My grandparents have nostalgic memories of the days when Romans spoke their true vernacular tongue, called Romanesco – which has nothing to do with the vulgar slang tourists pick up while wandering the capital. That’s Romanaccio, with the final ‘accio’ indicating something denigratory.
Romanesco was the lyrical language of great poets such as Trilussa and Gioacchino Belli, whose statue rises on the Lungotevere. It was colorful, warm and cheerful. Hardly anyone still speaks it in Rome and those who do are the elders.
Dialects are slowly disappearing and once they’re gone a huge part of Italy’s cultural, social and human heritage will be lost. Recent statistics suggest only 14% of Italians speak in dialect today.
Among the factors killing dialects is simply the passage of time. Old people are the holders of linguistic nuances so when they pass away this knowledge dies with them. Youth who flee in search of a brighter future elsewhere often end up forgetting their native speech or they ditch it because it is not considered ‘cool’ in the city.
In the past dialects were a social barrier dividing poor families from rich ones. Southerners migrating to the north to work would hide their local tongue and accent over fear of discrimination. Their descendants have now lost it.
Even though the disintegration of dialects started with the birth of the Italian state in 1860, which created a national standard language, mass emigration and industrialization followed by globalization have dealt further blows.
The use of computers and technology, dominated by the English language, has pushed youth to embrace new terms and strive to learn English rather than to cherish their local idioms – and often be looked down upon by friends in the city.
According to UNESCO there are roughly 30 Italian ‘languages’ at risk of extinction. These include Toitschu, spoken by just 200 people in a hamlet in Valle D’Aosta, and Guardiolo, spoken by Waldenses descendants in the Calabrian town of Guardia Piemontese.
But there are many places where dialects survive and are a source of territorial pride and belonging.
Due to changes in boundaries or following past invasions, it’s easy to come across communities that speak Albanian, Greek, Latin, French and German-sounding dialects. It’s a real throwback luring tourists. Road signs and street names are written in two languages, old traditions, customs and foods live on.
In Italy there are 12 ‘sub-languages’ spoken by linguistic minorities living on islands, in regions bordering with other countries or in remote rural villages. These are protected by the state and each include variants.
In South Tyrol, once a part of Austria, the majority of people speak different German dialects. In Molise and Basilicata locals speak Greek-ish and an Albanian-sounding idiom called Arberesch.
Some southern cities are anchored to their dialects. Take Naples or Bari Vecchia (the old district) where the colorful slang is part of the scenery. Islands are where, due to their isolation, everyone speaks in dialects. Have a trip across Sicily or Sardinia and your Italian will be of no help.
There are other niche cases showing how the more local you gol, the richer the language still is – even between nearby ‘rival’ towns.
During my latest trip to Lombardy’s Iseo Lake I walked from the village of Paratico to Sarnico and once I stepped across the dividing bridge, the tongue changed.
To say “over there” Paratico inhabitants have “zo de là”, those of Sarnico “fo gliò”. In the nearby village of Sulzano signs greet foreigners in local speech: “Welcome to Sòlsa“. Another example: in San Polo di Piave, a fraction of Treviso in Veneto region, furrows are “culiere”; in adjacent Villorba it’s “cuncuoi”.
It’s a matter of territorial fanaticism, depending on how much people still feel the pull of their roots and the need to be ‘different’.
Symbolic dialect phrases sometimes survive also in top cities. Venetians like to exchange greetings across canals with “Viva San Marco” or “VSM” (Long Live St.Mark, the patron) instead of with a simple Ciao.
Dialects are often supported by local political parties. When the League was a northern group against Rome it endorsed the Lumbard dialect and held pagan-like rituals during which politicians would drink the Po River’s waters to boost their energy. Now that the League is a nationwide party within the ruling coalition it has dropped language propaganda.
Bar those regions and areas where the state protects and promotes bilingualism, the survival of dialects in the rest of Italy solely relies on the passion of scholars and volunteers who organize evening courses and events. These are flourishing in Piedmont and Puglia.
They write poems in dialect, organize theatre performances and bands translate English songs into hilarious dialect versions. And it’s not just pensioners and academics attending, there are curious young people and also tourists interested in discovering old tongues.
Local authorities could do more to fund the teaching of dialects at school. Many Sardinian schools have introduced Sardo lessons just because their special regional statute allows different education programs.
But it should be the norm across the country: alongside learning English and following religion courses, kids should be given the choice of a dialect, preferably that spoken in their city or region.
Learning Romanesco at school would be a great way, in fact, of also doing some history and literature in a fun way. As a distinctive trait of Italian culture and symbols of territorial differences, dialects are just as important as food and art.
European Commission recommends travel ban on southern Africa amid fears over new Covid variant
The EU is expected to announce an immediate travel ban to southern Africa because of the discovery of a new Covid-19 variant.
The B.1.1.529 variant, which is more transmissible than the dominant Delta variant and could evade vaccines, has been discovered in South Africa’s most populous province Gauteng.
The EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen tweeted: “The @EU_Commission will propose, in close coordination with Member States, to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the southern African region due to the variant of concern B.1.1.529.”
The future of this year’s United Rugby Championship (URC) could be in jeopardy as it has four South African teams in it.
Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer, Michael McBride, said the emergence of the new variant was “undoubtedly a matter of concern”.
Recent arrivals to Northern Ireland from the six countries on the UK list will be contacted by the Public Health Agency (PHA) and asked to self-isolate and take a PCR test, which will be prioritised for genomic sequencing.
Further assessments will be made concerning other countries with strong travel links to South Africa, the North’s Department of Health said.
Dr McBride said the introduction of travel restrictions was on a “precautionary basis, while we await further evidence on the spread of this variant in South Africa and understand more about it.”
The official Munster rugby Twitter account stated: “We all are safe & well in Pretoria. We are working with URC on the ongoing situation relating to Covid-19 & will provide an update once we know more #MunsterInSA.”
The Covid adviser for the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP), Mary Favier has warned that if the new South African variant of the virus manages to “out run” Delta, then “we will have a problem”.
It was still unknown if vaccines would work against the new variant which was why so much attention was being paid to it, she told Newstalk Breakfast.
Dr Favier also welcomed plans to extend the vaccine programme to children aged 5-11. GPs knew the difference that vaccines could make, however, she pointed out that it would be a parental decision and GPs would be willing to discuss the issue with parents.
On RTÉ Radio 1’s Morning Ireland programme immunology expert, Professor Christine Loscher said she expected the World Health Organisation (WHO) to move the status of the new variant from one of interest to one of concern in the near future.
The new variant was of concern because of the number of mutations in the spike proteins and it was still unclear how this variant would respond to vaccines. It was a case of wait and see the impact, she said.
Within the coming weeks it would be known how good current vaccines were at neutralising antibodies in the variant, added Prof Loscher. But she pointed out that vaccine manufacturers have been able to “tweak” vaccines as the virus changed.
“That’s a positive thing to know, that they have the technology to vary the vaccine as variants arrive.”
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said he is “deeply concerned” about the new Covid variant.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) will meet on Friday to to further assess the significance of this variant.
The Department of Foreign Affairs has not updated its travel advice to South Africa on its website. It no longer advises against non-essential travel.
Italy tightens Covid restrictions as some regions face return to ‘yellow’ zone
A government decree that comes into force from December 6th will require a ‘super green pass’ health certificate to access most venues and services across the country, in a bid to contain Italy’s rising infection rate and ensure Christmas celebrations can go ahead as planned.
The ‘super green pass’ can be obtained only by those who are vaccinated against or have recovered from Covid-19.
It supersedes the basic ‘green pass’, which was also available to those who had recently tested negative for the virus; though the basic green pass will still be valid for use on public transport and to access workplaces.
Speaking at a televised press conference on Monday evening, Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi said the restrictions would mean a “normal” Christmas this year for those who are vaccinated, and would “give certainty to the tourist season”.
The announcement comes amid media reports that some Italian regions will be placed under increased restrictions starting next week.
People wearing a face mask do some window shopping on Piazza di Spagna in central Rome on December 13, 2020. Vincenzo PINTO / AFP
The northerneastern region of Friuli Venezia Giulia will be returned to the more restricted ‘yellow’ zone from Monday, after it met all of the Italian government’s criteria for tightened restrictions.
Italy operates under a four-tier colour coded system for coronavirus restrictions, with ‘white’ zone areas under the most relaxed rules, and ‘yellow’, ‘orange’ and ‘red’ zones under increasingly strict restrictions.
Since October, the entire country has been in the least-restricted white zone – but this week, Friuli Venezia Giulia’s hospital ward occupancy and Covid infection rates exceeded the limits put in place by the government last summer.
The region’s figures stood at 15 percent Covid patient ICU occupancy and 18 percent general hospital ward occupancy as of November 24th, according to data provided by Agenas, Italy’s National Agency for Health Services.
Under a law introduced by Italy’s government in July, any region above the threshold of 10 percent ICU and 15 percent general ward Covid patient occupancy and with a new weekly incident rate of 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants should automatically be placed in the yellow zone.
It’s thought that mass demonstrations held in the region’s capital of Trieste last month to protest the introduction of a Covid health certificate requirement for Italy’s workers are partly behind its deteriorating health situation.
A Santa Claus puppet wearing a face mask is displayed in the window of a food store at Rome’s Trevi fountain square on December 23, 2020. Vincenzo PINTO / AFP
According to Italian media, Friuli Venezia Giulia’s governor Massimiliano Fedriga has agreed to enforce the government’s ‘super green pass’ rules from Monday, allowing the region’s vaccinated population to bypass restrictions they would otherwise be subject to.
Currently, ‘yellow zone’ restrictions require an area’s inhabitants to wear a mask both outdoors and in indoor public spaces, and restaurants can seat a maximum of four diners to a table.
While those in a yellow zone will still be required to mask up outdoors, under the new rules, people who hold the ‘super green pass’ will be able to access “indoor catering”, shows (such as theatre performances), parties, nightclubs, sporting events, and “public ceremonies”, as normal.
Other parts of the country currently expected to join Friuli Venezia Giulia in the yellow zone within the next couple of weeks are the autonomous province of Bolzano, which had 10 percent ICU and 15 percent general ward Covid patient occupancy rates as of November 24th; as well as Marche, Liguria, Lazio, Calabria, which all have figures approaching the threshold.
Some of Italy’s larger cities are putting into place their own preemptive strategies to try to contain their infection rates.
On Thursday, Milan’s mayor Giuseppe Sala said he was preparing to sign a measure making facemasks mandatory outdoors across the city center from the coming weekend, reports news agency Ansa.
And in Venice, mayor Luigi Brugnaro has already signed an order requiring the use of masks at Christmas markets and other large outdoor gatherings in the city, reports Sky TG 24.
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