Italy, for its peculiar history, has a very variegated panorama of dialects, often very different even in places close to each other. This is mostly because historically the country was divided until a very recent time. Also, Italian as an official language has been “imposed” by media in the lower population classes only starting in the last century (it’s worth mentioning that between 1960 and 1968 one of the most followed television programmes in Italy was about lessons, tailored for adults, about learning to read and write). In fact, a study made in 1951 stated that the illiteracy percentage was as high as 32% of the population in some southern regions.
While the dialect has been considered something for lower classes since some time, in the last few years a new cultural trend emerged, leading to the revaluation of the amazing cultural, linguistic and historical heritage that dialects are.
Neapolitan language, for example, has been recognised by UNESCO as an official language and a great cultural heritage in 2013.
Anticipating this trend, in 1984 Fabrizio de Andrè, one of the most famous Italian songwriters, published a whole album sung in Genoese dialect. Genoa, for its historical background of Marictime republic, had always been in touch with many different populations and cultures, and this is well testified by its language, a melting pot of idioms from Corsican to Spanish, from French to Arabic.
It is also worth to noticing that, since the Middle-Age, Genoese was a kind of lingua franca for commerce in the Mediterranean area and it kept this status till the XIX century, when it was still used in places like Tunisia as well as in South America (in the Rio de la Plata in Argentine Genoese was used as technical language for fluvial navigation). Even in modern Italian many words related to navigation and sea in general are borrowed from the Genoese.
In this song, called “Crêuza de mä” (an expression for a small street delimitating the border of two properties and that ends at the sea) is about a territory, about its uses and customs, narrated and not described. It narrates about the life of fishermen, foreign in their own city because they “belong to the sea”, and about the tavern where they use to spend their time between alcohol and prostitutes until when the sea, that keeps them “tied” as they use to tie their ships to the dock, will call them back.
The songs ends with a mix of voices calling – voices of those selling their goods in the market: the true voice of a city.
A song so deeply rooted in its context could not be sung in any other language than the dialect of its very own cultural background, the same language that its protagonists speak on their ships, in their tavern, the same language in which they think.
The video is subbed both in Italian and in English. You can activate subtitles clicking on the icon on the bottom right. You will be capable to appreciate the extraordinary diversity of this dialect from the modern Italian.
Written by Maurizio Fusillo
Communication Trainee at TermCoord