Talking about the Ferrara dialect

Written by  Alberto Ridolfi

A short essay on grammar and a dictionary that should be read, not just consulted.Ferrara dialect vocabulary

The Ferrara dialect cultural circle "Tréb dal Tridèl" has been instrumental in promoting the study of our dialect over the past few years. While dialect was used by both nobility and commoners in other cities, for example Venetian was the official language of the Republic of Venice and speaking in the local dialect in Milan and Turin was considered to be an advantage, our local nobility despised the Ferrara dialect, or as described by Messisbugo the 'vernacular' i.e. the language spoken by the kitchen servants, the Verna. This disdain commenced around eight hundred years ago, with the fights between the various families for control of Ferrara, involving the Adelardi family, the Salinguerra family, the Torelli family and finally the Este family. None of them were from Ferrara and so didn't speak the dialect. This was also true for the subsequent Pontifical Legates. After much haphazard gathering and filing of material, we felt the need to deepen our historical, philological and etymological knowledge of the origins and lexical and morphological characteristics of our language. We have been able to rely on support and contributions from various local institutions (region of Emilia Romagna, province of Ferrara, the municipalities) for the publications that we have produced, in addition to regular support from the Cassa di Risparmio di Ferrara. A principal aim was to clarify the fact that the Ferrara dialect cannot be qualified as a Gallic-Italian dialect as has always been superficially assumed. Linguistic and Romance language philology experts have identified certain peculiarities that attest to a Celtic influence in northern dialects, like vowels with differing lengths giving a special intonation and inflection to the language. New historical-etymological dictionary of the Ferrara dialectPhonetically, our dialect does not actually have that characteristic, having kept the Latin linearity that it originates from, the spoken form, not the classical form. Vocabolario del Dialetto Ferrarese [Ferrara dialect vocabulary] (Cartografica 2004) edited by seven dialect speakers from various parts of the province (Baiolini, Dall'Olio, Finchi, Guidetti, Musacchi, Peverati, Vincenzi) is a milestone in dialect studies. The Saggio di Grammatica Comparata [essay on comparative grammar] was published in 2005, edited by Baiolini and Guidetti. I am not an expert, but as an enthusiast, and an exteacher who is used to clarity without triviality, I realised that the Baiolini-Guidetti grammar essay would be tough going for most dialect enthusiasts. All they really needed was a summary of the main grammar rules. This was the background to Scrìvar e lèzar al frarés, noted above, a booklet subtitled "dò o tré pìlul ad gramatica" [two or three grammar rules] and edited by myself. It is distributed free of charge at all dialect events (poetry competitions or theatre) and contains certain rules to aid in the correct writing, and more especially, to aid in reading dialect. This is a language that had been transmitted orally for centuries, and is therefore easier to understand by ear rather than reading. In the meantime we are asked questions increasingly frequently at various meetings such as "how do you translate such and such an Italian term into dialect?" These questions are asked by Ferrara natives who are interested in knowing something more about their origins. This is what gave Floriana Guidetti, Luigi Vincenzi and I the idea to write a limited Italian-Ferrara dialect dictionary in 2007. It is not etymological, but simply a type of index that refers to the Nuovo Dizionario Storico-Etimologico del dialetto ferrarese [New historical-etymological dictionary of the Ferrara dialect] edited by Baiolini and Guidetti which came out at the end of 2008. This work forms part of the editorial work being done under the auspices of "Ferrara, Renaissance City" and supplements the 2004 edition. It was defined by Gianni Cerioli as a "dictionary that should be 'read' and not just consulted" because a considerable number of the words are described with historical information along with the uses and customs relating to them. For example, many words contain references to Pliny, Columella and Isidore of Seville. This, along with an etymological evaluation of the words, goes to prove how precious our dialect is, bearing witness to long-distant times in the history of our people. In 2004, the Cassa di Risparmio di Ferrara wanted to honour the memory of the lawyer, Vito Cavallini, chairman of the Cassa di Risparmio di Ferrara between 1960 and 1962. He wrote poetry in dialect, and was one of the founding members of the "Al Tréb dal Tridèl" Association. A short volume was published, entitled Storia dal mié paés [History of my area] which gives an account of the history of Ferrara from prehistory up to now, at times witty and others, lyrical. This is followed by his poetry which gives us an insight into post-war Ferrara.