Council for Ligurian Linguistic Heritage

Ligurian Council

Origins of the Ligurian language

Presented by Alessandro Guasoni

Little or nothing is known of the Ligurian language before the Roman conquest. What little is known is deduced from toponymy – such as the famous ending in -asko/a of many place names, supposedly meaning “house” – and from a few rare testimonies by classical authors, such as saliunka, “species of valerian”, and sigynnai, “merchants”. Nor can much be deduced from the inscriptions – written with characters derived from Etruscan – on the statues-stelae in Lunigiana, apart from a few names such as the word Mezunemushus on one of them, about which many hypotheses have been made.

On the other hand, the first document where the presence of terms in the Ligurian vernacular can be observed, in a Latin context, is the Testament of Raimondo Pictenado from 1156, followed a few years later by the Paxia declaration (1178-82) in Savona, two lists of objects in which the original Ligurian names can be recognised in their Latinised form. Already at that time, one can observe the characteristics of a spelling system that have continued to this day; “x” for the voiced palatal fricative: rexentar (contemporary Genoese: ruxentâ), “ç” for the voiceless palatal affricate: lençoles (contemporary Genoese: lençeu) and other analogous examples.

Following this, it is only in 1269 that we have the first evidence of ancient Genoese in a public record, on the tombstone of the two brothers Simonetta and Percivalle Lercari, found in 1873 in S. Giovanni di Pré, which can now be seen in the Museum of S. Agostino, and which reads:

† M°cc°1°viiii ad dies xvi
agusti ante te
rcia transieru
nt de hoc seculo domin
a Simoneta et Pre
civarius Lercarius eius
frater que anime in pace re
quiescant ante Deun amen.
Tu qi qui ne trovi, per De no ne movi

Italian translation

Addì 16 agosto 1269 prima dell’ora terza lasciarono questo mondo la signora Simonetta e suo fratello Percivalle Lercaro, che le loro anime riposino in pace davanti a Dio amen. «Tu che qui ci trovi, in nome di Dio non ci muovere»

After the Latin text explaining who is buried there, comes a couplet of rhymed senari in Genoese, intended to arouse the reader’s pity, in an almost informal tone.

Raimbaut de Vaqueiras (sec. XII)

Raimbaut was a Provençal troubadour, the first to use Genoese with a literary, albeit parodistic and comical intent. His Genoese is mixed with Provençalisms and we are not even sure whether he had ever been to Genoa, or whether he relied on elements reported by someone. In Contrasto con la donna genovese, a jester, who tries to seduce a woman, receives only dry rebukes. To the declarations of love, all in Provençal, the woman replies with rejection and, after a long squabble, the woman tells the poet to go to hell: it is a parody of the literary fashion and customs of courtly love in vogue at the time, and the Genoese with their harsh language and their reputation, even then, as tough and direct people, were well suited to mocking the refined poetic conventions of the noble courts. The woman replies as follows to the propositions:

Juiar, voi no se’ corteso,
che me chaidejai de zo.
qe niente no farò,
ance fossi voi apeso!
Vostr’amia no serò.
Certo, ja ve scanerò,
proenzal malaurao!
Tal enojo ve dirò:
sozo, mozo, escalvao!
Ni zà voi no amerò,
q’e’ chu bello marì ò,
qe voi no se’, ben lo so,
andai via, frar, en tempo

Italian translation

Giullare, voi non siete cortese,
a chiedermi cose
che mai farò
Anche se voi foste impiccato,
non sarò vostra amica!
Piuttosto vi scannerò,
provenzale malaugurato!
Questi insulti vi dirò:
sporco pazzo rapato!
Nè mai vi amerò,
chè ho un bellissimo marito,
più di quanto voi non siate, ben lo so,
andate via, fratello, aspettate un’occasione

A Canson da Croxâ

This song, discovered in 1951 by R. Giazotto, dates back to 1269 (although there are some problems in the transcription of the text) and not only testifies to the existence of a poetic production in Genoese a few years before that of the Genoese Anonym, but it is also the first song in Genoese that we know of. The note at the end of the text also tells us that there were other songs, on the subject of love, in the metrical form of the strambotto, a kind of song that was widespread in the Italian area. There is a beautiful version of this text in music, sung by Roberta Alloisio and included in her album Lingua serpentina (2007).

I Xzeneijxi cum Maria
se fan bonna compagnia
per trovar ne’l Sepulchro
Jesu Christo forte et pulchro.

Ne ro mar cuncti navili
sun co’ signo de la cruxe
benedicta et suave,
cuncti cantan Agnus Ave.

Delectissima Maria
ke sé nostra delecia
lo to fijo k’à perduo
Juda tristo l’à venduo.

Jerusalem se spracia
ri Xzeneijzi se desfacia
per redarte in compagnia
Jesus Kriste, Ave Maria.

Benedicimus et gloriamus
Kriste beate et hostia sancta
cum tuo spiritu, Kriste beate
Ave Maria, Kriste beate.

De majo se canta
de junio se danza
per amor
et per possanza
de Kristo et Maria
pin de cortexia.

Se canta supra sonum de straboto
«Domne alantor me prend’amor»

Italian translation

I Genovesi con Maria
si fanno buona compagnia
per trovare nel sepolcro
Gesù Cristo forte e bello.

Nel mare tutti naviglia
hanno il segno della croce
benedetta e soave
tutti cantano Agnus Ave.

Dilettissima Maria
che sei nostra delizia
il figlio che hai perduto
Giuda tristo lo ha venduto.

Gerusalemme si squarcia
i Genovesi si imbaldanziscono
per ridarti in compagnia
Gesù Cristo, Ave Maria.

Benediciamo e glorifichiamo
Cristo beato e l’ostia santa
con il tuo spirito, Cristo beato
Ave Maria, Cristo beato.

Di maggio si canta
di giugno si danza
per amore
e per possanza
di Cristo e Maria
pien di cortesia,

Si canta sopra l’aria dello strambotto
«Donne allora mi prende amore»