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Giggi Zanazzo
(1860 - 1911)


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Giggi (Luigi) Zanazzo is the author whose literary efforts helped to preserve from oblivion the memory of Rome's bygone traditions better than any other dialect poet or writer.
In his youth he had studied to become an accountant, but he soon developed a special interest for his own city's folklore, which he learnt directly from the elder people, questioning them about old customs, traditions, legends.
His job at the National Library in Rome gave him a good opportunity of enhancing his knowledge of the city. Strongly inspired by Belli, whose verses he described as "immortal Sonnets", Zanazzo began to write his own poetry, in the same broad dialect his favourite author had used. Also his themes were mainly based on Rome's everyday life.
Between 1886 and 1888 he published several collections of poems, among which Proverbi romaneschi (roman proverbs), Giggi pe' Roma (Giggi around Rome) and others. His verses did not sting as much as Belli's ones, but the readers liked them. Unexpectedly, the young accountant became popular among Rome's poets.
In 1887 he founded a dialect literary review called Rugantino, after the name of a well-known character of the Commedia dell'Arte, who represents a typical roman folk. In the same years Zanazzo also wrote a number of dialect plays.

His best production was yet to come. In 1906 he published Novelle, favole e leggende romanesche ("Roman novels, tales and legends"), followed one year later by the title he is more often remembered for, Usi, Costumi e Pregiudizi del popolo di Roma ("habits, customs and prejudices of Rome's people").
In the latter, he recorded a great number of local customs, games, common beliefs, traditional remedies for many diseases, riddles, play-on-words, the traditional cries of Rome's pedlars and market sellers, and even dedicated a short chapter to the Jewish-roman dialect.
A few of these topics had already appeared among the footnotes of Belli's sonnets; but Zanazzo's work described them methodically, and in full detail. For years he had been patiently keeeping note of what he had learnt by word of mouth from elder people, finally turning his stash of data into a lengthy essay.

« I frankly confess that while I was collecting them, some thirty years ago,» he wrote in the foreword, « I did not imagine that one day they may have turned useful for something; (...)

via Giggi Zanazzo, in Trastevere district
I often happened to hear about a prejudice, a popular remedy, a legend, one thing or another, which I immediately took note of; I did so merely out of curiosity, and also out of the strong passion I had and still have for what is related to the folk.
I was so far away from thinking that such data could interest somebody else but me: also because I did not know that eminent and famous scholars
(...) were already devoting their best efforts to preserve from the ravages of time these intimate documents concerning the people's psichology.»

Still today Zanazzo's essay is considered one of the most important and detailed sources of information about Rome's old folklore. His name, though, is only remembered by a minor street, in the popular Trastevere district.


THE LANGUAGE
Among dialect writers, Zanazzo is considered Belli's closest follower, because the language he used in his works is a faithful transposition of the one spoken in the streets by the low classes, whereas other authors of his time, such as Pascarella and Trilussa, used a somewhat polished dialect, more typical of the middle class. In particular, many words spelt by Zanazzo begin with a double consonant, while this barely happens at all in works by other authors of the same age.
Furthermore, unlike Belli and other poets, who had to comply with metrics and rhyme in composing their verses, Zanazzo's essays are in prose, thus the text, free from any literary bond, appears perfectly consistent with the genuine spoken language of Rome's old folk.
a view of Rome's lanes, from one of the many
19th century paintings by Ettore Roesler Franz

Accented vowels are very frequent; they act as reading aids for a correct pronounciation of dialect words; however, when a word containing an accented vowel is used several times in the text, the accent is sometimes dropped, as if the reader had already become familiar with the word's sound.

Zanazzo is probably the first dialect author who dropped one "r" from the spelling of words that should have two, such as carrozza → carozza ("carriage"), ferro → fèro ("iron"), vorrebbe → vorebbe ("he/she would like"), etc. This pronounciation, which is still a typical feature of Rome's modern dialect, probably came into use by the turn of the 20th century. Initially, not all authors followed it; for instance, Cesare Pascarella maintained the standard spelling with a double "r".

Another interesting feature in Zanazzo's text is the way two articles, er ("the", masculine singular) and un ("a/an", masculine), form an elision in order to avoid the pronunciation of two consecutive liquid consonants (...r + l...) or nasal consonants (...n + m...), or a nasal and a liquid one (...n + l..., ...n + r...). In such cases the article drops the last consonant and takes an apostrophe, while the following word doubles its first consonant. Only "r" fails to comply with this rule, due to the aforesaid reason.
Instead, a liquid consonant followed by a nasal one (...r + m..., ...r + n...) is regularly spoken, and entails no change.
Although this spelling is never found in works by other dialect poets, including Belli, it faithfully reflects the Roman people's way of pronouncing them, as shown in the following table:

ACTUAL
PRONUNCIATION
 EXAMPLE
 er l...→ e' ll...e' llago"the lake"
 un l...→ u' ll...u' llimone "a lemon, one lemon" 
 un m...→ u' mm...u' mmetro"a metre, one metre"
 un n...→ u' nn...u' nnodo"a knot, one knot"
...BUT
 er r...→ e' r... (not e' rr)e' rospo"the toad"
 un r...→ u' r... (not u' rr)u' ramo"a branch, one branch"
...AND
 er m...→ (no change)er metro"the metre"
 er n...→ (no change)er nodo"the knot"

The same change can take place with compound prepositions whose last consonant, in their dialect form, is "r", such as ar ("at the/to the"), der ("of the"), cor ("with the"), etc., when they are followed by a word that begins with "l"; this causes the "r" to be dropped and the "l" to be doubled, e.g. der lume → de' llume ("of the lamp").


In early editions of Zanazzo's works it is not uncommon to find some words, especially short ones, whose spelling tends to change within the text, e.g. and (Italian può, "he/she can, may"), mmo and mmô ("now"), and others.

Since the different spellings do not affect the pronounciation nor the meaning of these words, it is difficult to tell whether such discrepancies are intentional, rather than the mere consequence of the typesetter's scarce acquaintance with the written roman dialect.


The following pages contain excerpts from Usi, Costumi e Pregiudizi del popolo di Roma; in particular, page 3 features in full the chapter that describes the rules of Passatella, a tavern game very popular in the 19th century.
← Zanazzo's birthplace,
in via de' Delfini, with a
plaque that remembers him



page 2 page 3



G.Berneri
BERNERI
G.G.Belli
BELLI
C.Pascarella
PASCARELLA
Trilussa
TRILUSSA
A.Fabrizi
FABRIZI

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