The Sicilian Language
       Many souls, even Sicilians and those of Sicilian descent, have the same misconception held by Italians and non-Italians everywhere: that “Sicilian” is simply a different, “cruder” form of the Italian language.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  While today’s Italians and sadly, today’s Sicilians, are told “by those that know” that Sicilian is the language of the poor or ignorant, the Sicilian LANGUAGE was the first “Romance” language to develop from Latin, the early language of state.  As such, it includes not only words derived from Latin roots (as did the Italian dialect “Tuscan” which became the official Italian language), but it has rich inclusions from the tongues of the many occupiers of Sicily, including Carthaginian, Greek, Arabic, French and Spanish.Sicilian was the language of poets, taught in the Sicilian School of Roger the Great a thousand years ago, but it is no longer taught in Sicilian schools.  If you’re an “Italian American”, the odds are good that your immigrant ancestors, like the majority of “Italian” émigrés during the Great Migration, were from Sicily, and that they spoke, not Italian, but SICILIAN.This page is inspired by the facebook group “Speak Sicilian” (, where you can read or write in the Sicilian language; ask how to say an English word or phrase in Sicilian; ask what aSicilian word means in English; or learn (or teach) Sicilian.Vowels in the Sicilian language have the following sounds (phonetics are in English): A is “ah”; E is “eh” (“long a”); I is “ee”; O is “oh” (“long o), and U is “oo”. “ A, E, I, O, U” in Italian is “ah, eh, ee, oh, oo”!!  The English sound of I (“long i” as in “eye”) is given by the combination “ai” in Sicilian.   Sicilian has no letter “k”, “y” or “w”.  It has a letter written like “j”, but this “j” is a form of the letter “i”, and is pronounced as we would pronounce “y” in English.

In Sicilian spellings, “c”, if it is followed by “a”, “o” or “u”, is pronounced like the English “k”; but if it is followed by an “i” or “e”, then “c” is pronounced like the English “ch” (as in “church”). Double “cc” is also pronounced as the English “K”.”ch” in Sicilian is NOT pronounced as in English, but sounds like the English “k”.  So my cousins, the Miccichèfamily, pronounce their surname “mee-chee-KAY”.

Similarly, “g” is pronounced as in the English “good” if followed by “a”, “o” or “u”; but “g” is pronounced like the English “j” (as in “George”) if it is followed by an “i” or “e”.  In Sicilian pronunciation, the “g” sound at the start of words is often “swallowed”, and sometimes also the middle of words.  The “g” is silent when followed by the consonant “l”.

The letter “j”, in my Sicilian usage, I consider as an “i”, but I use it to distinguish it from a following “i”, as in “jiri” (English phonetics: YIH-rih)

Is Sicilian a ‘Dialect’?
    Some (generally Northern Italians) try to imply that Sicilian is simply a dialect of the Italian language.  The Italian language itself was once a dialect, Toscano, or Tuscan, which was one of many Apennine peninsula dialects that developed from Latin.Many modern day languages trace their origins to the Latin spoken in ancient Rome.  These are the ‘Romance’ languages, which include Tuscan (Italian); Spanish; Portugese; French; and Rumanian.But there is strong evidence that the first Romance language to develop from Latin was the Sicilian language.I’m not a trained linguist, and my knowledge of Tuscan is book-learned, while I learned Sicilian at my mother’s knee.  However, I’m a self-taught student of languages, and my education as an engineer has taught me to have a curiosity for how all things have developed.  When words are considered in their Latin origin and then compared in Sicilian and Italian, the words seem clearly to have progressed from Latin to Sicilian, to Italian; in some cases, Italian words bear no likeness to Latin and Sicilian words that are clearly related.

In Latin, “brother” is frater (FRAH-tehr); in Sicilian, it’s frati (FRAH-tih).  In Tuscan/Italian, it’s fratello (fruh-TELL-oh).  I seriously doubt that the word went from frater to fratello to frati; it seems clear that the progression was from Latin to Sicilian to Tuscan.  The same can be said for the words for “sister”: Latin soror, Sicilian soru, Tuscan sorella.

In Latin, as in Sicilian and Tuscan, many nouns have masculine or feminine endings.  Latin’s endings are “us” (oos) for the masculine and “a” (ah) for the feminine.  Again, to me, it seems much more likely that the many Sicilian masculine nouns that end in “u” (oo) derive directly from Latin, and that the Tuscan masculine ending of “o” came later.  Examples are “rabbit”: Latin cuniculus, Sicilian cunigliu, and Tuscan coniglio; and “son”; Latinfilius, Sicilian figliu, and Tuscan figlio.  In my youth, I mistakenly thought that ny parents pronounced the ‘Italian’ sound of “o” as “u”.  After serious reconsideration, I believe that in fact, the Tuscan and Italianpronunciation changed, devolving the original Latin (and Sicilian) “u” to sound like “o”.

Other words (presented in the order Latin, Sicilian, Tuscan) show similar evolution: “wife”: mulieri, muglieri,moglie; and “how”: quomodus, comu, come.

And then there are words for which the Sicilian is clearly derived from the Latin, while the Tuscan appears to have come from a completely different source.  In Latin, the verb “to go” is ire (IHR-eh); in Sicilian, it’s jiri(YIHR-ih); but in Tuscan/Italian, it’s andare.  In Latin, the pronoun “he” is illus, Sicilian iddu, but in Tuscan it’slui; and “she” is illa in Latin, idda in Sicilian, but lei in Tuscan!

The Sicilian words given below are as I learned them from parents who left Sicily a hundred years ago.  As such they reflect the language as it was spoken in Sicily around the beginning of the 1900s, which was not much modified by incursions of the Tuscan dialect that the ‘Risorgimento’ imposed on Sicily.  I believe its ‘purity’ was also enhanced by the fact that Serradifalco is and was a small interior town having limited contact with speakers of Tuscan, or the modified Sicilian dialects of other regions.  Language scholar Alissandru Caldiero, author of Grammar of the Sicilian Language, has informed me that my Sicilian (that is, my parents’Sicilian) resembles the language spoken at the court of Frederick II.

Meaning Latin Sicilian Italian
above supra supra sopra
apple pomum pumu mela
below subtus suttu sotto
brother frater frati fratello
cheek maxilla masciedda guancia
cherry cerasus cirasu ciliegia
empty vacuus vacanti vuoto
father pater patri padre
to fix exserciare azzizzari aggiustari
from de di da
to go ire jiri andare
good bonus bonu buono
half medius mezzu metà
I have habeo haiu ho
he illus iddu lui
hello salve saluti ciao
here hac ca qua
horse cavallus cavaddu cavallo
how quomodo comu come
I know scio saiu, sacciu so
long longus lungu lungo
mother mater matri madre
new novus nuvu nuovo
peach persicum pirsica pesca
pear pirum piru pera
rabbit cuniculus cunigliu coniglio
scissors forfex forfici forbici
she illa idda lei
sister soror soru sorella
son filius figliu figlio
sweet dulcis duci dolce
then tum tannu poi
tree arbor arbulu albero
where is ubi est unni è dove è
who qui cu che
wife mulier muglieri moglie
with cum cu con
   Students of language report that Dante Alighieri, the medieval poet, was greatly influenced by the language that had been spoken at the court of Sicily’s Frederick II, namely the Sicilian tongue that was studied and written at the famous Sicilian School.  Dante is credited with polishing the Tuscan dialect, doing so with words and ideas adapted from the Sicilian School and its language.  For example, the sonnet, a form of poetry unknown before Frederick’s reign, evolved in Sicily, only to become a major form of poetry throughout not only Italy, but the world.   Sicilian is a LANGUAGE, that is true; however, like many other languages, it has different dialects within it, that have developed in various regions of Sicily and in the south of the Apennine peninsula.  Below is a vocabulary of English words and their meanings in Sicilian, with variations for the dialects of several towns or regions.  It appears that in central Sicily, in Caltanissetta province northern Agrigento province and eastern Palermo province, the classic Sicilian language still prevails as it was spoken in the court of Frederick II.  This is characterized by words like figliu (son) and cunigliu (rabbit), which in dialects elsewhere have become figghiuand cunigghiu; and especially lu (masculine ‘the’), la (feminine ‘the’) and li (plural ‘the), which in dialects have devolved into u, a and i.I invite all Sicilians and all those of Sicilian descent to e-mail me, to add your own versions of these words.  Please identify them by region, and add as many English words you like, with their Sicilian equivalents.
Viva la lingua Siciliana!!!
Sicilian Words
To use the table, remember the pronunciation guide given above.
In English In serrafarchisi
In missinisi
In palermitanu
In altavillisi
In sciacchatanu
verb: I am sugnu
ant formícula
apple pumu
verb: they are sunnu
ball palla pallunni
verb: to be ssiri
beautiful (feminine) bedda bedda beddra
below suttu
bird anciddu aceddu aceddu
a little bit tantícchia
boy carusu
boy, little picciliddu piccirriddu
boy, teen piciottu
carpet trappitu
cheese tumazzu
coffee cafè cafè
cupboard stipu
verb: to cry chiàngiri
daughter figlia figghia
day jurnu jurnu
donkey sceccu sceccu
dresser cantaranu
ear oricchiu
verb: to eat mangiari mangiari
eggplant milingiana mulinciana
fig cookies pucciddati pucciddati cucciddati cuccinnati
finger jitu
fingernail ugnu
verb: to fold gnutticari
folded gnutticatu
fork furcetta
from di
verb: to fix azzizzari
girl carusa
girl, little piccilidda piccirridda
girl, teen piciotta
verb: to go jiri jiri
goat crapa
half mezzu
hammer martiddu
handkerchief fazzulettu
handsome (masculine) biddu biddu
he iddu
here cca
hole pirtusu pitusu
in, inside, into intra nta
verb: he or she is jè (yeh)
key chiavi chiavi chiavi
kidneys rini
knee ghinucchiu
knife cutiddu
verb: to knock tuppiari
leaf foglia
verb: to look taliari
middle mezzu
mop cannavazzu
nail chiuvu chiovu
napkin serbietta mappina
of di
others antri autri
page foglio
pliers tinaglia
polenta (Sicilian style) frascàtula
verb: to rain chioviri
rifle scupetta
verb: to speak parlari parrari
scissors furfici
she idda
sheep picuridda
shoe scarpa
shoulders spaddi
son figliu figghiu
spider tarantula
spoon cucchiara
sugar zuccheru zuccheru
summer staggiuni
Sunday duminica ruminica
table tavulinu
tail cuda
the (masc., fem.) lu, la u, a
the (plural) li i
then tannu
there (far) dda
there (near) dducu
today oi (OY-ih) oggi
toe jitu di pedi
toenail ugnu
tomato pumudoru pomuroru
tree arbulu arvulu arbulu
under suttu
us nuantri nuautri
verb: he or she was ra, fú
verb: they were ranu, fúranu
winter nmirnu
word palora parola
verb: to work travagliari
wow mísca mizzica
I’ve translated the following from the Italian.  I must say some of it is over my head, but it’s clear that reasoned research has shown that the Tuscan dialect, and the Italian language that sprang from it, were derived from theSicilian language spoken in the court of Frederick II and studied in his Sicilian School of poetry.If only our northern Italian brothers would recognize the Sicilian heritage of their language, and cease referring to Sicilian as the language of the poor and ignorant.  “Lu Sicilianu” should be taught in Sicily’s schools and spoken by its citizens,
Dante loses his paternity: the Italian language was born in SicilyA new confirmation of the origins of Italian heterodox undermines centuries of literary and cultural monopoly: the Sicilian poets widespread in Lombardy, before their presence in TuscanyNoemi Ghetti
Friday, June 14, 2013 discovery of some poems of the Sicilian School in a Lombard library by the researcher Joseph Mascherpa brings to the fore the debate about the true origins of the Italian language. The theme is echoed by Cesare Segre in an article in the Corriere della Sera of 13 June, which underlines just how the ‘change of perspective’ in research is due to the sudden turn in recent times, of thirteenth-century manuscripts in places hitherto unsuspected .

One example is the discovery of at least four poems on the back of Sicilian scrolls bearing convictions of members of large Guelph families for violations of rules on tournaments. In those days, you know, notaries were often poets, and filled in the blank backs in this way, avoiding illegal notations in the margins of the records.

There are important fragments of poems, attributable among other authors such as Giacomo da Lentini, ‘the Notary’ founder of the Sicilian School, and even to Frederick II, the emperor-poet who was the genius patron of the arts. Occurring in the crucial decades 1270-1290, the transcript leads us to hypothesize the existence of a small songbook of poems of the Sicilian School, circulated in Lombardy in those years. It is in addition to the recent discovery of another mutilated manuscript, discovered by Luca Cadioli in the attic of a noble Milanese, which contains the only faithful translation from the French of Lancelot du lac, the classic novel about the loves of Lancelot and Guinevere, remembered by Francesca da Rimini in her caharacterization in Canto V of Dante’s Inferno.

Now as then, once again for us, “The book was condemned, and he who wrote it.” These findings sound like an endorsement of the original idea that our [Italian] language was born at the beginning of the thirteenth century by the revolt of the Sicilian poets against ecclesiastical Latin, developed in 2011 in my essay ‘The Shadow of Cavalcanti and Dante’ (L’Asino d’oro editions).

The transcripts of the Sicilians are especially interesting because they let us see in them glimpses of the original lyric language, so far lost except in a single case, which predate the Tuscanized versions by which we know them. It reconstructs for us, if we care to deduce it, the view of a secular literary culture, widespread in the thirteenth century in the Italian peninsula far beyond what the traditional scheme suggests.

It affects in this way a well-established historical reconstruction that makes the Tuscans, after the fall of the Swabians and the Ghibelline party in Benevento (1266), the sole heirs of Sicilian poetry. In fact, it immediately comes to mind that northern Italy welcomed the Cathars and troubadours on the run, in the aftermath of the fierce Albigensian Crusade which dispersed the civilization of neighboring Provence. And that in Northern Italy there persisted a widespread tradition of French ballads of love and adventure, happily reprised at the fifteenth-century University of Ferrara by Boiardo’s Orlando in Love, it was later reported in the Orlando Furioso of Ariosto, and was also the standard language of the Florentine Pietro Bembo, canonized as a Cardinal in 1524.

The reaction of the Church against the magnificent flowering secular language of the thirteenth century was in fact very hard: in February 1278 in the Arena of Verona a huge fire burned the last 166 Cathars, and in 1285 the Parisian philosopher Siger of Brabant was assassinated. Excommunicated and condemned to death, waiting for forgiveness in the papal curia of Orvieto, where he had fled after 1277, Bishop Tempier of Paris had judged heretical his evolution of Latin that had animated, with De Amore by Andrea Cappellano, the origins of poetry including the stilnovisti [New Stylists] Guinizzelli and Cavalcanti. The offense certainly did not go unnoticed in thestilnovisti environment. So the last decade of the thirteenth century saw the conversion of Dante’s love of woman to the love of God, which proceeds in stages from Vita Nova through the Convivio to the Divine Comedy. In 1300, in which the otherworldly journey of the Comedy is set, Dante’s exile from Florence was sealed, followed by the premature death of Cavalcanti.

In the sacred poem [the Divine Comedy] Federico II is condemned to Hell (Canto X) in a group of heretics, “that with the body make the soul mortal.” He is destined to be teacher and “first friend,” endowed with “loftiness of genius,” but “he had a disdain for” the faith.  Pier delle Vigne, Sicilian poet and secretary to the emperor[Frederick II], is placed between the suicides, and tells Dante their drama, so convoluted, because the unforgivable sin of the Sicilians, in the eyes of Dante, is to have attempted a search for carnal love and passion, outside of religion, inventing a new language. Sordello of Goito, a troubadour who had found fortune in Provence and returned to Italy in 1269, of Mantuan origin like Virgil, is placed instead in Purgatory (CantoVI-VIII), like other poets of the thirteenth century.

The prejudice against Sicilians therefore has ancient roots, and a careful analysis of the texts of Dante and solutions that gradually imposed themselves in the secular ‘language issue’ show how, in spite of accepted theory, it originates from Dante himself. He was the most famous poet to establish himself as a ‘father’ of the modern Italian language, obscuring one hundred years of research of the love poetry from which it was born, with a systematic work of re-semanticization of the spiritual and Christian vernacular vocabulary of its origins. Even in the nineteenth century a sensitive critic, Francesco de Sanctis, demonstrates a certain deafness to the poets of the Sicilian School, and we had to wait until 2008 to have the first complete critical edition and commentary, in three volumes of Meridiani.

It is interesting as an aside to recognize, in the limited number of ‘outdated’ studies of the last century, like those of Bruno Nardi and Maria Corti, the original judgment of Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks about the thirteenth century and Dante. It is perhaps the most well-known essay on Canto X of the Inferno contained in the Notebooks (1931-32), with explicit distance from religion, and important messages in code intended for ‘”former friend” Togliatti.

Somewhat less well-known is Gramsci’s appreciation for Guido Cavalcanti.  His words, which erect to the “highest exponent” the uprising in medieval theocratic thinking and conscious use of the vernacular instead of Latin and Virgil, were taken almost verbatim from Gianfranco Contini. For Gramsci, a fine linguist, the Comedy is “the medieval swan song,” and his work as a Latinization of the vernacular marks the crisis of the rebirth of the secular and the transition to Christian humanism. Read the Comedy “with love” is the attitude of “simpleton professors who make religions of some poet or writer, and celebrate strange philological rites.” Appreciate the aesthetic values​​, he writes from Iulca in a letter from prison in 1931, warning against uncritical transmission of the poem to your children; that does not mean you agree with its ideological content.