Piedmontese dialect: a wonderful relic from the early fascist era

I don’t have time to post on my research or findings today but I wanted to share this image of a wonderful book I was able to track down yesterday at the New York Public Library: Dizionario Etimologico del Dialetto Piemontese, by Attilio Levi, printed in 1927 by G.B. Paravia in Turin.

Note the classic fascist-era design of the cover and the motto inscribed in the center: in labore fructus, labor brings fruit, clearly a nod to Piedmont agriculture at the time (I’ll have more to say on this later).

One of the most fascinating things about the book is that it was compiled by a Piedmontese Jew, Attilio Levi, born 1863 according to bibliographic records. (Think of the many famous Jewish Piedmontese writers, intellectuals, and scientists from that period, like Carlo Levi and Primo Levi, to name a few.)

The book was printed in 1927, the fifth year of the fascist regime following Mussolini’s March on Rome in 1922, 11 years before Mussolini adopted Hitler’s racial laws in 1938, when Jewish intellectuals were forced to abandon their posts as university professors, publishers, etc. From what I can gather using WorldCat.org, Levi was a linguist and philologist, probably based in Turin, and he had even been published in English as early as 1920.

A wonderful find of a forgotten tome yesterday at the New York Public Library.

Thanks for reading! Have a great Memorial Day weekend!

9 thoughts on “Piedmontese dialect: a wonderful relic from the early fascist era

  1. Looks fascinating. It’s always difficult to get across the concept of dialects to native English speakers–it’s a lot more than the difference between an American and Australian accent. Unfortunately, Sicilian happened to be the dialect that slid in through pop culture in America through Mafia movies/TV, which leads to a lot of bad pronunciation of standard Italian.

    Of course, for pure crazy fun, I’ve always thought Sardo was awesome. :)

    • Actually, Sicilian is just one of the many many southern dialects that came into the US with the wave of mostly southern immigration in the late 1800s. I wouldn’t say that someone who learned the dialects at home in the US is mispronouncing Italian. Rather, they may be speaking dialect with a purity that is difficult to find in Italy today, and this is just as true for people whose ancesters were from Friuli as those whose ancestors came from Naples.

  2. To a Sicilian, a Veneto dialect might sound like “bad pronunciation.”

    If one were to say that the pronunciation of English in the South part of the United States is less legitimate than ones from New York or California would seem to be a strange assertion in these time.

    I would suggest, Benito, that all dialects have beauty. To suggest that the Sicilian tongue, which is a multicultural amalgam of Italian, Spanish, Arab, even French, is only worthy of being emulated because of pop culture and mafia stereo types, would be to negate the works of Giovanni Verga, Elio Vittorini,Luigi Pirandello,Leonardo Sciascia and Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, to name just a few.

  3. I’ve lived my entire life in Tennessee, so I know all about unpopular accents. :) No offense intended towards Sicilian–and like I said, I find the many dialects of Italian beautiful and fascinating within my meager grasp of the language. It’s more an issue of trying to learn basic/broadcast/print Italian when the first exposure for many is the “capeesh” bits that come through in mob movies and Rat Pack songs, which, let’s be honest, have a lot more penetration in the marketplace than Pirandello.

    If I were learning English for the first time, I’d prefer to learn British received pronunciation or a neutral Midwestern American pronunciation, and then get acquainted with various accents and regional variations. I’ve known many foreigners over the years that came here to Memphis to work on their English (typically a love of music was a contributing factor) who just got terribly frustrated due to our habit of mumbling and slurring and randomly dropping syllables.

  4. hey, wow, thanks for all the super thoughtful comments here… this has been one of the more interesting threads to develop @dobianchi. One thing to keep in mind about the term “dialect” or “dialetto” is that it has a very particular, distinct, and, in fact, unique meaning in Italian. In countries with a hegemonic standard language (like France, Britain, Germany, or the U.S., for example), dialects are “mutually comprehensible” mutations (historic, current, and spontaneous) of a idealized model language. In other words, Benito, you can understand my California-speak and I can understand your southern accent or Alfonso’s Texas twang with relative ease. Even British and Scottish and Australian speakers can understand all of the above, differences in regional meaning (rubber = eraser = condom = rain boots etc.).

    In Italian, on the other hand, dialects are dialects not of Italian but rather of Late Latin. And they reflect the fact that Italy was not a unified country until 1860 and did not have national language until the period following the second world war.

    Sicilian may be easier for a Neapolitan to understand than for a Veneto or Friulian but their languages are by no means “mutually comprehensible.” This is a very important distinction.

    Dialects and dialectal inflection play an important role in Italian literature and cinema (as per Alfonso’s comments on Sicilian writers). Pasolini is probably the best example of use of dialects for dramatic/comic effect in cinema but think also of Fellini’s Paparazzo, who speaks with a Veneto accent in Rome.

    Lastly, it’s also important to note that the language spoken in the U.S. by Italian Americans is yet a whole other question and is in fact a dialect in the conventional sense because it’s model is ultimately the standardized Italian of factor workers who had immigrated north escaping poverty in the south in the 1960s. The immigration wave of the 60s (often forgotten) is where that language was formed and informed.

    The Italian dialect of American cinema is pure invention and the language the Sopranos speak is more based on cinema from the 70s than the language Italian Americans speak today (in Carrol Gardens, Bensonhurst, and Bay Ridge Brooklyn, for example).

    Having said all that (woah!), I’m glad that the post generated such an interesting thread. I was more interested in the fact that Attilio was a Jew and over on FB, an entirely different thread developed…

    thanks to all of you for commenting!

  5. Pingback: The Liberal-Fascist Axis « News You May Have Missed

  6. Where can I get a copy of this??? My father speaks the dialect as both his parents were from Montemagno. I’ve always wanted to preserve this dialect of Italian.

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