Endangered Language Alliance
Moreover, Southern Italy has been dominated by many different peoples over the centuries, with each group leaving its mark on the local language. Already in the 9th century B.C.E., coastal Southern Italy was in the process of becoming Magna Graecia, a Greek settler colony where a unique variety of Greek continued to be used well into the 9th century C.E. There were encounters with Samnite tribes who spoke the now extinct Oscan language, and in the 3rd century B.C.E., Southern Italy became a region of the Roman Empire, leading to bilingualism in varieties of Latin and Greek.
Roman (Latin) and Greek influences were formative, but significant influences came from the Lombards (originally Germanic-speaking), the Spanish (who ruled the region), the Catalan, the French, the Arabs, the Americans (English), and other Italian groups. After serving as capital of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies between 1815 and 1860, Naples and the South were absorbed into the new Italian state.
Everyday communication and the arts have been strongholds for Neapolitan, but today use of the language is often taken as a sign of being provincial and working class. By official estimates, less than a third of young people will speak Neapolitan by the end of the century, and that will probably be in an increasingly Italianized form (Colluzzi, 2008).
One particular notable feature of Neapolitan, rare in the languages of the world, is Rafforzamento Sintattico, the doubling of initial consonants in certain syntactic positions. In addition, initial doubling can be found at the beginning of words, even without a preceding vowel. This is apparently only found in Central-Southern Italian dialects and Pattani Malay (Romano, 2002). The phenomenon is so widespread that it is present even among people in much of southern Italy who would say they do not speak “dialect.”
Ancient Greek varieties has influenced the Neapolitan lexicon:
The way of expressing family ferms may follow a pattern that ultimately derives from Greek, with the possessor coming after the family term:
|Mio padre||Pateme||My father|
|Mia mamma||Mammmame||My mom|
|Mio fratello||Frateme||My brother|
Spanish and French words entered Neapolitan centuries ago:
|Garçon||Garson||Bachelor [in Neapolitan]|
|Don||Don||[Respectful form of address]|
Above all, Standard Italian has influenced all aspects of Neapolitan, but most noticeably the lexicon as Italian proceeds to replace Neapolitan all across Southern Italy. Although Neapolitan is relatively robust and widely spoken compared to other Italian varieties, an “Italianization” process began in earnest during the World Wars and with the coming of mass media. Since the mid-1990s there has been a resurgence of interest and activism, especially among younger people, but even so a significant amount of Italian is now often mixed with Neapolitan.
The Southern Italian variety that had the most prestige and was perhaps most widely known was the Neapolitan spoken in the city of Naples, the region’s largest and the former capital of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, where it was a lingua franca. In the United States, Neapolitan speakers influenced and interacted with speakers of Sicilian, Calabrese, Pugliese, and other varieties, especially in the multidialectal immigrant neighborhoods of cities like New York.
Today speakers are more dispersed and tend to be more elderly, but there remains some central neighborhoods like Ridgewood, Queens; Bensonhurst, Brooklyn; Arthur Avenue and Morris Park in the Bronx, and increasingly in the suburbs of New Jersey, Westchester, and Long Island. In New York, there are still many clubs and organizations promoting Southern Italian culture, language, and identity, including Veraci and the Two Sicilies Committee. The Endangered Language Alliance has worked with Neapolitan poet Charles Sant’Elia who speaks the variety spoken in Naples and with a family in Jersey City that continues to speak fluent Casamassimese, a very different Pugliese variety spoken near Bari.