The Dialect of Fardella: isolation and archaism

Fabio Appella

The dialect of Fardella belongs linguistically to what is named the Lausberg area after the scholar who first examined it. As Martini tells us, it is located in southern Basilicata and northern Calabria, roughly between the gulfs of Policastro and Taranto and the course of Agri and Coscile rivers, and constitutes a typical case of linguistic archaism associated with a condition of protracted geographical and cultural isolation.

Fardella mappa dialetto

Lausberg (1939) divided this highly diversified Romance group into the Mittelzone and the Zwischenzone. The former, meaning central area and being more archaic in character, is of interest here because it includes Fardella. Its boundary corresponds roughly to a line running from Acquafredda on the Tyrrhenian sea to the Ionian between the mouths of the Agri and Sinni rivers through Castelluccio Superiore, San Severino, Francavilla in Sinni, Senise, Colobraro and Tursi. The localities included together with Fardella are Nova Siri, Valsinni, San Giorgio Lucano, Noepoli, Cersosimo, Teana, Calvera, Carbone and Episcopìa, all located more or less in the basin of the Sinni and its tributaries the Sarmento and the Serapotamo. The characteristic dialect of this area is also found to the north as far as the river Agri in towns like San Chirico Raparo and Castelsaraceno, as well as Aliano, an isolated enclave north of the river in a particular area with a Rumanian type of vowel system. The area extends to the south beyond the regional border between Basilicata and Calabria to include various towns in the province of Cosenza. The great variety and irregular distribution of the dialectal features used as parameters make it hard to establish a southern border of the Mittelzone.

Like the other Romance languages, Italian has a vowel system based on Latin. Latin had ten vowels divided into five long and five short. At a certain point, however, the Latin vowel quantity was no longer perceived and lost importance to turn into quality: speakers pronounced the long vowels as closed and the short as open. In the case of Italian, the transformation of the Latin vowel system led to a seven-vowel system that differs from other Romance languages like French and Spanish but also from certain Italian forms. The Sardinian system, like that of Mittelzone dialects and hence Fardellese, has five vowels, each short and long Latin vowel being merged into a single form.

The Mittelzone therefore presents an archaic vowel system of the Sardinian type characterized by a general merging (in conditional position) of long vowels with short and preservation of timbre (with a generally open realization of the intermediate timbres /e/ and /o/). This system is found today in Italian territory only in Sardinia and the Mittelzone.

The attention of scholars has focused primarily on nature and origin of the vowel system with three degrees of stress in the dialects of the borderland between Basilicata and Calabria, which was first noted by Lausberg in 1936. Rohlfs (1966) and Devoto (1974) suggest that these systems reflect archaic conditions comparable with those in Sardinia, i.e. isolation from the timbral differentiation that led to the standardization of classical Latin.

Using data from the relevant literature and in particular from the AIS, Lausberg (1939) distinguished the vowel systems of the areas surrounding the Mittelzone into different types. While many aspects of this division have been subsequently revised, crucial importance still attaches to the identification of an area with a vowel system of the Sardinian type, located between the Romance vocalism of the north and the Sicilian to the south.

Why did isolation take place in the Lausberg area? While this is certainly not the place for detailed examination of a question that still remains open today, a little information will help to give a clearer idea. As Bartoli points out, a more isolated area normally preserves the earlier phase linguistically. If it is true that isolation involves archaism, Varvaro observes, it is not at all true that such isolation is essentially determined by objective, external conditions that can be geographical (natural barriers), historical (nonexistent or limited communications, political, administrative and religious borders, etc.) and economic (poverty, closed rural economy, etc.) in character. Such external conditions can be radically modified in the long run. Was the isolation therefore objective or subjective? In other words, imposed by external causes or the result of a deliberate attitude on the part of speakers? The question is in fact not at all simple. There are valid grounds for both the first hypothesis and the second. It is not up to us to find a solution to the dilemma and we shall leave that difficult task to the scholars. It is enough to know here that the dialect of Fardella and those of the entire area in question are the subject of major, ongoing studies.

It can be stated in conclusion that Fardellese has changed radically with respect to the past and will go on changing. There is perhaps nothing more changeable and constantly evolving than language: a slow metamorphosis imperceptible as it takes place but real and continuous. Careful comparison of the ways in which the youngest and the oldest speak reveals that many things have changed at both the morphological and the lexical level. Many words have practically disappeared and many will die out while others are instead being introduced into everyday use. Some pronunciations are no longer those of the past. All this is unquestionably due to the influence of other forms of speech. Suffice it to mention the great power of the mass media and television in particular. Nor should we forget that a substantial proportion of young people go to university and, being therefore obliged to live in other places, adopt not only their ways of life but also expressions, accents, pronunciations and terminology unknown in the Fardellese vocabulary. All this acts upon our speech and modifies it day after day.