Sicilian: History, Etymology, Idiomatic Expressions, related discussions

Joey D

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I have come across four or five forumites of Sicilian background, with a good grasp of Sicilian, its linguistic history, etc, and I thought it might warrant its own thread - noting I have made a habit of waylaying other threads, which I prefer not to do.

Either way, the linguistic history of Sicilian is quite interesting, and with so many influences from many other languages, there's always plenty to debate!

This will be a thread to discuss anything relating to the Sicilian language group, the etymology of words, usage variations in different parts of Sicily (and Southern Calabria and Puglia), interesting idiomatic expressions, similarities and differences with Italian and other regional languages, false friends, linguistic change over the last couple of centuries, early Sicilian writings, etc, etc.
 
On the Italian language thread, Hauteville and I had a stimulating and robust discussion about one aspect of the history of Sicilian, which I think we took about as far as that could go. But we both touched on interesting aspects of Sicily's linguistic situation circa 1100, and I think with that in mind, a good way to kick start this thread is to reproduce this interesting excerpt from Geoffrey Hull's Polyglot Italy, (1989):

...competing with the other Romance dialects of the two main groups of settlers brought in by the Hautevilles to reduce the Arab and Greek presence in Sicily. The Campanians (peasants from the Naples district and possibly from Cilento as well) colonised the Arabicized territory west of the Salso.
...
Most of the settlements in the east of the island were founded by pioneers from the Monferrat region of the western Po Valley. Padanian immigration to Sicily had been promoted by Roger I's marriage to Adelaide, daughter of the Marquis of Monferrat...and her brother Henry, married to Roger I's daughter Blandina, ruled the County of Paterno, the nucleus of Lombard settlement in eastern Sicily.

Norman Sicilian was slower in displacing the Padanian speech of these newcomers, but before its extinction in most areas this Northern language injected a substantial body of Gallo-Romance elements into the koine...the common Sicilian vocabulary had long since absorbed such fundamental Padanian words as soggiru (suoxer), cugnatu (cognau), bizzuni (besson), figghiozzu (figlioz), fadali (faudal), tuma, tumazzu (toma) fugazza (fogaza), orbu (orb), arricintari (rexentar), unni (ond), and the names of the week: luni (lunes), marti (martes), mercuri (mercor), jovi (juovia), venniri (venner).

Padanian influences on Sicilian extend into the realms of morphology and syntax...

As Italo-Greek declined in neighboring Calabria it was replaced by the Messinese variety of Sicilian.


 
One of the interesting aspects of the development of Sicilian over the course of millennia of invasions and occupations has been the stratification of the vocabulary, such that it's not uncommon to find multiple forms of a word representing different additions to the vocabulary over different periods. Sometimes these different forms become unique variations in certain locales, other times they merely become archaic and drop out of use.

Ruffino provides the following example of stratification in his book Sicilia (2001) using the various different words to describe twins:


Modern layer:
giamelli (from Italian gemelli)
Medieval layer:

bizzuni
, vuzzuni (from French besson)

binelli (from Ligurian bineli)

Ancient layer:
jèmmuli (from Latin gemulus)
jèmiddi (from Greek ghèmellos)

jèmiddu/jèmiddi was still in use in Messina until recent times
jèmulu/jèmuli was still in use in central Sicily until recent times
bizzuni was still in use NW of Etna, and in nearby Provincia di Messina until recent times.

An interesting aspect of the above is that in the ancient layer, we see the Greek double LL become the typically Sicilian cacuminal -DD- sound, which we also see in many words of Latin origin, e.g. bellus becomes beddu.

We note that in the modern layer, the Italian double LL remains LL in the modern Sicilian form, a very untypical Sicilian construction.

Another interesting aspect about the ancient layer is the Greek and Latin are relatively close to each other, and are the sorts of words that in some locales are likely to meld into a greco-latin form, and helps explain why so many variations can be found for certain words (as exist for this particular word).
 
Very interesting thanks
 
Very interesting thanks

Thanks. At some point, I think a post or posts on some of the shared vocabulary between Maltese and Sicilian would be worthwhile.

I can foresee a few interesting angles:

1. are there any Greek words still common to both languages? ( I don't know the answer, but it's possible that there are some examples, even if it may not be clear cut whether they are Greek forms which have been re-introduced into Maltese).

2. the many Arabic words remaining in Sicilian would undoubtedly have cognates in Maltese (maybe even be near-identical), noting that what Hauteville has said on this is correct, that the Arabic words which have survived in Sicilian are mainly argricultural terms and words describing the natural landscape.

3. I imagine a few Norman Sicilian words would have been introduced in Maltese in medieval times.
 
Do you know how much Germanic words have survived into the language nowadays?I know vastedda, vanniari/abbanniari (probably from old Gothic) etc.
 
What an excellent discussion guys...very informative. Thanks.
 
Do you know how much Germanic words have survived into the language nowadays?I know vastedda, vanniari/abbanniari (probably from old Gothic) etc.

I know of a few, but only one coming immediately to mind right now, although it's a bit unclear whether it has come to us directly from German or via French.

This is from the Dizionario Etimologico Siciliano, Salvatore Giarrizzo (1989):

SPARAGNARI v. tr. Risparmiare (to save, as in money) - Fr. épargner (da a.a.t. sparen). [a.a.t. = Old high German, the Swabians would have spoken high German).

the verb gives us the noun:

SPARAGNU s. m. Risparmio (savings)
 
I've just stumbled across this one, but once again, of uncertain etymology:

ARBITRIARI v. tr. Lavorare o far lavorare i campi - da lat. arva terere, sminuzzare la terra? Crf. ted. arbeit lavoro.

and one more a bit uncertain:

LAPARDA s. f. Alabarda - Da ted. Helbart, ascia da combattimento.

which gives us:

LAPARDIARI v. tr. Ferire con la laparda.
 
Ruffino gives another good example of stratification, giving us many variations of a word for bietola/bietole (beet).

A large part of the island has variations on the latinism: aggiti or aiti.

Etymology:

AITI s. pl. Bietole - Da lat. beta/blitum (gr. bliton); analogo l'esito cal. ajita (cfr. nap. jeta, pugl. jait).

The NE of the island, the provinces of Messina and Catania, have the following grecismi and variations:

SÈCARA/SÈCHILI/SECLA s. f. Bietola - Cfr.. gr seutlos, da cui neogr. seuklon, seklo, in cnnessione con gr. sikelos.

Around Agrigento, and North, well into the central part of Sicily we have various arabismi (with possible meldings with the Greek forms:

ZARCA/ZÀLICA/SARCA/SÀLICA s. f. Bietola - Ar. salk(a); cfr gr sikelos (siculo), nome o epiteto d'una specie di bietola.

Within this same zone, in central Sicily, we find gallicisms likd biletti and variations.

If that weren't enough, we find another form scattered all over the island:

GIRA/GIRATEDDI s. Bietola. – Pare richiami il nome scientifico beta cycla della bietola selvatica: infatti gr. kyklos è it. giro, sic. giru (variante di gira); cfr. per analogia gr. kyklàminos, lat. cyclamen/cyclaminus, o orbicularius (let. che gira attorno).
 
With all these various influences piling up on top of each other, and sub-strata after sub-strata, as we can see from some of the etymological examples above, sometimes it's near impossible knowing for sure precisely where a word came from.

So we might have an idea that a word was of Greek origin: but did it come to Sicily in the classic period or during the Byzantine period, or even much later with the people the Normans brought with them from Southern Italy to conquer the island? It's not always clear cut.

If that weren't enough, there are countless examples of early-latin forms mixing with early-greek forms to produce a multitude of greco-latin forms, and it's not always clear at what point that has happened.

And then with the various Gallicisms, it can be difficult pinpointing precisely where that has come from, and it's sometimes even difficult differentiating between a Provencal influence and a Catalan influence (or Catalan and Spanish).

So, that being the case, what about influences from the pre-classical period, be they authochthonous (as the Sicani probably were), or later arrivals such as the Sicels? In other words, is there an original sub-strata sitting below Greek Sicilian? And if so, has any vocabulary, or any other influences continued to the present day?

A number of philologists do agree on this point generally, even if sometimes there is less agreement on the specifics.

Ruffino touches on this, mentioning that some philologists hold the view that the cacuminal -dd- as well as the unique str- have ancient origins, perhaps going back to the eariest languages spoken on the island.
Examples of these sounds are found in common words such as:

cavaddu - cavallo (horse)
beddu - bello (beautiful)
strata - strada (street) - whereas both Italian and English pronouce the -t-, more or less, it is not pronounced in this Sicilian construction at all, in its place there being a quasi-whistling sound through the teeth.

Others attribute certain toponymical names to these early languages, such as Hykkara and Zancle (the original name for Messina).

Ruffino provides these words which might be of a pre-Greek origin, but warns that in each case there is another hypothesis as to its origin, and sure enough, alternative etymologies are provided in the Dizionario Etimiologico Siciliano:

TIMPA s.f. Poggetto; balza, rupe; - Da un prelatino timpa; cfr. gr. tymba (lat. tumba), da cui anche cat. timba, dirupo.

CARRANCU s. f. Luogo scosceso. Terreno sterile. - Come it. calanco; cfr. prov. caranco.

LAVANCA s. f. Frana - Fr. lavanche, valanga.

ALASTRA s. f. Aspalato (cytisus infestus) - si tratta di un relitto mediterraneo, cfr. gr, kelastron, agrifoglio.

With the latter word, Ruffino warns that while the word is from ancient Ligurian, it is likely to have entered Sicily during medieval times.
 
There is a good chunk of placenames in Sicily who are identical or close to Ligurian placename: Segesta in Sicily and Segesta of Liguria, Entella of Sicily and Entella in Liguria, Erice in Sicily and Lerici in Liguria, Tellaro in Sicily and Tellaro in Liguria. This is, according to many historians, archeologists (Luigi Bernab? Brea and Paolo Orsi) and linguitistics that the Sicani were a branch of Ibero-Ligurian population who were later absorbed almost completely by Ausonian (Italic branch) immigrants (proto-Siculi/Elimi/Morgeti).

 
There is a good chunk of placenames in Sicily who are identical or close to Ligurian placename: Segesta in Sicily and Segesta of Liguria, Entella of Sicily and Entella in Liguria, Erice in Sicily and Lerici in Liguria, Tellaro in Sicily and Tellaro in Liguria. This is, according to many historians, archeologists (Luigi Bernab� Brea and Paolo Orsi) and linguitistics that the Sicani were a branch of Ibero-Ligurian population who were later absorbed almost completely by Ausonian (Italic branch) immigrants (proto-Siculi/Elimi/Morgeti).

Thanks for the vid. I have read about this Ibero-Ligurian link, in fact, I'm pretty show both Geoffrey Hull and Ruffino mention it in passing in both the books referenced on this thread.
 
One of my favourite dictionaries is that of Salvatore Camilleri, Vocabolario Italiano Siciliano, the only one I own which goes Italian to Sicilian rather than the other way.

He's an accomplished writer himself, in both Italian and Sicilian, and he has inserted various sketches throughout the dictionary telling different tales, be it grammatical, quirky expressions, notes on architecture, etc.

One such modu di diri he talks about is Lecca e la Mecca.

This is an expression someone might use to describe the fact that he has walked all about town looking for something, or from one end of the city to the other, with no luck (in terms of finding whatever the person was looking for).

So you might describe that sort of walking and searching as firriari Lecca e la Mecca.

Or if you have just returned from your endavours, you might describe that as aviri giratu Lecca e la Mecca.

It's pretty obvious what Mecca refers to, but what's Lecca? Camilleri says it refers to the famous mosque from Cordoba called Ceca.

Camilleri points out that one of the best known Sicilian writers, Giovanni Meli, used the expression in his well known epic satirical poem: Don Chisciotti e Sanciu Panza:

L'aju purtatu attornu pri la Spagna
pri la Lecca e la Mecca a viaggiari
pri l'Italia, la Francia, e l'Alemagna,
un eroi paladinu pri truvari....


Then one of my favourite poets and playwrights, who I quote in my sign-off, Nino Martoglio, uses a variation in one of his plays: "...fimmineddi boni, ca semu tutti anurati e travagghiaturi, e poi ci ni su' di chiddi sciarrini e micidiari, sbriugnatazzi ppi tutta La Talia, ca fannu catunii ppi lu sfacinnamentu, e su' stampati supra li giurnali di L'Erca e la Mecca. "
 
Thanks for the vid. I have read about this Ibero-Ligurian link, in fact, I'm pretty show both Geoffrey Hull and Ruffino mention it in passing in both the books referenced on this thread.
Here some pre-indoeuropean words according to Enrico Caltagirone:

alastra (this is also a surname)
ammarari
calancuni
racioppu
timpa
 
Thanks. At some point, I think a post or posts on some of the shared vocabulary between Maltese and Sicilian would be worthwhile.

I can foresee a few interesting angles:

1. are there any Greek words still common to both languages? ( I don't know the answer, but it's possible that there are some examples, even if it may not be clear cut whether they are Greek forms which have been re-introduced into Maltese).

If one leaves with the premise that the new language arrived with Siculo Arab speaking people from Sicily I would imagine that it would be difficult to find any Greek connections. Unfortunately we do not have any indications (unless there are some documents still to be discovered in Palermo archives). Only once I heard (not read) that the conjugation of 'Ta' (of) with a name or place name is of Greek origin. But I really doubt if there is any truth in that. We say example 'Ta Philomen' (Of Philomena meaning it belongs to Philomena) which apparently is not a Semitic conjugation. Apart from that I doubt in reality that there is any Greek loan words in the Maltese language of both Medieval times and of how it evolved today.

2. the many Arabic words remaining in Sicilian would undoubtedly have cognates in Maltese (maybe even be near-identical), noting that what Hauteville has said on this is correct, that the Arabic words which have survived in Sicilian are mainly argricultural terms and words describing the natural landscape.

I truly do not have an idea of what words are still alive in Sicilian of Semitic origin. Wiki has this lot, I am sure there are more.

These include:
MalteseSiculo-Arabic
(in Sicilian)
ArabicEnglish
ĠiebjaGebbiaجب (Jabb)Cistern
ĠunġlienGiuggiulenaجنجلان (Junjulān)Sesame seed
SaqqajjaSaiaساقية (Sāqiyyah)Canal
KenurTanuraتنور (Tannūr)Oven
ŻaffranZaffaranaزعفران (Zaʿfarān)Saffron
ŻahraZagaraزهرة (Zahrah)Blossom
ŻbibZibbibbuزبيب (Zabīb)Raisins
ZokkZuccuساق (Sāq)Tree trunk

from this list I can point out that nobody uses Tenura for oven locally. We use Forn in both agrarian and round the harbor dialects. But I can add to these Qala (Cala) I saw it in Sardengia (Cala del volpe) and also Miskina (Poor thing)

3. I imagine a few Norman Sicilian words would have been introduced in Maltese in medieval times.

Again unfortunately we have very few documents to reflect what Maltese was like after the Norman conquest, however it seems that it had been hardly untouched and the latinization only began probably with the order of St John, with the building of the new town on the Harbour and the commerce that was created probably receiving another wave of Sicilians and Italians (also French) (now speaking Latin) with the new activities that were created especially in seafaring. Untill today once can distinguish (although the gap in narrowing) between the harbor language and that of previously agrarian villages (who some still speak a heavy dialect). A proof of this is the oldest writing we find (in Latin script from 1428) from a poem that was written in Semitic words with the exception of a very few Latin words. This would mean that the Latinization process had become more or less with the Knights of St John.

Maltese today is also influenced by English and many words have now become part of the language sometimes replacing not only semitic ones by also Latin words. Example "ajruport" now everybody says "erport (airport)

other English loan words are obviously the more modern ones.
Frigg (refrigerator)
Brejk (Brake and Break)
Stiring (Steering)
Fan (fan)
Bejbi (baby)
Kejk (Cake)
Futboll (Football)
Dixwaxer (Dishwasher)

and many more.

From Sicilian maybe Italian

Kamra tal Pranzu (dining room)
Cangatura (stone slabs for tiling)
Gallerija (Balcony)
Karroza (Car)
Siggu (Chair)
Injam (wood)
Zia, Kugina, Kunjata, Neputi, parrinu (Aunty, Cousin, Mother in law, Nephew, God Father)
Platt, Plattina (Plate, side plate)
Furketta, kuccarina, sikkina (Fork, teaspoon, knife)
Torta (Savory pie) (Not cake)
Gwardarobba (wardrobe)
Antiporta (second door to main door)
Galletti (savory biscuits)
Galletini (sweet biscuts)
Soppa (thick soup)
Majjal (pork)
Zalzet (sausage)
Missier (father) (is it latin?)
Purtira (curtain)
Pugaman (stair handle)
Passigata (stroll)

the list is endless

All body parts most of nature except Foresta, fjuri and muntanja are all Semitic. Days of the week are Semitic but months are in latin.
 
From the book "La lingua dei Siculi" of Enrico Caltagirone: in this book there are some examples of possibly words of Siculo-Elimo language.

Abbiari
Ammeri
Prescia
Priatu
Sciara

In this video other examples (he said there are around 200 words who could be derived from Siculo and Elimo)

 
Here some pre-indoeuropean words according to Enrico Caltagirone:

alastra (this is also a surname)
ammarari
calancuni
racioppu
timpa

I have come across some of these words before.

From the Dizionario Etimologico Siciliano (Giarrizzo):

RACIOPPU s. m. Raspollo. - Da tema medit. rak (v. racina), incr. con rappocciu (incr. con rappu, var. di rappa).

1. RAPPA s. f. Grappolo d'uva - Da germ. krappa, uncino?

Piccitto carries the following related usages for racioppu:

5. racioppu di li spichi - spigolatura
7. racioppu di lu summaccu - raccolta delle olive rimaste ancora sull'albero dopo che il proprietario ha fatto eseguire la raccolta
8. Leonforte, Enna - pl. frutti rimasti sull'albero dopo la raccolta.


Unfortunately Giarrizzo doesn't have an entry for calancuni.

This is the entry in Piccitto:

calancuni m. Modica, Ragusa - onda alta e impetuosa di fiume o di torrente in piena. 2. S. Alfio, Catania e Ragusa - burrone, dirupo, avvallamento.



I'm sure I've come across ammarari before but I'm now struggling to pin it down. There are a lot of words that look and sound like it.

Picitto has:

ammarari (Trapani) intr. t. agr. invaiare, cominciare a cambiar colore, spec. dell'uva nera ma anche delle olive e dei pomodori.

Picitto also has an entry for:

ammarrari tr. ostruire un canale, un passaggio e sim. 2. fermare, bloccare ad es. una corrente d'acqua.

I'm pretty sure that's the meaning of the word I can remember, but Giarrizzo has this entry, I'm not sure if it's the exact same thing, it might be:

AMMARRARI v. tr. e int. Ostruirsi; arginare. Ingrassare animali - Per ambarrari da *barra, parola mediterranea (parete di fango); cfr. sp. barro, fango, embarrar, infangare, e fr. mare, pozza, stagno. Incr. con ammurrari.

AMMURRARI v. int. Arenarsi, ostruirsi, non fluire piu - Cfr. sp amorrar, da morro ciotolo (analogamente it. arenarsi, da arena) e lat. morari, trattenere, aresstarsi, rimanere.

Picitto carries five separate entries for ammurrari, but the third one does remind me of ammarrari:

ammurrari tr. ostruire, otturare, intasare, chiudere un buco 2. ammurrari la via o lu passu - sbarrare il passo a q.
 
Maleth
thanks for that long list.

Of the Arab words, I can definitely recall my father using the word "zuccu", being the keen gardener he was.

What about this common word:

GIARRA s. f. Grande recipiente di terracotta per acqua o olio - Ar. garra, vaso per acqua.

Looking at it from English word "jar", I get: from Old French, jarre, from Arabic jarrah, earthenware vessel.

What about the Sicilian word for coffin - tabbutu?

Going through the rest of your list, I've picked out a few interesting ones to comment on.

Siggu - chair. Sicilian has seggia, while Italian has sedia. Seggia appears to come from Fr. seige.

Kunjata is very close to the Sicilian cugnata, and parrinu is identical to the Sicilian.

It's also interesting that words like furketta and muntanja follow the same vowel pattern as you would normally find in Sicilian.

Another familial word I thought of was nanna and nannu which you also use in Maltese, if I'm not mistaken.

Thanks again.
 
Most of the Arabic loanwords (around 5% of total language) are agricultural words. Here instead an example of Greek words (around 15% of total vocabulary) into modern Sicilian:

ancuni
annacari
babbiari
buccali
bummulu
cartedda
carusu
casentaru
catu
cona
crastu
 

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