“REGIONS AND DIALECTS” COLUMN. SEASON 1 – EPISODE 1 “LIGURIA”

Today we’ll set off on a new exploration entitled “Regions and dialects“, which like all trips can only start from home. Liguria is the magnificent, intriguing strip of land between the sea and the mountains that we indeed love to call home.

Letting ourselves resort to stereotypes for a moment, Ligurian people are united by a simple lifestyle, an innate pride in their land and a passionate love for tourists, or rather, foresti (foreigners). Joking aside, what all of us Ligurians really have in common is our dialect…and pesto.

In linguistics, Ligurian dialect refers to the set of regional languages, often divided into western dialects (characterised by Provençal sounds), Genoese dialect (radiating from the capital thanks to economic, political and commercial influence) and eastern dialects (with Tuscan influences).

Despite this distribution, the various dialects have typical features and peculiarities which make them understandable throughout the region, from Ventimiglia to Sarzana.

LIGURIA WITHOUT BORDERS           

From Ventimiglia to Sarzana, yes, but not only. As Liguria is not merely a strip of seaside land: the dialect is also and above all spoken in the hinterland. However, it is incorrect to consider the use of our dialects confined merely to regional borders.

Typical aspects of the Ligurian dialect are also present in many areas of Lower Piedmont and Emilia. Its most important centres (and those which are more historically linked to the city of Genoa) include Ovada, Novi Ligure, Gavi and Ottone.

In addition, there is still mention of varieties of Ligurian dialects today in some language islands of Sardinia (the “tabarchine” communities of Carloforte and Calasetta) and Corsica (Bonifacio). The traces of a remarkable Genoese lexical influence are quite appreciable in the dialects of Corsica, Turritano and Maddalena in Sardinia, in Gibraltar and Greek islands (Chios). Furthermore, in the 19th century Genoese was exported to the countries of South America, such as Argentina (La Boca) and Chile.

LIGURIAN DIALECT AND FRENCH

Those familiar with Liguria and France are clearly aware of how the two language systems sound similar and seem to be somehow related. Indeed.

The affinities – or if you will -similarities, are firstly attributable to a common Latin base.

Having said that, we can find phonetic affinities (sounds) attributable to contact phenomena and the influence that French culture may have exerted on the Genoese dialect, as well as vice versa.

One example is the use of the “ç” sound shared by the two linguistic systems, even if in different functions. In both cases you get the sound [s], an intervocalic “s”, such as in çetron (Genoese, meaning orange) and leçon (French).

Despite being written differently in Genoese, the letter “x” produces the sound [ʒ] that’s also present in French and corresponds to the grapheme /j/, as in xatta (Genoese) and jatte (French).

Then there’s also the so-called “French u“, present in fugassa (our beloved focaccia) and, for example, vu (in French).

Lastly, there’s the typical Genoese silent “z“, as in zena (Genoese) and zéro (French).

For those who’d like to explore the topic from a terminological point of view, I recommend this page.

FUN FACT

Let’s leave France behind to head to the other side of the world, to Argentina.

That’s right, because as I said, the Ligurian dialect (in this case I’m talking mainly about Genoese dialect) was also exported by our predecessors to South America.

And it was precisely in the Buenos Aires district La Boca that Genoese emigrants found a second home, where they also decided to found one of the most famous football teams in the world: the Boca Juniors.

Ever since then, fans and footballers have been called “Xeneizes“, meaning Genoese.

Stefano Gaffuri
English translation and adaptation by Sarah Schneider