Sergio D'Amaro

The proliferation of studies that since the mid-60's has witnessed the emergence of the "question of language" in Italy in a radically renewed light is due to a few scholars and cultural and educational promoters. Consider Tullio de Mauro and his Storia linguistica dell'Italia Unita [Linguistic History of Unified Italy] - whose first edition by Laterza came out in 1963 - with far-reaching consequences both at the of socio-linguistic and at the pedagogic level. The analysis revealed the close relationships existing between "linguistic policy" and the organization of culture, between socio-economic transformations and the persistence in broad sectors of the population of a vision of the world that was static and passively dependent on extraneous cultural models. Italian society was suspended "between dialect and Italian" (to cite the title of a well-known essay by Alberto Sobrero): dialect and language not interacting dynamically, but conflictually opposed, because they are the bearers of cultures wrongly portrayed or deemed to be impermeable. On the one hand, a language-culture in "Italian," "written," standardized, centralistic and monolithic; on the other, a myriad languages-cultures in "dialect," "oral," "inferior." For as long as it has been subjected to the burden of this opposition, dialect has remained the language of the subaltern, the poor, the voice of a plurality of cultures about to disintegrate. This phenomenon has had a clearer effect in the South, where, due to particular historical circumstances, dialects have withdrawn even more into a barren attachment to the municipality, thus becoming dependent upon Neapolitan models in their literary manifestations.
Even the dialect literature of Apulia has been, until the aftermath of the Second World War, imitative and repetitive. So that we could certainly subscribe to what Pasolini was saying way back in 1952 in his introductory essay to Poesia dialettale del Novecento [Dialect Poetry of the Twentieth Century], published by Guanda, complaining about a belated Romanticism, devoid of any polemical or realistic views, notwithstanding the dramatic historical events that unfolded in the South from the seventeenth century to Unification, and from then on until the middle of this century. The last forty years, however, have ushered in such great economic and social changes (the demographic displacement, that is, of almost five million people involved in emigration; the technological revolution; the political-cultural emancipation of the old subaltern classes), that the relationship between language and dialect, and therefore the manner in which dialect literature is produced, has been deeply affected. It has been indeed the process of Italianization to better define the functional reach of dialect, so that even dialect poetry, and dialect poetry from Apulia in particular, has vastly extended its expressive range, aiming increasingly at the recovery of its own historical memory and the awareness of its own cultural identity.
One can speak at this point of "progressive dialect," according to the terminology preferred by Ernesto De Martino, of a dialect that has matured historically and ideologically, closer to the demands of contemporary reality, and open to a completely renewed style and subject matter. No longer solely the dialect of the vignette and the farce, the caricature and the idyll, the sonnet and the maxim, but a dialect that comes to grips with social and political themes, for example, endowing them with new referents and new meanings; or a dialect that expresses the inner world of the poet, projecting his feelings onto a backdrop of solitude and anguish, everyday ingredients of the civilization of the machine. What takes place, in short, is a closing of the gap between the demands of the real event, or rather of the realism of dialect poetry, and the demands of aesthetic representation, based on a well-defined and fully developed expressive capability.
One can maintain that Apulia has also achieved these goals, freeing dialect from its provincial ghettos in order to place it in open confrontation with other idioms, from those belonging to sub-regional cultures to those without communication boundaries. Apulian dialects have thus become alternative codes of an open linguistic system, abandoning the subaltern function as a consequence of the unification required by Bembo's sixteenth-century canon. In such a perspective, they have emerged as vehicles of recognition in a universe of pervasive standardization, taking place with the spread of English and the diffusion of mass media: with its lexical and semantic richness, dialect has reclaimed a communal space, made of people, places, recognizable relationships.
The journey, nevertheless, has been long and difficult. Apulia is a heterogenous region, a product of the grafting of various peoples and diversified relationships (suffice it to consider the ties between the Capitanata - Foggia's province - and the Abruzzo region, and Bari's vocation for the Orient). For various centuries it followed the destiny of the Kingdom of Naples. As a marginalized province, it was passively subjected to the influence of the capital, not being able to produce a cultured class that could elevate dialect to the language of poetry. For this reason the latter, "due to the absence of a Court, of centers of lively culture, but also to the narrowness of experiences, of needs other than the primary ones having to do with the immediate necessities of a poor society, restricted and subjugated, was almost limited to the nucleus of family relationships, of domestic and municipal life, of hunger, of survival, of material culture, of faith and superstition, of coarse laughter, of plebeian obscenities, without that capacity for sublimation, contemplation and protest that elsewhere even humble and wretched societies, in possession of a strong dialect, were able to express" (M. Dell'Aquila, Parnaso di Puglia nel '900, Bari: Adda, 1983, pp. 305-306). It must be pointed out, however, that this is not the case in the Salento (southern Apulia), where the presence of a vigorous local culture has promoted a rather different tradition, tol be examined further on.
Since the texts produced between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries are classifiable only as being generically Apulian, the region's dialect literature begins just before the middle of the nineteenth century with Francesco Saverio Abbrescia from Bari and Francescantonio D'Amelio. That is to say, two names of modest literary interest, according to Pasolini in the aforementioned anthology. Still of interest to us today, on the one hand they well represent the spirit of the people of Bari, which borders on "irreverence and obscenity" (Dell'Aquila, op.cit.) without sentimental mewling, and on the other, that of the people of Lecce, characterized instead by an elegant air tinged with popular overtones. Not much better fare David Lopez and Antonio Nitti, who also come on the scene late with respect to the expectations of a nation unified with great difficulty. "Consider - adds Pasolini - what intense, imaginative poetry could have been produced by an inspiration conscious of an element then potentially vital to poetry in a southern dialect, that is, an anti-unification or even pro-Bourbon political stance. This carried-over literature, positioned between Pascoli and Di Giacomo, continues without interruption astride the last two centuries, even though it receives a few beneficial jolts here and there, as in the case of Giuseppe De Domenicis from the Salento (a.k.a. Captain Black), who tackles satire and historical themes. The fact is, as Pasolini notes, that one should study how a certain minor literature of the nineteenth century (from De Amicis to Stecchetti) could be so successful in the provinces of the former Neapolitan kingdom, where indeed a great author like Verga had made the broadest possible use of dialect, until then stifled by the ruling sentimental-nationalistic rhetoric, in order to endow his works with "reality."
The misconception of dialect as sub-language or language as reservoir of expressionistic specimens to be used by late-Romantic writers and veristi, did not die easily and favored versifiers of diverse temperaments equally distributed among Terra di Bari, Capitanata and Salento.
In the Bari area, various generations born between the epoch of Umberto I and Fascism ensure a more or less successful tradition. They are Peppino Franco, Gaetano Savelli (famous for the dialect translation of Dante's Comedy) Vito Barracano, Vito De Fano, Vito Maurogiovanni (who is also a noted playwright), Pasquale Sorrenti (tireless student of things Apulian), Gianni Custodero. None of them reaches the level of someone like Giotti, Noventa or Marin, but in the regional sphere they have been able to develop a dialect capable of mediating between past and present, and to handle both lyric and the narrative. Upon these experiences is grounded the work of the younger Lino Angiuli, born after the Second World War. His dialect is no longer the difficult recovery of a disappearing tradition, of something forgotten; it is instead a mutilated and intermittent language, wedded to a sometimes harsh and bitter irony that knows it can avail itself of only the shreds of a transfigured people.
More diversified appears to be the dialect landscape of the Capitanata. The intimist generation of Filippino M. Pugliese, Giovanni De Cristofaro and Alfredo Petrucci (with the exception of a satirist such as Saverio Napolitano in the middle of the nineteenth century) also includes a noteworthy poet like Giacomo Strizzi, keen and delicate painter of his small rural world. But there are other surprises. The ironic and satirical vein of Enrico Venditti, the "dark and melancholy" muse (Dell'Aquila) of Gino Marchitelli, the epic inspiration of Michele Sacco. A more traditional approach appears in the works of Raffaele Lepore and Osvaldo Anzivino, of Michele Capuano and Joseph Tusiani (much better known for his activity as Italianist and poet in English). Published posthumously, Francesco P. Borazio's work has been able to relate completely to the "culture of poverty," to the southern condition rescued in a true anthropological recovery. The last generation includes Pasquale Ognissanti and Francesco Granatiero. The former's poetry, highly regarded by Tommaso Fiore, is characterized by a meditation filled with sadness, by a bitter solipsism rarely seen in other dialect poets. Granatiero, on the other hand, is capable of a careful memorial and anthropological reappropriation, which places him among the staunchest exponents of a dialect that is both lyrical and narrative.
Going on to southern Apulia, we have already mentioned the particular cultural position of this area, that at the beginning of the sixteenth century produced a poet like Galateo (Antonio De Ferrariis). The fact is, that unlike other parts of Apulia, this land has granted dialect a dignity equal to Italian, having always been the medium of communication of the cultured class and the preferred choice in the Academies and cultural gatherings. Therefore, there are many names worthy of mention: from Lorenzo Casarano to Oberdan Leone (a.k.a. Don Kaber) to Francesco Marangi (a.k.a. Gamiran), Giuseppe Susanna, Giuseppe Marzo, Salvatore Imperiale (inspired also by the drama of emigration), Emilio Passeri, the already mentioned Giuseppe De Dominicis (a.k.a. Captain Black), till the contemporary Nicola G. De Donno, who has considerably ennobled dialect not only from a political and polemical point of view, but more broadly by extending its expressive power in a pessimistic look at the human condition.
Taranto and Brindisi also, with their respective provinces, have contributed numerous works in dialect. The Taranto area "is linguistically closer to Metaponto and is connected to the poleis of Greater Greece" (Poesia dialettale dal Rinascimento a oggi - Dialect Poetry From the Renaissance to Today -, edited by G. Spagnoletti and C. Vivaldi, Milan: Garzanti 1991, vol. 2, p. 1002). For this area it will suffice to remember Michele Scialpi, Emilio Consiglio, Cataldo Acquaviva, Michele De Noto, Diego Marturano, Giuseppe Cravere. Brindisi, in turn, can boast of an ancient tradition, that began in the seventeenth century with Giacomo de Matteis Turresi and Girolamo Bax (a.k.a. Ciommo Bàcchisi) and continued in other periods with Agostino Chimienti, Arcangelo Lotesoriero, Francesco A. Nucci, Oronzo P. Orlando (a.k.a. Lu Stunese), Pietro Pignatelli (a.k.a. Lu Barcalaru), Francesco Tamborrino (a.k.a. Tam-Tam). Today in Ceglie Messapico lives the best poet of this part of Apulia, Pietro Gatti, epic bard of his land in broad stanzas that express "an alluring play of sounds and assonances which reflects the contemplation of many mascìe [magic spells]" (Poesia dialettale dal Rinascimento a oggi, cit., p. 1008).
In conclusion, we think we can say that with its leading exponents, who have reached maturity far into the twentieth century, dialectal Apulia has overcome the complex of the old mask of Don Pancrazio Cucuzziello, called "the Biscegliese," symbol of the submissive and improvident Apulian, eternally jeered at for his provincial spirit. The region has been able to gain a place on the linguistic keyboard of stylistic deviations and innovations: which means being able to create the future of literature even with dialect.


La Puglia e i suoi poeti dialettali, edited by P. Sorrenti, Bari 1962; new anastatic edition, Sala Bolognese, 1992.
Cento e passa poeti dialettali, edited by T. Giuttari e L. Grande, Milan 1973.
Oltre Eboli: la poesia, edited by A. Motta, Manduria 1979.
Poeti della Puglia, edited by R. Nigro and D. Giancane, Forlì 1979.
La poesia in Puglia, edited by D. Giancane and M. I. De Santis, Forlì 1994.
Dizionario dei dialetti pugliesi, edited by G. Colasuonno, Bari 1992.
Le parole dell memoria. Antologia della poesia dialettale della Daunia, with an essay by G. De Matteis, Lucera, CRSEC FG/30, 1992


M. Melillo, Lingua e società in Capitanata, Naples-Foggia 1966.
G. Custodero, Puglia letteraria nel Novecento, Ravenna 1982
M. Dell'Aquila, Parnaso di Puglia nel '900, Bari 1983.
G. De Matteis, La poesia dialettale della Daunia, in La letteratura dialettale in Italia, edited by P. Mazzamuto, Palermo 1984.
M. Dell'Aquila, Puglia, Brescia 1986.
S. D'Amaro, "I poeti dialettali dell'ultima generazione in Puglia," in Diverse Lingue, IV, n. 6, July 1989, pp. 81-89.
--. Nel verso della madre antica. I poeti dialettali della Capitanata, ibidem, VI, n. 9, January 1991, pp. 23-42