At the moment I’m reading a book by the writer Andrea Camilleri, world famous creator of the fictional detective Salvo Montalbano. The book I’m reading, which was published in 2005, is a historical detective novel entitled Privo di titolo (Without title). It’s set in Sicily, Camilleri’s favourite location for his stories, during the Fascist era of the 1920’s, and is based on real events.
What I love about Camilleri’s writing is his trademark creative use of the Sicilian dialect. Camilleri manages to balance the Sicilian dialect with standard Italian in such a way that his books are still understandable to the average Italian reader. Let’s say that he uses several levels of language: if the character is an illiterate person he speaks only in Sicilian (which can be difficult to understand at times); a character who is more educated will speak in a mixture of Italian and Sicilian often creating a comic effect; and an educated character (usually a professional, such as a doctor or a lawyer) speaks in proper Italian or even an exaggeratedly elaborate Italian. Through the interaction of these different levels Camilleri creates very vivid characters which are unmistakably set in Sicilian culture.
His writing is, of course, very difficult to understand if Italian is not your mother tongue, especially if you’re not familiar with the Sicilian dialect. But for me it’s not really difficult as I had two uncles who were Sicilian, one from Palermo and one from Marsala, so I grew up hearing the Sicilian accent and learned some of the vocabulary.
Let’s look at some examples of how Camilieri uses these different levels of language in his novel Privo di titolo.
Firstly an example from page 150 of the Sicilian dialect spoken as by his illiterate characters:
“E iu fici accusì. Appena mi arrivaru vicini, mi firmai, mi voltai e desi un colpo in facci col lumi che avia in manu al primu ca mi capitò. E fici l’istissa cosa con l’àutru omo. E accussì putii scappari, macari si ci persi ‘u lumï”.
Translated into Italian: “Ed io feci così. Appena mi arrivarono vicini, mi fermai, mi voltai e diedi un colpo in faccia col lume che avevo in mano al primo che mi capitò. E feci la stessa cosa con l’altro uomo. E così potei scappare, anche se ci persi il lume”.
Translated into English: “So here’s what I did. As soon as they got close, I stopped, turned, and whacked the first one that came along in the face with the lamp that I had in my hand. Then I did the same to the other one. So that’s how I managed to run away, even if I lost the lamp”.
Now an example of a dialogue between Lieutenant Pellegriti, who speaks correct Italian, and warrant officer Tinebra, who speaks a mixture of Sicilian and Italian (page 166):
Pellegriti: “Lei lo conosce?” (English: Pellegriti: “Do you know him?”)
Tinebra: “Io a tutti conosco. Perché?” (Italian: Tinebra: “Io conosco tutti. Perché?” English: Tinebra: “I know everybody. Why?”)
Pellegriti: “Gli voglio parlare” (English: Pellegriti: “I want to to talk to him”)
Tinebra si fici pinsoso. “E comu ci voli parlari? Ufficialmente? Ufficiosamente? Da Tenente a Segretario di sezione? Da omo a omo?” (Italian: Tinebra si fece pensoso. “E come ci vuole parlare? Ufficialmente? Ufficiosamente? Da Tenente a Segretario di sezione? Da uomo a uomo?”. English: Tinebra became thoughtful: “And how would you like to talk to him? Officially? Unofficially? Lieutenant to Secretary of the branch? man to man?”)
Pellegriti: “Da uomo a uomo. E dove vuole lui. Ma vorrei vederlo in giornata…” (English: Pellegriti: “Man to man. And wherever he wants. But I want to see him today…”)
Finally, here’s an example of the extremely elaborate Italian language spoken by a judge, il giudice Bellezza (page 158):
“Signori, vi ho convovato ad ora sì tarda nel mio ufficio in Tribunale, e assai con voi mi dolgo del disturbo arrecatovi, per rendervi edotti di un fatto di inaudita gravità” (English: “Gentlemen, I summoned you at such a late hour into my office of the Court, and I very much regret the inconvenience it may have caused you, in order to acquaint you with a case of unprecedented gravity”)
P.S. While searching on the Internet for some information about Andrea Camilleri I discovered the official Camilleri Fans Club Check it out!