Learn Sicilian with Peppa Pig!

Many Sicilians, when you ask them if they speak Sicilian, look at you as if they are the Queen on a royal walkabout and you just said,

“Go on, Your Majesty, pull my finger.”

QE2
One begs your pardon???

It seems strange that they should find it so insulting.

The Sicilian language was first used in a literary form before the Italian language developed. Perhaps the oddest thing about this is that it was entirely fostered and cultivated by a German ruler, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II of the Swabian (Staufer) Dynasty.

Frederick was crowned king of Sicily when he was three and chose to live his life in Sicily. (His sarcophagus can still be seen in Palermo Cathedral, incidentally.) He was a man born long before his time, for whilst the Spanish and much of Europe were in the culturally regressive depths of the Inquisition, Frederick II insistently placed ‘knowledge’ before ‘faith’ in all things. Whilst dictatorial, he might be referred to as an enlightened despot.

Frederick_II_and_eagle
Emperor Frederick II

An avid patron of science and the arts, he filled his court with Sicilian poets and encouraged them to stretch and develop the beauty of the literary form of Sicilian, and take the use of their language to new artistic heights. The Sicilian poetry produced by his court inspired the great Italian poet Dante Alighieri, among others. It heavily influenced Italian literature and played a fundamental role in shaping the development of the modern Italian language.

Nothing to be ashamed of so far.

Sicilian is a separate language from Italian, not a dialect, yet there is a dialect version of it. The fishermen in my village speak pure Sicilian and it is incomprehensible to me. My father-in-law grew up speaking this, and when interacting in Italian he is rather taciturn, yet he becomes quite chatty when he meets other Sicilian speakers. This is the Sicilian language. There are still some Sicilian poets who speak this pure form of the language. They give high-profile public poetry recitals at village and town festivals and so on, and are greatly admired and respected.

Meanwhile my husband, like a great many Sicilians, speaks the “dialect” version. This is essentially Italian with a lot of Sicilian words put in. People who speak this type of “Sicilian” are the ones who do not know all the vocabulary and may not know the grammar well either. What they are essentially doing is bringing out all the Sicilian they know, and filling in the gaps with Italian.

Again, no reason to be ashamed of speaking either of these versions of Sicilian.

If my son ever picks up Sicilian he will be one of these “dialect” speakers. My husband has refused to teach him. My son, who is so resourceful my heart sometimes bursts with pride, has figured out how to learn Sicilian for himself. He has found out that there are films of Peppa Pig in Sicilian on You Tube.

Peppa Pig and family, in Palermo Sicilian – “Peppina u Puaicca”

peppapalermo

In Catanian Sicilian, Peppa Pig is called “Peppa a Pocca”. In Palermo Sicilian she is “Peppina a Puaica”. There are other versions too. This is another oddity of the language and perhaps the reason why Sicilian is not an official language in Sicily: the people in Palermo can hardly understand the people in Catania, neither of them can really figure out what anyone is saying in the province of Agrigento, and so on. Sicilian is not one language, it is many.

The main reason my son is so keen to learn Sicilian is that there are some full-time Sicilian speakers in his class. There is a handful in every class. They do lessons in Italian but, naturally, they speak plenty of Sicilian in break time.

Actually, they shout it. It is full of insults, vulgarity and downright hilarious admonitions. Their mothers pick them up from school wearing lycra leggings and tops covered in sequins. Sometimes their grandfather comes, in a torn and dirty anorak with greasy hair. They shout to each other deafeningly loudly from great distances. They chew gum. They spit on the pavement. They puff their cigarette smoke at other people’s children and drop the dog ends in the school playground.

This is why a lot of people don’t want to admit they speak Sicilian. It is not actually the language they are ashamed of. They are very proud of that. They are just terrified you might think they are that kind of people. Yet about half their status updates on Facebook are written in pure Sicilian, so really, they do speak it.

Here is a version of Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” in Sicilian. Read the subtitles carefully!mqdefaultG3J7OEG3 Wrecking Ball, the Sicilian way

Sicilian is a fun language. Almost every Sicilian I know loves telling jokes in Sicilian because there is so much in the language to make you laugh, so long as you don’t suffer delusions of poshness.

Sicilian is equipped with multiple words for different types of farts. The sort that comes out loud and proud is called a Piritu. (Someone who puts on airs and graces may be called “an inflated piritu”.) The type you manage to sneak out secretly, if necessary by breaking it down into several smaller sections, is a sgurreggiu. The type which mean you have to rush off urgently and change your underwear is called a Luffione. I won’t list any more, just in case the Queen is reading…

Piciotti (pronounced pichotti) is a great word simply because most Italians think it means a Mafia member of the most junior level. What it really means in Sicilian is Lads, or young men. So groups of young men will call each other piciotti, as in “Come on Piciotti, let’s go and get some ice-cream and try to pick up some chicks”.

Piciriddu (pronounced pitchiriddoo) is the little version of piciotti. It means child.

Camurria means a terrible drag, or an interminable nuisance. For example, getting stuck in a traffic jam is a camurria; having to take a day off work and wait at home for the man from British Gas to come “some time between 9am and 6pm” is a camurria; an even bigger camurria is having to wait for the Sicilian gas man to come “some time between Monday morning and Thursday afternoon, probably.”

Fitusu (pronounced fitoozoo) means stinky, gone off and disgusting.

My own experience with minority languages was with Welsh, and its past offers some thought-provoking and alarming parallels with Sicilian. My father grew up in a Wales which was in danger of losing its language. Both his grandmothers had badly scarred hands from being beaten every time they spoke Welsh at school – even when they were too young to have learnt any English. The children of Wales were taught that their language was inferior and their only hope of ever getting on in life was to stop speaking it, and learn English instead. Dad grew up speaking no Welsh, even though it was his parents’ first language.

Having made the Welsh language so obscure it was on the brink of dying out, the British government had no hesitation in using it for military purposes in wartime. The signallers of the Royal Welch Fusiliers sent messages in Welsh during the second World War and in the war in Bosnia, for example. Welsh looks so unpronounceable written down that the Germans spent months trying to crack the code, thinking they were intercepting double-encrypted messages.

The Welsh adopted measures to save their language in the nick of time. In 1993, a law in Wales decreed that English and Welsh must be teated equally in all public sector institutions. Hospitals must provide Welsh speaking doctors and nurses. All government websites are available in Welsh and English. The ability to speak Welsh is compulsory for employment as a teacher. One fifth of all the schools in Wales are Welsh medium schools. So are some of the universities.

Without similar measures, the Sicilian language could really be lost one day.

Sicilian is not legally recognised as an official languge. You would never see a newspaper or an official website written Sicilian. Most Sicilians would regard that as hilarious! The idea of teaching children to read and write Sicilian correctly at school is regarded as truly shocking by teachers, who absolutely always tell children off if they speak Sicilian in class. With each generation, it seems the number of good Sicilian speakers is declining. Speaking a mish-mash Sicilian dialect, the way my husband and most middle-class Sicilians seem to do, is not proper Sicilian, and it means the language is dying.

There are a few projects to protect the real Sicilian language. The European Union gives grants to help amateur theatre groups produce plays in Sicilian. That keeps the piciotti busy! They also organize poetry readings and musical performances. The non-profit group Amicizia fra i Popoli offers courses in Sicilian language and literature. There is a Wikipedia page about the Sicilian language, written in Sicilian. These and other small-scale activities are carried out by fragmented groups or individuals. I fear this may not be enough.

I do hope this marvellous language does not die out. Once a group of people lose their own language, they lose a part of their identity which they can never get back.

Veronica Di Grigoli is an author and translator and blogs about Sicily at The Dangerously Truthful Diary of a Sicilian Housewife.

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peppapoccaIf you are curious to learn more, the website Lingua Siciliana has an online vocabulary and grammar notes. Though, to be honest, I think learning Sicilian with Peppa Pig may be more fun!

Peppa Pig in Catania Sicilian . “Peppina a Pocca”

Veronica Di Grigoli

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28 Responses to "Learn Sicilian with Peppa Pig!"

  1. Phil Hasenkamp  December 27, 2013 at 10:59 pm

    Outstanding and insightful piece!

    Reply
  2. Diana Mazza  December 27, 2013 at 11:10 pm

    You might find interesting to know that Prof. Gaetano Cipolla , former prof. at St.John’s University , New York, is the founder of the no profit organization called “Arba Sicula” which means “Sicilian Dawn” which encorouges the knowledge of Sicilian language and culture. He also translates from Sicilian to English and viceversa. They have numerous books in their catalogue. They also bring out twice a year a magazine ‘Arba Sicula’ with very interesting articles in English and Sicilian.
    Unfortunately history has brought Sicilians to dis recognize their language and culture. There are many people in Sicily trying to change things and Sicilian it is also taught in special courses at the universities of Catania and Palermo.
    Last but not least….”inquisition” as such was mainly in the Spanish era, a few centuries later than our great king Frederick II Hohenstaufen.
    Best regards,
    Diana Mazza
    Tour guide – Sicily

    Reply
    • Veronica Di Grigoli  December 28, 2013 at 1:59 pm

      Thank you for adding this information, Diana. It is good to hear that work is taking place to preserve the Sicilian language as far away as New York!
      For anyone who wishes to look into this, there are samples of publications Diana mentioned, and more info, here:
      http://www.arbasicula.com

      Meanwhile, I do absolutely stand by my statement that the rest of Europe was mired in the Inquisition while Frederick ruled Sicily. He was King here from 1198 to 1250. The Episcopal Inquisition was established in southern France (Languedoc) in 1184, before he was born, and this led to genocide which eradicated nearly all the Cathars. Then the Papal Inquisitions began in the 1230s throughout Europe while Frederick was in his thirties. Whilst the Inquisition came to Sicily later, it was most certainly contemporary to Emperor Frederick II in wider Europe.

      Reply
    • Giovanni Morreale  January 1, 2014 at 10:25 pm

      Regarding Arba Sicula and Prof. Gaetano Cipolla, I’d like to let you know that he contributes some articles with Times of Sicily as well: http://www.timesofsicily.com/author/arbasicula/
      Times of Sicily has also an entire section dedicated to the Sicilian language:
      http://www.timesofsicily.com/category/education/sicilianlanguage/
      I personally know Professore Gaetano and I hope to meet him again on February in New York. What he has done for the Sicilian Language is much more than what has been done by the entire Sicilian government for years…
      We, Sicilians, have had our brain washed for years. The Italian TV, Government, movies and so forth have depicted a person speaking Sicilian as an ignorant, a mafioso, a low level class person etc at the point that Sicilians feel ashamed to speak Sicilian for “important occasions”.
      To make a long story short, this is coming to an end. We start little by little feeling proud. I personally speak Sicilian whenever I can. Moreover I put it on my CV as well, along with italian and French and.. English

      Reply
      • Veronica Di Grigoli  January 12, 2014 at 3:38 pm

        Good for you, listing Sicilian among your language skills on your CV.
        Can you imagine what a difference it would make if Sicilian children were given just 2 hours a week Sicilian lessons, where they were taught the language correctly and learned how to write it too? This would only be half the time they spend on English, but it might make people take the language seriously, and then all the children would at least be given the opportunity to master their OWN language and maybe grow up able to appreciate Sicilian poetry.

        Reply
  3. Adele  December 30, 2013 at 2:15 am

    I’m not sure I understand why they find it insulting to formalize their language or why they look at you strangely if you ask about it.

    Reply
    • Veronica Di Grigoli  January 1, 2014 at 9:56 pm

      Hello! Sicilians don’t find the idea of formalising the language insulting. It is just that the people who feel more comfortable speaking Sicilian than Italian tend not to be very “posh”. For example, my husband had a Sicilian girlfriend before he met me, who used to tell him off if he spoke Sicilian when they were out together, because she reckoned he was spoiling the classy image she wanted to project.
      I personally think that’s nuts!! It did take me ages before I really figured out why so many Sicilians tell you they cannot speak the language, and then later you find out they speak it very well. Sheer snobbery!

      Reply
  4. Adele  January 2, 2014 at 4:22 am

    Ah, I understand… many thanks!
    They have such a rich and varied and interesting history. I can’t believe they don’t want to speak Sicilian just as a matter of pride!
    Thanks for your post.

    Reply
  5. Diana Mazza  January 2, 2014 at 5:18 pm

    Hallo Mrs Grigoli,
    Not wanting to start any kind of discussion, but if you are talking about Sicily and Frederick II Hohenstaufen , then it is implied you mean what was happening on the island. What was happening in other parts of Europe is another chapter of our worlds history. If we talk about Sicily and our local history, then inquisition started later, in Europe, outside Sicily things were different. . Maybe it wasn’t clear and there was a little mix up there. Thank you for researching the work of Arba Sicula and Prof. Cipolla. It is very important for our culture and to achieve recognition of our 5000 years old complex history in the world.

    Adele, sadly movies influenced badly our image in the world. It is very depressing to go as far as the North Pole (example) and as soon as you say you are “Sicilian” someone will promptly say “ah! Sicilian, mafioso!!!” Imitating a bad Hollywood Sicilian accent…..easier to find a place in the world hiding our heritage. Sometimes.
    My very best regards and happy new year!
    Diana Mazza

    Reply
    • Laura Ferrara  January 29, 2014 at 1:53 am

      Diana,
      I understand what you were trying to tell Adele but I would like to add something if I may. When I was younger my father taught me my Sicilian heritage was something to be proud of but you are correct in the response most people give us. I am older now and I like to look upon those type of comments as an opportunity to talk to people and let them know there is alot more we have contributed to the world than the Hollywood sterotype and how it makes me feel. Two weeks ago I was watching a television show called Elementary, which is a modern version of Sherlock Holmes. The first part of every show is the crime and then of course they proceed to solve it. Imagine how I felt when at first they
      think the Ferrara crime family from Sicily are the bad guys…imagine how I felt with my family name being repeated over and over again throughout the show in this context.
      So, lets not hide from others because it is easier lets simply find a way to be proud of it and share it with others. Who knows then maybe the next time they think of a Sicilian they will have a nice memory of a new person they met.

      Reply
  6. Steven Campo  February 5, 2014 at 7:34 pm

    Ciau Tutti,

    Thank you for this article, I absolutely love. Someone speaking up for Sicilians. All of my great-grandparents are from Villafranca, Siculo Sicilia. They taught us to be proud of our culture and to share it with others through food, music, poetry and dance… I speak and understand some of the Sicilian Language. I would love to have Sicilian friends to speak with to improve my Sicilian skills. There is a Sicilian poet from Catania “Alessio Patti”. He makes youtube vidoes of his poetry in the Sicilian language and also translates them. They are most beautiful and well worth watching. Look up some of his videos and tell me what you think.

    Reply
    • Veronica Di Grigoli  February 7, 2014 at 11:55 am

      Thank you for mentioning Alessio Patti. I had never heard of him, but his You Tube channel looks like a wonderful resource for the Sicilian language and poetry.
      I hope you are still sharing your Sicilian culture with others, as you were brought up to do! This is what we at Times of Sicily aim to do – we are really passionate about it.

      Reply
      • Steven Campo  February 7, 2014 at 4:52 pm

        Thanks for your kind words Mrs. Di Grigoli. I am currently organizing a Sicilian Heritage Group here in my area. I am very interested in preserving Sicilian culture. I am also learning the language, I just wish I knew others to practice with. Alessio Patti is a good friend of mine who helps me often. Perhaps I would like to write an article on his life and literary work. Can anyone post an article here? He has written several books and plays. The more we encourage an interest in Sicily, the greater chances of keeping her magic and beauty alive for future generations to enjoy. Thanks again for your interest in Sicily and your sincere consideration. Ciau a prestu!

        Reply
    • Giovanni M.  February 8, 2014 at 10:37 am

      Hello Steven,
      I know Alessio Patti and I love his poetry. It would be nice if someone can translate in English some. We have a section where we publish Sicilian language topics: http://www.timesofsicily.com/category/education/sicilianlanguage/
      Glad you like Times of Sicily. We’re like a big family –
      -Nni sintemu, stammi bonu-

      Reply
  7. Steven Campo  February 8, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    Ciau Caru Giovanni,

    This is only my second week with Times of Sicily, yet I have had the warmest welcome. A true characteristic of Sicily! Milli Grazii! I am working with Alessio on translation and interpretation of his poems into English. I would love to send them to Times of Sicily for posting once available.
    Intantu, ‘N abbrazzu sinceru Giovanni e tutti di Times of Sicily!

    Reply
  8. John Joseph Sparacio II  March 14, 2015 at 9:51 pm

    Just a question, is there a place in Sicily or a site I could go to and find place in sicily to learn to speek as a beginner. Thank you. John.

    Reply
  9. Veronica Mai Hughes  March 14, 2015 at 10:23 pm

    Hi John,
    I think the leader in this is Gaetano Cipolla, who has just published a book of Sicilian grammar:
    http://palermo.repubblica.it/cronaca/2013/04/02/news/imparare_il_siciliano_oltreoceano_la_prima_grammatica_made_in_usa-55812757/

    There seem to be some You Tube channels which teach Sicilian for beginners and I think this may be a good place to start for an absolute beginner (rather than the Peppa Pig movies which require some prior knowledge!!!)

    As for language schools offering Sicilian language courses, I am not aware of any, but I’ll post here again if I do find out about any!

    Reply
  10. victoria Anne Zumsteg  April 5, 2015 at 7:01 am

    Hello, My maiden last name is Bartolone. I still use unofficially for non- legal matters. My granfather’s parents came here from Messsina, Sicily and I have always taken pride in correcting people that I’m part Sicilian when they assume I’m Italian. Is there a reference for that area as well since the areas seem to differ so much? Bc if I wanted to attempt to learn my great grandparents language i would want to learn that area’s. Not sure if he was born here in America but i know if not he would have only been a baby at the time my great grandparents immigrated. Thank you for all other info listed so far.

    Reply
    • Veronica  April 5, 2015 at 12:18 pm

      I’m sorry to say that as far as teaching regional variants goes, I just don’t know.
      I would guess that Gaetano Cipolla would be the person to ask. Or perhaps Giovanni Monreale can give you some advice.
      If you do manage to find out, please share it here in case others want to know. Good luck!

      Reply
    • Giovanni Morreale  April 8, 2015 at 9:25 pm

      Hi Victoria,
      I’m not sure I understood correctly the question. Do you want to learn Sicilian from Messina, as opposed to “Standard” Sicilian? If yes, well, the only way is to live there … We already have issues to “standardize” Sicilian Language, which IS a language, but has never been officially adopted due to 1000s of foreigners domination, (included the Italian one).
      Today is very difficult or almost impossible to find a school of Sicilian in Sicily, imagine Sicilian/Messinese. You have some in New York often organized by Prof. Cipolla. There is a book that I have read that I read (short one) very interested, in En, written by by J.K. Kirk, which explains the “Principal Differences among Sicilian Dialects”. You can find the content in this link, together with lots of other contents about the Sicilian language: http://www.linguasiciliana.org/2009/03/principal-differences-among-sicilian-dialects/
      Good Luck with your learning path!
      Giovanni

      Reply
      • victoria Anne Zumsteg  April 10, 2015 at 7:26 am

        Thank you Giovanni,
        You answered my question. I’d have to live there, haha????I would love to, if EVER I’m so lucky. I’ll just stick with the other references you have offered and anything else I can find. It’s a lot of fun! And thank you Giovanni for replying!

        Reply
  11. victoria Anne Zumsteg  April 10, 2015 at 7:33 am

    Thank you Veronica as well.

    Reply
  12. James Babiarz  July 18, 2015 at 6:47 pm

    As a person of Sicilian decent I found your depiction of Sicilians as bunch of low lives shouting and blowing smoke in children’ s faces degrading and insulting.

    Reply
    • Veronica Di Grigoli  August 5, 2015 at 1:02 pm

      Maybe you could have a word with them next time you’re over here, then, and ask them to stop doing it?

      Reply
  13. Tom Filingeri  December 14, 2015 at 5:25 am

    I think the Sicilian language is very much alive, my good friend Steven is making sure of that, so is Prof. Cipolla, Alessio Patti and many of my good friends, like Frank Leone. What’s encouraging is the fact that a lot of people are so willing to learn our language, here in the U.S Sicilian is very much alive.

    I myself have been procrastinating in creating a set of videos that teach Sicilian, I will do it though.

    Reply
  14. Dino Carlucci  July 6, 2016 at 8:05 pm

    Is there anybody in your group who can translate the English words “The family first” into Sicilian. Thank you.
    Dino Carlucci.

    Reply
  15. Peter Rinaldi  July 18, 2017 at 3:57 am

    I am half Sicilian, and I learns many Sicilian words taking care of my grandfather, who came to America in 1913. He was from Leonforte, in the Catania Province, now the Enna Province. I have been to Sicily six times visiting relatives, and I hope to return soon, I love speaking Sicilian with people, it makes me proud

    Reply
  16. Peter Rinaldi  September 11, 2017 at 2:01 pm

    Sicilian is a language, not a dialect. Sicilian is older than the Italian language. Sicilian words are closer to Latin than Italian words

    Reply

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