The Neapolitan language, or “napolità” as it is referred to in its original tongue, is a beautiful dialect of Romance spoken predominantly in the scenic area of Campania, Italy. Despite its common misclassification as a mere dialect, Neapolitan is widely recognized as a legitimate language in its own right. This article will go into the linguistic complexities of Napolità, discussing its background, cultural importance, and distinctive language traits.
A Linguistic Tapestry
The term “Napolità” really refers to a group of related but distinct southern Italian dialects. While there are some commonalities between these dialects, there are also clear distinctions. It is estimated that seven million people in southern Lazio, southern Marche, Abruzzo, Molise, Basilicata, northern Calabria, and northern and central Apulia are native speakers of one of these dialects, as classified by experts such as those at Ethnologue.
However, this categorization is not shared by everybody. There are others who believe that the local dialects spoken in areas other than Campania and the metropolitan area of Naples should not be lumped together with Neapolitan. The diglossia phenomenon, in which a language loses respect in comparison to the standard form of the language (in this example, Italian), has affected these mutually intelligible dialects.
Napolità stands out because to the extraordinary variety in its grammar, vocabulary, and syntax. Because of its unique vocabulary and grammar, Neapolitan has been officially recognized as a language by UNESCO. This recognition highlights the cultural and historical value of this exceptional language.
In 1442, King Alfonso I of Naples issued an edict making Napolità the official language of the Kingdom of Naples. Cardinal Girolamo Seripando made a modification in 1554, when Tuscan or Italian replaced Neapolitan. This change represented a key juncture in the language’s history, as it began to give way to the supremacy of Italian.
The Cultural Landscape
The impact of Neapolitan goes far beyond the realm of language. Popular literature features prominently, with Pulcinella being a prime example of this. The humorous, epicurean, and sexually ambiguous Pulcinella is well-known for his satire of the powerful. He personifies all that is wonderful about the Neapolitan way of life.
The Language in Song
The music industry has become the primary incubator for the Neapolitan language today. Some of the most well-known examples of the Neapolitan canzone include “O sole mio,” “O surdato ‘nnammurato,” and “Funicul funiculà.” These classic tunes have won the hearts of listeners all across the world.
Historical, Social, and Cultural Aspects
· The Origins
Neapolitan, like all Romance languages, has its origins in Latin. Oscan and Greek, which were spoken in Naples up until the 2nd and 3rd century AD, are still discernible in the language. Neapolitan has been shaped by the many cultures that have lived in or governed over Campania and central Italy. Among these are the Greek colonists, Roman merchants, Normans, French, Spanish, and even American occupants of Naples during World War II.
The Catalan-Aragonese kings considered making Neapolitan the administrative language of the kingdom. Although it was attempted to be enforced from the start of the viceroyalty in 1501 with the abdication of Frederic III of Naples, it was never successful. The 19th century saw the rise of Italian as the language of government and literature in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Because of this, Neapolitan was never recognized as an official language.
· First Witnesses
The first written documents of the Neapolitan language can be found in the year 960. Campanian, also known as “volgare pugliese” or “vernacular of Puglia,” is the language of the renowned Placito di Capua, often regarded as the first document in a Romance language in Italy. The earliest texts are crucial for studying the evolution of the language across time.
· Linguistic Features
While Neapolitan and Italian are related, there are significant pronunciation distinctions between the two. The weakening of several unstressed consonants is especially noticeable to listeners of Neapolitan who are not native speakers.
Neapolitan boasts seven vowel phonemes: a, e, ɛ, i, o, ɔ, u. In unstressed positions, you’ll hear four of these vowels: a, i, u, and a neutral vowel (often silent): . The [a] sound is maintained in protonic unstressed a’s (before the stressed syllable).
· Other linguistic features include:
The doubling or gemination of word-initial consonants according to the preceding word.
- Betacism is the error of mistaking /b/ for /v/.
- Standard Italian has relaxed clusters like -gi- and -ci-.
- Intervocalic /d/ rotacism.
- The change of /g/ at the beginning of words to a fricative or silent.
- Groups [mb] and [nd] become [mm] and [nn], respectively, by assimilation.
- Variations in phonology, such as the replacement of /s/ with  in some speech situations.
· Lexical Diversity
Words from other languages, such as Arabic, Greek, French, Catalan, Spanish, Tuscan, and even English, have been incorporated into Neapolitan. The history of cultural contact and conquest in the area is reflected in the rich tapestry of languages spoken there now.
The Neapolitan language preserves a wealth of information about the region’s past and present. Neapolitan’s survival in the face of linguistic standardization is exemplified by its UNESCO status, robust literary legacy, and ongoing effect on the world of music. The timeless appeal of this Romance gem serves to demonstrate the value of a variety of languages.
Is Neapolitan the same as Italian?
Although there are some parallels between Neapolitan and Italian, the two languages are not the same.
How many people speak Neapolitan today?
About seven million people are estimated to be true native speakers, most of whom live in the Campania region of Italy.
What are some famous Neapolitan songs?
Some of the most well-known songs to come out of Naples are “O sole mio,” “O surdato nnammurato,” and “Funicul funiculà.”
Why did Neapolitan lose its status as the official language of Naples?
The official usage of Neapolitan declined after Cardinal Girolamo Seripando switched to Tuscan or Italian in 1554.