. Apparently in the world unmarred everyone would be open to this, but most beings’ minds are closed because of fear, according to one of Tolkien’s late essays; in any case such communication was always voluntary on both sides.

    Cirdan has no lines of dialogue in the L.R.

  39. Christian Weisgerber says:

    The Italian TV show Gomorra is also largely in Neapolitan. I don’t actually know Italian and had had only limited encounters with the language, but within the first few minutes it was amply clear even to me that whatever the characters were speaking, it sure wasn’t standard Italian. In particular the elision of final vowels is very striking. Wikipedia claims they are reduced to schwa, but it sounds like they are largely gone.

  40. @January First-Of-May: Tolkien did not write anything about Cirdan’s origins prior to the arrival of the Teleri in Beleriand. However, since he first appears in the story as one of the leaders of the elves on the Great Journey, it seems likely that he was one of the originals who awoke in the East. And while he has only one line (“All is now ready”) in the main body of The Lord of the Rings, he does have more substantial and memorable statement to Gandalf (who he recognized as an agent of the Valar as soon as he arrived) in the appendices:

    “Take this ring, master,” he said, “for your labours will be heavy; but it will support you in the weariness that you have taken upon yourself. For this is the Ring of Fire, and with it you may rekindle hearts in a world that grows chill.”

    @John Cowan: I meant to add that the conversations between the Istari (and among the Wise, in general) may have been conducted telepathically. That leaves open the question of whether they were still done in language or not.

    Galadriel is able to share thoughts with the Company in Lorien, without them explicitly opening their minds to her. In the book (as opposed to the travesty that the film makes of that scene), the communication does not appear to be in the form of words.

    The distinction between different kinds of telepathic content and whether they can be closed off is also explored in A Wrinkle in Time. All the main characters can close their minds to semantic content, but Meg and Calvin cannot prevent the red-eyed man of Camazotz from sending them sensations of taste and smell as they eat. However, Charles Wallace, who is a natural telepath, had no chinks in his mental barrier and complains that the food is tasteless. In the next book, as Meg and Calvin learn to use their telepathic abilities, they initially communicate using words and trigonometry problems, only later, in times of great stress, advancing to sending out nonsemantic content.

  41. David Marjanović says:

    Mäuse, Läuse

    Häuser is another one of those.

  42. Christian Weisgerber says:

    @John Cowan

    Is that [hamːɐ] really haben wir, or has the wir simply been dropped at the syntactic layer?

    It’s contracted from haben mir. In the dialects, the first person plural pronoun wir is a northwestern-ish thing. Elsewhere, it’s mir, reaching as far west as Luxembourgish.

  43. David Marjanović says:

    Chronologically it’s the other way around: |-n w-| assimilated in both directions to -/mː/- back when w was still [w], well over 500 years ago, probably closer to 1000; and then this -/mː/- was reanalyzed as |-n m-|.

    Likewise, |-t w-| assimilated to -/pː/-, which is why the cognate of etwas “some-/anything” in Yiddish and a few other Upper German varieties is an eppes-type word. (Not in mine, where the cran morpheme et- is instead dropped.) I think I’ve come across a second example of this, but I can’t remember what it was.

  44. Trond Engen says:

    Southern and western Norwegian dialects have me or mi.* I’ve wondered if this is an old and deep dialectal distinction that got incompletely sorted. The distribution of m-forms in Norway and even into Jämtland in Sweden looks old, and the pockets of v-forms in the west and middle look like recent replacements in coastal districts. But it isn’t that old. If it were common West Norse we’d expect Faroese and Icelandic to have m– as well. If I remember correctly, forms with m only start occuring in the late Mediaeval period. Still, for m- to spread over such a large area, I think both Bergen and Trondheim must have had it early (and then being the first to lose it when Danish got prestige).

    *) Where I live it’s jæ)i) – vi – dere – di.

  45. Wow, that’s a nice map.

  46. Trond Engen says:

    Yes, I was quite pleased to find it. I’ve seen (and probably posted) similar maps before, but this really captures a lot of information in one glance. A few glances, maybe.

  47. dröm, söm, ström

    Icelandic still preserves its diphthongs: aumur, straumur, draumur, saumur, glaumur:

    http://islex.is/no?ffletta=&fofl=&frnum=&fmerki=&ft=&finna=&ord=3839

  48. The Italian TV show Gomorra is also largely in Neapolitan.

    No, it’s in mesolect, standard Italian with Neapolitan accents and a lot of regional features but still comprehensible to a speaker of Standard Italian.

  49. Wikipedia claims they are reduced to schwa, but it sounds like they are largely gone.

    I guess that takes some getting used to in order to hear them properly.
    Chechen is also said to have devoiced final vowels, but what I do hear is just plain consonants.

  50. Trond Engen says:

    juha: Icelandic still preserves its diphthongs

    As does all but Urban & Easternmost Norwegian. Urban dialects only partly and with sociolinguistic implications. Except these days monophtongization is happening fast everywhere.

    And traditional Gothlandic, by shared retention.

  51. Trond Engen says:

    juha: Chechen is also said to have devoiced final vowels, but what I do hear is just plain consonants.

    Me and Japanese.

  52. Me and Japanese.

    Not any more for me. Do keep at it, though. NHK news podcasts, for example:

    https://www.nhk.or.jp/r-news/podcast/nhkradionews.xml

  53. Christian Weisgerber says:

    For final devoicing, I’ll point you to Brazilian Portuguese (3% and O Mecanismo on Netflix provide a handy corpus.) Final -e /i/ and -o /u/ are disappearing, at least before pause, and they’re going through a devoicing stage, which to me sounds as if the emerging final stops were aspirated and fricatives lengthened. I was wondering whether this would lead to the emergence of a new set of consonant phonemes, but the last time I googled for sources that didn’t just pretend nothing was happening, I found a throwaway reference that we’re well into the next stage where those final vowels are simply lost without compensation.

    Loss of final vowels except for -a, which has turned into a sort of schwa? Nasal vowels? Clearly Portuguese is turning into (Old) French…

  54. David Marjanović says:

    So, in this scene, the man speaks Viennese dialect and the woman speaks mesolect. Warning: viewers may experience emotional upheaval.

  55. Wow, that’s a nice map.

    Yes, I was quite pleased to find it.

    I like it too. It has very strong colours that are widely separated and not unpleasant. I could have done with a couple of W. coast cities like Stavanger, Bergen, Trondheim & Tromsø being marked. I don’t need Oslo obviously, but others might.

  56. Trond Engen says:

    Me: these days monophtongization is happening fast everywhere.

    That’s not it. Diphtongs turn into monophtongs in the dialects on a word by word basis, but aren’t threatened at all. What’s happening is that urban sociolinguistics is taking hold everywhere.

  57. John Cowan says:

    So, of course I don’t understand any of David’s clip. But I discriminate thus: The man in the brown outfit is obviously speaking German, and I can sort what he says into words without a problem. The woman is also presumably speaking German, but it’s just a stream of phonemes to me. But the man in green’s language I don’t even recognize as German — except when it’s English.

    Also, why doesn’t he use the implement of destruction on the window in the first place? One or at most two blows would break it, and he wouldn’t be hurting first his fist and then his toes. Man the Tool-user is not very evident here.

  58. Stu Clayton says:

    The clip is about Man The Excitable Depp. He speaks Viennese dialect because it’s reliably, condescendingly amusing, at least for a Germany German audience, when a depp loses it in barely intelligible Furriny German dialect.

    I can only guess that Austrians generally have a different take on this – without the condescension. There are tv programs about Kölsch depps that in Cologne are just funny with hardly any condescension required.

    For Man The Tool-User I must direct you to Barney in The Flintstones. There is no dialect, unfortunately, unless you watch it dubbed in German.

  59. David Marjanović says:

    but it’s just a stream of phonemes to me

    No glottal stops (as anywhere south of the White-Sausage Equator), reduction of pronouns to clitics like in the dialect.

    The man in brown mostly speaks dialect, just more slowly and muuuuch more quietly.

    Also, why doesn’t he use the implement of destruction on the window in the first place?

    Because he’s conflicted: he loves his car like a stereotypical man, can’t financially afford the damage he’s about to do, but has no other option – and on top of that he has a gigantic anger management problem, so he kicks the car, just hurts himself, takes that as a personal insult and goes berserk.

    The whole movie is a horrifying tragicomedy. The family buys a house in the countryside* and hopes to renovate it, everything goes wrong one thing after another, all friends & relatives turn out to be total assholes one or a few at a time, the family’s finances fall apart, the family falls apart, and in the end it turns out the Only Sane Man is the little Trekkie.

    * In a village not too subtly called Hinterholz, which is small enough not to have street names, so it uses its own name as the name in street numbers; thus, the house is Hinterholz 8.

    at least for a Germany German audience

    Ah, but this is a Viennese movie for an Austrian/Viennese audience. The dialect is nothing but realism and has no connotations beyond “halfway colloquial”.

    This bank clerk in the same movie code-switches almost in every sentence between partially Viennese-accented Standard (to underscore that this is serious official business, and to use technical terms & phrases) and dialect (to make his clients feel at ease). He does not speak mesolect.

    BTW, he may be Vienna’s youngest user of [r] – but that cuts right across dialect and Standard: it’s a feature of individuals, not of registers, and of the actor, not of the character.

  60. @Vanya re Gomorra (sorry, I’ve never gotten around to figuring out how the quoting works in these comments): well, yes and no. The first season was unquestionably in mesolect, but by the third there were much bigger chunks of actual Neapolitan and we had to give up, because even my Tuscan partner was completely lost.

  61. You’d think they’d have subtitles.

  62. @Biscia – Interesting, I haven’t made it past Season 1. I wonder why the show runners made that choice. Are they assuming viewers will pick up more and more Neapolitan as they progress through the show?

  63. Oops, er, apparently the Italian subtitles exist if one watches the show the proper way rather than borrowing it from a friend who obtained it God knows how, so I guess they only lost the viewers they didn’t really want. Anyway, yes, they opted to make the language more realistic as the series went on (and the body count less and less plausible).

  64. The man in brown mostly speaks dialect, just more slowly and muuuuch more quietly.

    In few lines in the clip though the Jäger (man in Brown) speaks standard, more standard to my ear than Nina Proll’s mesolect. “Wo fahr’n wir denn hin, Meister” “Noch nicht, ist das Ihr Dreck?” etc.

  65. John Cowan says:

    Thanks for the explanations!

    can’t financially afford the damage he’s about to do

    What? 400 euros at most to replace a broken window. If he can afford a house and renovations on it, that’s not so bad.

    not too subtly called Hinterholz

    Behind the woods (wood?) — too subtle for me.

  66. Stu Clayton says:

    Hinterwäldler “woodsbilly”. Id est hillbilly.

  67. Trond Engen says:

    Backwood.

  68. Stu Clayton says:

    Backwoods. Backwater

  69. David Marjanović says:

    Transylvania.

    If he can afford a house and renovations on it

    He can’t, he takes a loan for that in the other clip I posted. And the bank clerk is not exactly responsible. He seems to be in his job just For Teh Evulz: “…you’re saying you can scrrrrape together 9,000 S a month… let’s say 10,000 so the whole thing ‘has a face’, and it’s easier for the computer, too…”, and then it ends up at 16,000 per month.

    (13.7603 of those are a €.)

  70. David Marjanović says:

    In few lines in the clip though the Jäger (man in Brown) speaks standard, more standard to my ear than Nina Proll’s mesolect. “Wo fahr’n wir denn hin, Meister” “Noch nicht, ist das Ihr Dreck?” etc.

    The only parts of this that are standard are the ironic literary address Meister, the attemptedly ironic response noch nicht to the hypercorrect question Heute schon gemorrrrdet? “(Have you) already murdered today?”, and arguably hin without contraction to a nasal vowel. Everything else is dialect. Rather than [a] and [ɛ], both das and Dreck have [e]; fahren wir is [ˈfɒ̈ɐ̯mɐ] rather than [ˈfaːn̩vɪɐ̯] or for that matter mesolectal [ˈfaˑmɐ].

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