A short linguistic guide for tourists in Salento
Visitors who come here, to the tip of the Italian peninsula, discover that the locals speak a unique and fascinating dialect which carries within itself traces of the long history of the region. Colonization by the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Lombards, Bourbons, etc. They have all left indelible marks on the Salento dialect.
Like all Italian dialects, it was formed at the end of the Middle Ages, but it has most in common with the dialects of Calabria and Sicily. Perhaps because of their shared history as part of Magna Graecia, or Greater Greece, the Greek colonies in Italy, these regions have followed a different linguistic path. The Salentine dialect features vowels that are simplified and purified, approaching the dialects of ancient Latin, meaning to visitors the dialect seems ancient and somehow familiar at the same time, unlike, for example the nearby dialects of Bari and Foggia, full of strange sounds and uneven vowels.
Wines from Salento with DOC status have a strong bond with their dialect and make use of it in their advertising as a hallmark of their identity. This is why if you come here, you cannot help but learn or try to understand a few words in the local dialect.
Obviously in any town you visit you will find a dialect, but there are some features that make the Salento dialect unique: for example, where you would normally find the letter O in Italian words, it becomes a U in 85% of cases. It might sound funny, but it can prove useful having a more attentive ear in order to fully appreciate the link between the person and the world around us. Many everyday objects are still called by their names in dialect, as well as some plants which the locals often do not even know the corresponding Italian term for. For example: if you visit a pottery shop, you will find pots of many different shapes and sizes. You may ask the shopkeeper the price of the jar at the entrance, trying in vain to specify which of the many are talking about, and they may answer with: Do you mean the “capasa”? Because for every size and shape there is a specific name! The same is true for some dishes, such as “ciceri e tria” (chickpeas and pasta): the “tria” is not just any type of pasta, and so asking for chickpeas and pasta at a restaurant would be to lose something in translation, as it is a specific type of semolina pasta, pulled into long strips, and so if not called by its name, you may miss out on the experience!
When coming to visit us for a holiday of sun, sea and wind, do not forget to listen to the voice of Salento!