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The Romanesco language: how to use it when visiting Rome

Published on November 10, 2018 by C. P.

Romanesco language: what is it?

This will ring particularly true to those visiting who have a smattering of Italian but everyone, regardless of their fluency, will have probably observed it: the local language doesn’t have just the one sound! Depending on where you visit, you may hear it as musical or harsh, romantic or unattractive. It almost seems like more languages rolled into one.

Well, sometimes, with Italian, this is exactly what it is. We owe it to the overwhelming amount of dialects spoken on the territory: most of them predate the official language, and most of them are known in some capacity to most of the population.

Take Rome, for example. On a linguistic level, it confuses visitors by being the quintessential “code-switching” city. This means that within the metropolis two main languages are spoken by locals at the same time – one of a higher type, destined to work environments, while in education or in formal settings, and another one which is more of an everyday kind of affair.

Romanesco, the name of the local dialect, often is found in the latter type of situations. And it puzzles most travellers, who find themselves immersed in a bustling atmosphere where the local community uses terms that are definitely not found in their dictionaries.

One thing that should be clear, though, is that the language nowadays is basically extinct and Romanesco “resists” rather than existing. When Rome became the capital of Italy, as a matter of fact, many government workers from all over Italy moved in the area, so in the modern era the dialect got lost (more or less). Just a few expressions and words exist today, but they’re all over!

That’s why this post means to be a “Romanesco 101” kind of introduction to get you to understand some more common terms you will likely encounter during your stay. While you will never get to interact with someone who speaks exclusively this language, many words deriving from it are part of everyday life in Rome, mixed with proper Italian or used on t-shirts, spoken aloud, found on billboards or in movies and songs. In the event you want to use the following, just make sure you do them with an actual local – otherwise you may receive some weird looks!

Some backstory

Romanesco is a language that features elements of Florentine, Neapolitan and Latin. The Tuscan language became the main influence on Romanesco when a large number of merchants and bankers from Florence moved to the Urbs Aeterna after the Sack of Rome in 1527 (they settled, in particular, in the area around Via dei Banchi Nuovi, Via di Panico, Via dei Coronari… so if you’re staying at one of our managed apartments like Antiqua, Black & White or La Terrazza di Elly, chances are you’re staying exactly on the same ground where current Romanesco was born.

Furthermore, Neapolitan influenced Romanesco with the tendency to truncate the last syllable of numerous words (verbs, mostly!).

Useful Romanesco terms

  • Ao’(Pronounced “ah-oh”): it can be used as either a salutation (very informal) or a way to attract attention or to demand that someone stops doing what they’re doing. Examples: “Ao’, where do you think you’re going with my bike?” but also “Ao’, I haven’t seen you in a long time!”.
  • Anvedi/ Ammazza (Pronounced “ahn-veh-dee” and “ahm-mah-tsah”, respectively): both used to express surprise or wonder. “Ammazza” is the more informal of the two. Both mean “would you look at that!”.
  • Avoja (Pronounced “ah-voh-y-ah”): the Romanesco shrinking of the Italian expression “hai voglia”, it’s used as a very enthusiastic “sure!”.
  • Capo (Pronounced “cah-poh”): from the Latin “caput” (“head”, or “top”), it’s used informally (and not just in Rome) to address a man you believe to be important, having authority. It may very well have been used to address you!
  • Daje (Pronounced “dah-yeh”): meaning “come on”, it has famously been the political slogan of former mayor Ignazio Marino and one exclamation that has become popular again in recent times. It can either be used as a way to cheer when something good happens, or as an annoyance because someone is moving too slowly (classic use: when stuck in traffic!). Note that the letter J is always pronounced as a Y.
  • Mo’ (Pronounced “mo-h”): from the Latin “mox”, means, as its predecessor, “right away”.
  • ‘Nnamo (Pronounced “nah-moh”): an exclamation similar to “daje”. Mostly used when frustrated!
  • Steccare (Pronounced “steh-ka-reh”): a verb mainly used to indicate that a bill will be shared among friends. “Il conto se lo steccamo”, for example: “we’re going Dutch with the bill”. Alternatively, go for “smezzare” (Pronounced “smeh-tsah-reh”)
  • Abbiocco (Pronounced “ah-bee-oh-koh”): a “food coma”, after a particularly tasty and abundant meal. You proceed to get rid of said food coma by having a “pennichella” (Pronounced “peh-nee-kel-lah”), similar to the Spanish “siesta”.

For more Romanesco terms or when in doubt about how to use some, don’t forget to ask our staff at check-in. And if you’re interested in proper Italian lessons, get in touch today for more information about the lessons by our partner Alessandro Di Mauro at Italiano Standard!

Category: Rome 101

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