A polyglot trip

A little vocabulary of Venetian language

I have always thought that we cannot completely understand a culture without learning the language. Also, I believe it is diffucult to truly appreciate that, without knowing some popular phrases, expressions and dialects.

How would British people distinguish themselves, without their particular accent? How would an andaluz talk by pronouncing the S instead of removing it like any respectable sevillano. What is more, have you ever tried to imagine a napolitan speaking the standard italian? It would be strange, because he might loose authenticity and his way of being. For this reason, a better understanding of the national language would let you appreciate local people and the way the deal with their daily life.

Moreover, Italy is full of dialects, so many that counting and studying all of them would be an endless work. Every 30km, sometimes even less, the way we speak and we call things change. In fact, we might say that every 30 kilomestres a subculture is born and it is not easy to get to know all of its secrets. Despite the large amount of many little cultures, I believe that by travelling, we can get the closest possible to the reality of a place.

The venetian language (as well as other italian dialects) has been subjected to many influences; not only from neo-romance languages such as French, Spanish and Catalan, but also from Germen (like the word Spritz, but that is a story I am going to tell you another time).

Anyway, Venice and its language have a different story, as well as the city itself that has always been different from many others. I like to think of Venice as a little Narnia, where the doors of the train station let you enter a whole new world, where even the streets are called by different names.

Here some words that make Venice even more special and unique, even for me that I was born just 34km away.

  • Calle: While the rest of the country has streets called Via, viale or vicolo, in Venice we would find the Calle, Calli if plural. As you might know, that word is used in the spanish language too, but it has a latin origin (callis). This word was used to name little streets or alleys.
Calle Caletta, Burano
Calle Caletta, Burano
  • Salizada: This word does not have a proper translation into italian, but the word viale is pretty close to its meaning, because it is a street wider than usual. Despite that, calling a street of Venice viale would sound quite strange for an italian person, due to the restricted size of Venice’s urbanistic. So, once again, Venice surprises us with a new word: salizada. The salizada is literally a street made of cobblestones. This material was considered very rich in the ancient times, by comparison with the pavement made of bricks, typical of the italian towns back to the middle ages.
  • Campiello: Another magical place different from the rest of the world. The campiello is not just a simple square: it is a squared open space surrounded by buildings. It might be the typical place where you would meet your friends at the age of 12 and where, some years later, you could have a romantic date. The structure of campiello can be found in other european cities, such as the magical barrio gotico of Barcelona.
  • Campo: In other words, the campo is a campiello who grew up and made its own career. In the standard italian, the campo is simply called piazza (square), while the word campo was used for a long period during ancient time. As time passed, the word campo began to disappear and it changed almost everywhere into the word piazza. Despite that change, there is a place in Italy that embraces both of those words: Piazza del Campo in Siena. If you went there, you would be so lucky of living past and present time in the same place, thanks to the word Campo and Piazza used in the same sign.
  • Sestriere: The word sestriere is easily translatable because it is simply called quartiere (neighourhood) in standard italian. Nevertheless, back to the ancient times, the word sestriere was also used in other cities, but this habbit disappeared as time passed by. Anyway, we learnt that Venice likes to preserve itself the way it used to be, in order to maintain that ancient aura it really likes and the word sestriere still reminds us that.
  • Sotoportego: I was not sure about adding this last word, due to the fact that it is not only venetian, but it is used in the whole region. I decided to write about it for all those people that are not from the north of Italy or people are not italian at all. That is because I truly believe that the portici still play an important role in the life of a northern italian. The sotoportego, sotto-portico in standard italian (literally, under the arcades), is the space located under a porch or an arcade. The lenght changes from one city to another and it can cover the whole city. This type of architecture was developped during the age of Comuni (an italian historical period when the north and the centre of the country were splitted in Comuni – literrally councils – ruled by the most important family). Many of those councils began to build several kilometres of portici in order to cover the whole city. This kind of construction had different goals such us protecting inhabitants from rain and sun. The Venetian’s sotoporteghi are not as long as the ones from Bologna or Padua, but they contribute to the daily life of venetian people by helping them to go from one Calle to another without meeting the usual crowd of tourist.

If you wanna know more about the venetian lifestyle, here another article where I talk about this topic:

How to become a budding venetian

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