If your family came from Abruzzo they probably spoke some form of Abruzzese. When I came as a 10 year old I spoke Abruzzese, not Italian. Most of the immigrants who came to America spoke only dialect. Many could not read or write. To be fair, we felt somewhat inferior to Italians who spoke the national language. Since I left I have been studying Italian, while I have lost most of the Abruzzese I knew, to my regret.
A dialect is an informal language of a mother language. Italy is very rich linguistically, with 34 dialects, in addition to subdialects. There are also small enclaves of French, German, Albanian, Greek, and Catalan. Some dialects are mutually unintelligible. Written dialects are hard to understand and are not used in official and business documents.
A little history and geography explains. Italian derived from Latin. The famous medieval poet Dante Alighieri was the first to write in Italian, in “La Divina Comedia.” He wrote in the Tuscan dialect of Florence, which in time became the official language of Italy. Reasons: it was the closest to Latin, and was the language of commerce and diplomacy, which Florence dominated at the time. In the meantime the dialects evolved due to Italy’s rugged geography and the isolation of various communities. If Florence had not been so dominant, the dialect of Rome might have become the national language. Sicilian is in a class of its own, it’s a distinct language with heavy Arabic and Spanish influence.
When Italy was unified as a nation in 1870 the number of people who spoke and wrote the Italian language was 5% of the population. Gradually with the expansion of national education and communication, the language has become more universal. Yet, dialects survive throughout the country. It’s a matter of local pride. Moreover, the Italian government is trying to preserve the dialects as part of the national cultural heritage. Nick Rapagnini has shared with us delightful and very nostalgic songs from Abruzzo, such as “Vola, Vola, Vola.” The musical heritage of Abruzzo is immense and quite beautiful. So is the treasury of expressions and proverbs.
While dialects are very expressive in demonstrating local culture, traditions and music, they are limited in their ability to communicate complex thoughts in today’s world. Even so, you can find Abruzzese and other dialects written in the literature. Abruzzo’s most famous poet, Gabriele D’Annunzio, used the dialect of Pescara in some of his works. He was very proud of Abruzzo. For very good reasons!
The following letter was written to friends and members of the Associazione Regionale Abruzzese Delco by club member Gabrielle Marcella of Carlisle, Pa.