Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Under construction, feel free to email your questions to paul@cademiasiciliana.org

Last Updated 3 November 2017

What is your position on x, y or z?

Please see our official resolutions subforum to see our official positions.

What is your orthography project?

Our orthography project has created a proposal for a unified system for writing the Sicilian language. We have consulted with dozens of experts in the fields of linguistics, language planning, sociolinguistics, regional and minority languages issues and Sicilian studies in order to form an approach that best reflects the desires of the siculofone community.

We have taken a very flexible approach to standardisation and have opted to include as much variation as practical into the standard itself. Although we found that many forms share common origins and are easily standardised into one form, others are genuinely different evolutions and must be maintained independently. In this way we took substantial inspiration from languages likes Norwegian (Nynorsk) which aims to reflect the natural variation within their language. Furthermore, it was important to us that the standard be accessible and approachable to its speakers. Compromises are sometimes difficult, but we believe that by working closely as a diverse team and conservatively approving proposals with high levels of support we have balanced these competing needs reasonably well.

What variety is your orthography based on?

Since the goal of the orthography is to facilitate written communication, literary sicilian constitutes a major input into our orthography. However, literary Sicilian in many ways is divergent from contemporary spoken Sicilian, so we have attempted to create a flexible orthography that allows for that variation and reflects the modern language. No one dialect forms the basis of the orthography, and in fact most dialects can be easily expressed within our orthography. We hope to formalise the inclusion of major regional variations in future works to make it more clear the range of lexicon, morphology and syntax within Sicilian, while simultaneously making speakers more familiar with the literary forms.

Why are only Insular dialects included in your proposal?

According to the official policy of the Cadèmia a polycentric approach to standardisation has been adopted. The varieties of Salento, and much of Calabria are quite divergent from insular Sicilian and will require additional research to be added into the common orthography. Furthermore, because of a lack of awareness of the mutual intelligibility of the range of varieties, we have not yet been fortunate enough to have sufficient experts in Salentinu within our organisation. In future versions we aspire to a completely unified orthography, however for the time we’ve decided to focus our efforts on the insular varieties.

But no one speaks like that, why is it written that way?

Our orthography makes no prescriptions regarding spoken Sicilian. It is only a way of writing, it is not a way of speaking. Although siculofones may innovate their Sicilian with our orthography it is not explicit intent and the Cadèmia Siciliana does not make any recommendations regarding spoken forms. We do use the literary forms as the basis for our instructional videos for Sicilian as a new language, but we also include common variations in our programmes so that learners are aware that there are many varieties of Sicilian.

Why is an orthography necessary?

Although a standard orthography isn’t necessary to use Sicilian to speak online or with friends, it is important for larger and more sophisticated projects. Much of the problems we’ve faced with implementing Sicilian into software, computers and mobile phones has been the lack of an agreed upon alphabet and writing conventions. We’ve made resolving these issues and publishing the results to major technology bodies a priority.

Is Sicilian a dialect of Italian?

Although commonly referred to by many as a “dialect”, this is often due to a larger misunderstanding about the peculiar usage of the word “dialect” in Italian linguistics. By the common Italian definition Sicilian is a “dialetto romanzo primario”, however this would translate into international nomenclatures as a “regional or minority language” or “unofficial language”. Whereas globally a dialect is a “variety of speech of a language”, within Italy it means “variety of speech of lower social status not generally used for official purposes”. As is clearly evident the history of this term reflects political developments within Italy and Sicily over the last several hundred years. We clearly prefer the term language, as the term dialect carries unnecessary stigma and promotes linguaphobia.

That said, there also exists a Sicilian dialect of Italian, also known as “Regional Italian”. This term reflects when Sicilian speak Italian with elements inherited from the substratum of Sicilian language. In reality most speakers freely mix Italian and Sicilian to great levels throughout their day, and often move back and forth based on context. This however can further prejudices as many non-sicilian speakers come to believe that the regional italian reflects the entire scope of the languages’ variation and as such judge it to be a variety of Italian. This is compounded by stigmas associated with speaking the language outside of family or local neighbourhood.

Interestingly, the Sicilian language along with several other Italic languages evolved independently of the Italian language and contains a very fascinating mix of Catalan, Castilian, Norman French, Provençal, Arabic and Greek words. Contrary to popular belief Sicilian doesn’t come from the Latin Roman Empire. Sicily was mostly latinised after the 12th century, prior to that the island spoke a mixture of Siculo-Arabic, Sicilian Greek and perhaps some pockets of latinate varieties. This diverse history represents a cultural legacy that has influenced both the Sicilian language as well as being the origin for many words in the Italian language. In fact the Sicilian language actually contains many dialects within itself, including ‘salentinu’ a variety located as far away as southern Puglia in Italy’s ‘heel’. Sadly, within Italy, Sicilian has very limited legal recognition. However, it is internationally recognised by the most significant and respected linguistic organisations including UNESCO, Ethnologue, Glottolog and SIL/ISO. Unfortunately, Italy has not ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ECRML).

Sadly within Sicily and Italy there still remains significant prejudice against the minority and regional languages which are often viewed as being a symbol of illiteracy, criminality or low social class. This issue is far from limited to Sicily, and linguistic discrimination is the root cause of a large component of human linguistic heritage loss. You may be familiar with other cases, for example the loss of global indigenous languages.

So where does Sicilian come from?

 

What about the other languages in Sicily/Italy?

It is our mission at Cadèmia Siciliana to create awareness regarding these issues, not just in Sicily but across Italy. Italy is actually the most linguistically diverse country in Europe, with 33 living languages. One of our colleagues even grew up in a Italiot-Greek, Sicilian and Italian speaking town. Within Sicily alone there are four native languages including an Albanian language called Arbëreshë, a language related to French called Gallo-Italic of Sicily and Calabrian Greek. Sadly, little is being done to preserve this gift of cultural diversity. These smaller languages are suffering much more than ours, and our organisation also tries to collaborate with these groups where possible.

What are some common myths regarding the Sicilian language?

Myth: “It’s not possible to write in Sicilian.”

Truth: There are actually several systems for writing Sicilian, some dating from as far back as the 12th century when Latin dialects were replacing Greek and Arabic ones within Sicily. There are actually many famous poets, writers, both historical and contemporary. Sicilian speakers even maintain a very active Wikipedia with over 25,000 articles! The

Cadèmia Siciliana releases an annual orthography which we recommend for use.

 

Myth: “The Sicilian dialects are not mutually intelligible.”

Truth: As with every language variations in dialects can be substantial. A good example would be the difference between Jamaican English, Scottish English and General American. Sicilian dialects sometimes have different words for the same thing (often because of very interesting histories!). But after a little familiarisation these issues become irrelevant. You could say, pumadoru or pumaroru (tomato, tomahto), and we’ll still understand you.

 

Myth: “Sicilian was never official anywhere.”

Truth: Sicilian lost its official usage with the beginning of the Spanish colonial period and rule from Madrid. The last known document (that we know of) promulgated in Sicilian is sadly the expulsion of the ancient Jewish population from Sicily by the Spanish in 1492. These documents are written in “Sicilian Latin” which likely evolved into our current varieties of speech. It is documented that Sicilian remained the spoken language of the Sicilian parliament until it was abolished during the Bourbon period.

 

Myth: “Sicilian is just bad Italian.”

Truth: The relationship between Italian and Sicilian is known as a ‘diglossic’ relationship. There are many other places in the world where two languages coexist with one having substantial prestige and the other being limited to informal settings due to stigma. This has contributed to the falsehood that Sicilian language is just a “low quality” version of Italian. That said, there also exists a Sicilian dialect of Italian which contains a mixture of the two languages. This dialect contains elements of both languages, and it’s neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’, it’s just different!

 

Myth: “No one speaks Sicilian anymore.”

Truth: Although many young people may understand very well, fewer and fewer are able to speak. Because education is not available in Sicilian, there are many challenges in securing it’s survival. Sicilian is currently classified as ‘Vulnerable’ rather than ‘Endangered’. However, it’s vitality creates other problems, funding opportunities for organisations like ours are usually only available for endangered languages.

Myth: Only old people in villages speak Sicilian

Truth: I invite you to Sicily, I can introduce you to lots of speakers of all ages!