The Sicilian Language
Although Sicily is part of Italy and almost all Sicilians speaks fluently the Italian language, the old Sicilian language (that is not a dialect despite what people says) is still alive and kicking. It is slightly different from town to town, from east to west, but all these languages are based on the old Sicilian language.
As Wikipedia says “Some assert that Sicilian represents the oldest Romance language derived from Vulgar Latin, but this is not a widely held view amongst linguists and is sometimes strongly criticized” and “The Ethnologue describes Sicilian as being distinct enough from Standard Italian to be considered a separate language and is recognized as a minority language by UNESCO”.
It is not impossible for someone from Milan for example, to understand someone when he speaks Sicilian, but it can be very difficult, almost like if an Italian is listening to a Spanish.
The amazing thing about the Sicilian language is also his similarity with some words from other languages and it gives us a tangible proof of the various influences that Sicily has inherited after all the different colonizations: Greek, Germanic, Arabic, Norman, French, and Catalan have all influenced the Sicilian language.
10 Sicilian words that you need to know before going to Sicily (Or if you want to look cool)
1) Compa’ / ‘mbare
If you want to impress a fellow Sicilian friend, then call him Compa’ if he’s from the west part of Sicily, or ‘Mbare if he’s from the east! What does it mean? It’s very similar to “bro/mate” so a very informal way to call you friend!
Literally, Minchia is the male reproductive organ, but Sicilians use this word that often as it is a comma. The meaning can be very different, and it really depends on how you’re pronouncing it: you can say it if you’re happy, but also if you’re afraid of something, if you’re amazed at something, or if you like something. If you really want to impress someone, just try to say “miiiiiiinchia compa'”, with a very long “i” : You’re saying something similar to “Yo Bro!”. Of course, you’ll not use this when you’re not in a friendly relation with someone, as it usually is a bit unpolite.
This word has 2 different and opposite meanings in Palermo (West) and Catania (East), so make sure to use it in the proper way depending on where you are/who’s in front of you! If you say “Pacchione” to someone in Palermo, you’re telling a guy that he’s fat and ugly. But if you’re in Catania, and you’re saying “Pacchione” to someone, you’re telling to a group of girls that they’re very pretty (singular is Pacchiona). Funny eh? So make sure to use it in the proper way!
If you’re telling to someone that he is a “Camurria”, you’re telling to him/her that he/she is annoying!
Let’s go/C’mon! That’s what Amuni’ stands for!
6) Peri Peri
If someone calls you on the phone, and you’re outside having a walk and he asks you “where are you?” you reply “peri peri” that literally means “Feet Feet”, but for a Sicilian that means that they’re not home.
The perfect way to translate and explain futtitinni would be quoting the famous movie “The Lion King”: Hakuna Matata. No worries/Don’t mind about it.
It’s just a more polite way to say Minchia – The way you’re going to use this word is exactly the same as the other one, but you’ll sound more polite using this.
9) Bedda Matri
Literally, Bedda Matri is “beautiful mother” but the way that Sicilians are using it is the exact same way as “Oh my god” in the English language: depending on your tone, you can use it if you’re scared or if you’re surprised!
You point your finger to something and then you say very loudly (proper Sicilian way) “Talèèèèèèèèèèèèèèè” (very long “è“, the longer it is the better). What the heck are you saying? You’re just telling to everyone around you to look at whatever you’re pointing your finger at!
And if you did like to know a bit more about our Language, feel free to have a look at our article on Sicilian Proverbs!