Sicilian Grammar (again)

No Mafia-related pun was left unconsidered as a sub-heading.

J.K. “Kirk” Bonner’s (2001) Introduction to Sicilian Grammar. Ed. by Gaetano Cipolla. Legas: New York.

Bonner’s book can be best described as a discursive grammar by a knowledgible amateur. It confirms and clarifies most of the questions my previous contact with a grammar of Sicilian had raised, but left one major one unanswered – what’s the deal with cci and verbs of motion? In the chapter on pronouns (p. 69), Bonner says

nni and cci are also used as adverbs of place; nni = of here, of there and cci = here, there… Spell nni with two ns when it is a conjunctive adverb.

As a pronoun, ni is the direct object (dO), indirect object (iO), or reflexive form of the 1st person plural. Cci is the iO form of the 3rd person singular and plural (e.g. Cci arrobbanu i sordi “They stole the money from him“). Part of the answer I’m looking for may be on page 72 in a section on the repetition of conjunctive pronouns with noun objects. In this construction, if the dO precedes the verb, the pronoun corresponding to the noun will also be used. For example,

A la me zita la viu nna la chiazza cu nautru omu “I see my fiancée in the town square with another man”
[a la me zita] “my fiancée” [la] “her” [viu] “I see” [nna la chiazza] “in the town square” [cu nautru omu] “with another man”

(The particle a [called Personal a; p. 56] at the start of the sentence above is used to mark a human dO in Sicilian.) As Bonner’s examples show, this construction extends beyond the dO.

Un iornu l’omu cci dici a so mugghieri ca la voli beni assai “One day the man says to his wife that he loves her a lot”
[un iornu] “one day” [l’omu] “the man” [cci] “to her” [dici] “says” [a so mugghieri] “to his wife” [ca] “that” [la] “her” [voli] “he loves” [beni assai] “a lot”

In other words, if the conjunctive pronoun corresponds to a prepositional phrase (PP) functioning as the complement of a verb, the same construction can be used. In addition to the example above, note the following:

Lu poviru omu cci aviria datu la so arma a lu diavulu pi du sordi “The poor man would have his soul to the devil for two cents”
[lu poviru omu] “the poor man” [cci] “it” [aviria datu] “would have given” [la so arma] “his soul” [a lu diavulu] “to the devil”

I assume that cci here refers to la so arma rather than a lu diavulu. Possibly the use of cci with verbs of motion belongs in the same class as this last example so that “I’m going to the house” might be (literally) “I there (cci) go to the house” (Cci vaiu a la casa ??). I’m not sure whether cci in such a construction is optional or not. The first example above is Viu a la me zita nna chiazza cu nautru omu when the dO is in a post-verbal position. Here the otiose use of the pronoun is absent. I guess the pronoun is all part of topicalisation in Sicilian and perhaps intended to eliminate the ambiguity from some sentences where the fronted dO might be interpreted as the subject. However, this is no more than idle speculation on my part.

Possessive specifiers/determiners can be pre- or post-head modifiers in the NP; thus

È lu me libbru or È lu libbru miu or È lu libbru me “It’s my book”

With singular kinship nouns and parts of the body the definite article is omitted, but is found with the plural of kinship nouns.

Because of the potential ambiguity of so “his; her; their”, di + iddu “him”, idda “her”, iddi “them” may be used for clarity, hence lu libbru d’iddu “his book”, lu libbru d’idda “her book”, and li libbra d’iddi “their books”. (In the book, the last is lu libbru d’iddi and translated “their books”, but must be “their book”).


4 thoughts on “Sicilian Grammar (again)”

  1. I recently purchased this Sicilian Grammar. You sound like an expert in speaking Sicilian. How is it you came to purchase the book and what was your interest?

    1. Actually, I don’t speak Sicilian, but I knew a couple of Sicilians when I was at university. My interest in the language was part of a general interest in languages at the time, especially, say, some of the less familiar ones.

      From a linguistic perspective, the book has, as I recall, some shortcomings. Good perhaps as an introduction for a non-specialist, but if you have a knowledge of linguistics, you’ll find holes in it.

      1. Sadly, it is the only fairly comprehensive Sicilian grammar book written for English speakers. I am trying to learn Sicilian from it, however, learning a new language is something I’ve really never attempted. Frankly, the method of learning another language from a book is brutal. And Sicilian can legitimately be labeled an endangered language even though there are supposedly millions who still speak it. I think it is falling rapidly into disuse and it never had a strong literary history to begin with. So, I do not expect a Rosetta Stone module or other source to materialize anytime soon. I was hoping to connect with someone who may have learned Sicilian in a similar way or perhaps may have advice on what other tools may exist for learning Sicilian.

      2. You probably actually have to live in the right part of Sicily to have any chance of learning the language.

        I did ask my friend once whether she spoke Sicilian, and the answer was, “No.” I’m guessing it’s rural, has an ageing population of speakers, and has fairly low level of prestige. About the only people who are likely to have a crack at it will be pro linguists.

        You could learn the language using Bonner’s book, but it won’t equip you to speak the language.

        There isn’t much out there for learning Sicilian and what few things I have seen don’t really meet the necessary standard – and I speak both as a linguist and an EFL teacher.

        I assume you know of the Orbis Latinus site, but even that is of little help.

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