“Beloved, but dying out”: The Economist goes in search of the Milanese dialect

The prestigious British newsweekly has dedicated a long article to what is happening to the dialect of Milan, mentioning Enzo Jannacci and Nanni Svampa.

the economist dialetto milanese

There is a picture of Enzo Jannacci, and several references to Nanni Svampa. There is even a verse of “El ridicol matrimoni,” the song that lists the traditional Lombard toasts used during a wedding.

But it is all written in a perfect English, and in a publication that generally speaks of something quite different. “The Economist,” one of the most authoritative newspapers on economics and finance, has unexpectedly dedicated an article to the Milanese dialect, which is “beloved, but dying out”, a piece hosted by the blog “Prospero,” written by correspondents of the British newsweekly and dedicated to in-depth, literary and cultural analyses from the rest of the world.

The analysis is linear, clear, and anything but dry. The Economist remembers the Roaring Sixties and Seventies, when artists like the above-mentioned Svampa and Jannacci were on the crest of the wave, even with songs in the dialect, and when a group like “I Gufi” (in which Svampa was joined by Brivio, Patruno and Magni) were so popular that they appeared on television (national television, that is; there was no other); songs about the evolution of Milan, an industrial city with its own criminality, the Mala, with romantic overtones, at least in the songs.

However, as the article explains, it is the soul of Milan, a city open to the arrival of a multitude of people from the rest of Italy, particularly from the south, that has been the cause of the almost complete disappearance of the dialect. It is a language, as the weekly magazine points out, in which many contributions from nearby nations have blended together, particularly from France (for example coeur and oeuf), to the point that they “make Milanese seem more Parisian than Italian, and that “Milanese can often be a struggle just to understand for someone from Naples or Rome.”

In this sense, the quote from Ridicol Matrimoni highlights that there are full verses in which every single word, every preposition and article is different from the translation in Italian.

The Economist also sought the opinion of a Milanese dialect teacher, Edoardo Bossi, who said that only 2% of the inhabitants of Milan can speak the dialect fluently. It is viewed by the younger generations as a coarse way of expressing yourself, he said. Nevertheless, the dialect remains in the background of city life, and continues to have a significant influence, starting with the (non-official) Milanese anthem par excellence, O Mia Bela Madunina. And maybe that is why shows by the Legnanesi and more modern artists (Ul Mik Lonogobardeath are mentioned) are still so popular.

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