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The Sopranos? Fuhgeddaboutit!
Sopranospeak: A New Italian American Dialect?
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"Mob movies have already tainted the Italian image. Do we really need more degrading shows?"
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Is it any wonder that the new smashmouth XFL has a team based in Tony Soprano's territory called the New York/New Jersey Hit Men?! To pile on the negative imagery, the team plays at the Meadowlands Sports Complex, long rumored to be the unofficial burial grounds of organized crime in the metropolitan area.

By now, with the HBO television series The Sopranos entering its long–awaited third season, its ominous, violence–glorifying billboards blanketing major metropolitan areas, and the cast being treated like amoral Roman idols, any hope of salvaging the reputation of Italian—Americans has sunk faster than a mob murder victim in the New York City harbor.

The show, which concerns a relentlessly foulmouthed fictional Mafia family with the surname of Soprano, revels in the use of mobspeak, a street language that employs bastardized Italian—American forms of Italian words. According to William Safire in Come Heavy, the characters' dialogue consists of "one part Italian, a little real Mafia slang, and a smattering of lingo remembered or made up for the show by former residents of a blue collar neighborhood in East Boston."

The vernacular of this famiglia has become so popular that it's been codified in the Sopranos Glossary. In fact, Tony Soprano even has his own form of currency. In The Happy Wanderer episode, he lends his old high school buddy Davey Scatino "five boxes of ziti," or five thousand dollars, during a poker game. Later that night, Davey borrows—and loses—an additional forty boxes of ziti.

Southern Italian—American Lingo
So you wanna be a Sopranospeak expert? If you sat down to dine with the Sopranos and discussed Tony's waste management business, or maybe the witness–protection program for one of N.J.'s ten most wanted, chances are you'd soon hear words like goombah, skeevy, and agita tossed around. All of them derive from southern Italian dialect, which tends to make the c a g, and vice versa. Likewise, p tends to become a b and d transmutes into a t sound, and dropping the last letter is very Neapolitan. So goombah linguistically mutates from compare, agita, which means "acid indigestion," originally was spelled acidità, and skeevy comes from schifare, to disgust.

If you wanted to talk like a Soprano, you'd also need to know the correct usage of compare and comare, which respectively mean "godfather" and "godmother." Since in small Italian villages everybody is the godparent of their friend's children, when addressing someone that is a close friend but not necessarily a relative the terms compare or comare are used.

Family Values?
The Soprano clan may be #1 with a bullet, but from the Fonz to the Sopranos not much evolution has taken place in the depiction of Italians on TV. If you are what you speak, then listening to a disgusting tirade by one of Tony Soprano's uncouth associates in a street language that's a bastardized Italian—American form of Italian words would convince even the staunchest Italophile that a cafone by any other name is still a rude, vulgar stereotype. Sopranospeak is code for endless, unoriginal obscenities that have nothing to do with la bella lingua, with the various dialects of Italy, or with the significant and varied contributions Italian–Americans have made throughout United States history.


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