My grandpa and I communicate in Italian but he brags about me in dialect to his friends. Dialect is an important cultural characteristic in Italy. Villages, towns, cities, provinces and regions have dialects embedded inside each-other, of which the speakers are proud but ageing with the rest of the country. Few people nowadays speak Laghee and other dialects from my Lake Como area, but these are still understood by most of the population. For myself, I didn’t hear much dialect being spoken while I was growing up because my grandparents thought it would confuse me too much since I was already bilingual. However, I can understand most of what is said in Laghée dialect. This interesting fact can be explained, at least personally for me and many of my friends, through the rise of musical artists performing in dialect.
Davide Van De Sfroos, a sign-a-song writer from Como, is an artist who signs almost uniquely in our local dialect and who is very much loved among northern Italians of any age.
With rustic and hilarious lyrics, Davide tells story of simple people with raw and outrageous details.
This is the text of the first two paragraphs of Yanez (2011):
Sale scende la marea e riporta la sua rudeera
un sèdell e una sciavata e una tuletta de Red Bull
Sandokan cun’t el mohito e’l bigliett cun soe l’invito
Sandokan che ha imparato a pilotare le infradito…
e la geent che la rüva al maar taant per dì che l’è staada che
cul getton de la sala giochi
el càvall el moev un zicch el cüü
uduu de fritüüra de pèss e de piza de purtà via
Kamammuri l’è de sessant’ann che sta
soel dondolo de la pension…
My english translation:
The tides comes in and out taking trash
A bucket, a slipper and a bottle of Red Bull
Sandokan with a mohito and a invitation
Sandokan who learned to pilot in flip-flops…
And the people who arrive to the sea just to say they are there
With the coin for game room
A horse moves a bit his ars
Smell of fried fish and take-away pizza
Kamammuri has been for sixty years
On the rocking chair of the pension…
Davide reminds many people of Fabrizio De Andrè (Faber), the sign-a-song writer from Geova, by many considered “Il piu gran cantautore di tutti i tempi”. Fabrizio sang in his own dialect, genovese many songs about the lower class of Genova, but also in critique to religion and the government, as can be heard in his popular song Don Raffae (translation), but also in the whole album Creuza de mä. De Andre also sang in Sardinian, Ave Maria, a traditional song in the album L’Indiano, which was written after the local Sardinian rebels captured and imprisoned him and his wife for four months.
De Andrè believed in the importance of languages for the maintenance of the creativeness of the National language, in this case Italian. He also believed dialects represented a form of art that goes in harmony as complementary to music. With his original style that recalls traditional cultures not only through the language, but also thanks to the combination of traditional instruments and chorus, De Andrè is an immortal artists whose style will continue to inspire generations.
Artists play an essential role in the maintenance of dialects which are risking extinction. They are, in my opinion, the most effective way found so far in Italy to keep the dialects alive. Indeed songs sang in dialect often allow a reversing language shift, which one can notice in the streets or on the train, when one can hear young people singing in dialect to these timeless, beautiful songs.