My Neapolitan

How and when

I speak Neapolitan because I’m from Naples, I was born and raised here and I still live here.

Like all Neapolitans I was born bilingual, and already since we are little kids we differentiate between Italian and Neapolitan: at home, there are families who only speak Neapolitan, others who only speak Italian, and others who speak both, but generally we learn Italian at school or from the TV, and Neapolitan by speaking it with friends, or at home.

Why

And here is the problem: according to UNESCO, Neapolitan is recognized as a language, but it is a vulnerable language. UNESCO says that there are about 2500 endangered languages in the world , and among all these Neapolitan is the one with the largest numbers of speakers. It’s an unbelievable paradox: Neapolitan is spoken by 6 to 12 million people. As a matter of fact, not only by people who live in Naples or in region of Campania, but also by many people who have emigrated abroad from Naples in the past and still retain the language in the family. Just think about how many Italian-Americans still speak Neapolitan. So why is Neapolitan endangered, vulnerable?

Because Neapolitan is not studied at school, it is not taught, not learned, it is not read, not written in books or newspapers, and it is not heard on the radio or on TV. There are no newspapers, there are no official TV channels in Neapolitan, and if an author writes a book, even if he’s Neapolitan, no one will even consider publishing it in Neapolitan. If we ask Neapolitans themselves to write it, most of us will make a spelling mistake in every word.

Such a language risks a lot, because it only survives as spoken in the streets, as a vulgar language, and with the passing of time many Neapolitan words are replaced by Italian words. It’s a shame because Neapolitan has many words of Greek origin, like the city itself, but also a lot of words and grammatical constructions taken from Spanish or French (as you can see here): Neapolitan is the mirror of the history of the city, and it’s a shame if we lose it.

Even Italians editors of Wikipedia have removed the page on the Neapolitan language and replaced it with the page on the Neapolitan dialect, while all the other languages of Italy still have their pages as Lombard, Piedmontese or Venetian language. On the other side, all other Wikipedias in languages still call this page “Neapolitan language” (in English, French, Spanish and all other languages).

If we do not want to lose Neapolitan language, we must start to study, protect and spread it. I have studied it through some books that I want to recommend: Vall’ a capì by Maria D’Acunto, Dizionario Napoletano by Carlo Iandolo, and ‘o Princepe Piccerillo (The Little Prince) translated by Roberto D’Ajello.

 

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!

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About Raffaele Terracciano

Serial Language Learner, Blogger, Language Coach and Tour Leader. Travelling the world through books, languages, food and, you know, actual trips. Currently on a quest to gather the pieces of the Tower of Babel.

  • Wow, Neapolitan is just like one of my native languages, called Medan Hokkien. It’s not written, not even used in the media. Song in Medan Hokkien is almost none. It’s just a language spoken day by day, or as you have mentioned: vulgar language.