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Neapolitan

Neapolitan (or Nnapulitano) is the Italian "dialect" common to Naples and the surrounding region, one of the most important languages in Italy after standard "Italian" (which was itself originally a Tuscan dialect).  The Neapolitan language has long history and rich culture, and those who speak it are justifiably proud of this.  It's hard enough for English speakers to learn standard Italian, but if you spend time in Naples it's worth learning a little bit about Neapolitan.  After all, many of the most famous "Italian" songs (like O Sole Mio) are actually Neapolitan songs.  Also, understanding how Neapolitan sounds will help you understand locals when they talk--even if they are talking in the standard dialect.

Sample Words and Phrases

  • scugnizzo = street urchin
  • pummarola = tomatoes (e.g. O spaghett' ca' pummarola 'ncoppa = Spaghetti with tomatoes on top)
  • Napule = Napoli (Naples)
  • guaglione/a = boy/girl
  • = hi, hey
  • Oje nè = Hey baby/Oh darling (from Nenella, a term of endearment)
  • Chiano = like Italian piano (slow, soft...)
  • Ce verimm' aròppo = See you later
  • furastère = foreigner
  • Guagliò/a = guy/girl (a bit like ragazzo/a in standard Italian)
  • 'O = masculine "the" (the equivalent of il in standard Italian; O Sole Mio, the famous Neapolitan song, means "The sun of mine", not "O sun of mine"...other articles are basically the same as standard Italian but missing a consonant, e.g. 'a = la, 'na = una)

Interaction with "Standard" Italian

Many speakers switch easily back and forth between Neapolitan and "Standard" Italian, sometimes speaking somewhere between the two forms. Many Neapolitans will speak "Standard" Italian with non-Neapolitans, but with a thick accent, which makes it difficult for even native (northern) Italians to understand.  Here are some tips on what to expect to help you understand this "Neapolitan accent":
  • endings of words are cut off
  • non-stressed vowels become "uh" (called the "schwa"--this is the same thing we do in English)
  • Names often get cut off after the stressed syllable (so Gennaro becomes Gennà)
  • "sh" sounds are added where not normally found in the standard dialect (e.g. "ci", "ce", "sc", "sp", "sf" and "sq" all have the sound)
  • c and g sound similar
  • d sometimes becomes r (so addò, Neapolitan for "where" sometimes sounds like arrò)
  • gi becomes j (a "y" sound...e.g. "giornata" becomes "jornata")
  • b sounds like a v
  • q becomes ch (e.g. "quello/a" becomes "chillo/u/a", "questo" becomes "chisto" or just "sto")
  • some other consonants get shuffled around (e.g. Neapolitan for "più" is "cchiù")
  • other consonants get doubled
...so, for example, instead of the standard Italian "aspetta" (wait) a Neapolitan might say something that sounds more like "ush-PEHT."  Similarly, Ischia is pronounced "EESH-kyuh."  Note that this accent is stereotyped in much the same way as some Americans stereotype U.S. Southern accents—as sounding "lazy" or "uneducated."

Origins of Neapolitan

Neapolitan, like most Italian "dialects" (including "standard" Italian, which is based on Tuscan "dialect"), derives mostly from the simplified versions of Latin that everyday people spoke during the Roman Empire. However, some words betray origins from Greek, since Naples began as a Greek colony (e.g. in Neapolitan parsley is petrusino or petrosino, which comes from the Ancient Greek πετροσέλινον or petrosélinon). Since both the Spanish and the French ruled over Naples over the ages, bits of those languages also seeped in; for example Neapolitan for "yesterday" is ajére, which is similar to Spanish ayer, and Neapolitan for napkin is sarvietta, which is close to French serviette.

Neapolitan Proverbs and Sayings

Even more fun than Italian proverbs!

Neapolitan Literal translation Meaning
'O vin' è vin' quann' sta ind'a' vott' Wine is wine when it's in the bottle Don't count your chickens before they are hatched.
Tené 'a capa sulo pe spartere 'e rrecchje  He has a head only to separate his ears. He's dumb as a doornail.
Chell’è l’urdemo lampione ‘e Forerotta That one is the last lamppost in Fuorigrotta (a region in Naples). He's a nobody.
Ma cche staje faccen'? O ppane? What are you doing? Making bread? What's taking you so long?
Nu sputà 'ncielo ca 'nfaccia te torna Don't spit in the sky, it will fall on your face What goes around comes around. / Don't bit the hand that feeds you / Don't spit/piss in the wind. (Also a Jamaican proverb, "Pit inna de sky, it fall inna yuh y'eye", is very similar)




Learning More

The following webpages have more information about Neapolitan.
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