Spanish in the Neapolitan: the words and history of Iberian influences

by Francesco Li Volti

The areas where the Spanish took root most were those that were united to crown of Spain, like Naples, where the Spanish cultural domain it lasted for a good four hundred years in two different eras, from 1442 to 1707 and returned when Naples became an independent kingdom with the arrival of Charles of Bourbon and Bernardo Tanucci. These influences faded later the alliance with Austria operated by Ferdinand IV.

Already in the second half of the thirteenth century, as a consequence of the revolution of the Vespers, many Aragonese became part of the mercenary army that was then formed in Italy, and one of their main destinations was the Neapolitan court of Robert of Anjou. Subsequently, numerous Aragonese families came to settle in Naples; the influx of these mercenaries had to be still small if already in 1305 Robert of Anjou entered a Florence with "a gang of three hundred Aragonese and Catalan knights".

At the time of Charles II (1285-1309), predecessor of Robert of Anjou, also due to the great economic and mercantile power and prestige that the city of Barcelona, the Aragonese had been allowed to have their "consuls" in the main cities of the kingdom. It is no mystery in fact that the so-called Rua Catalana of Naples dates back to this era, a street so called because it was the seat of the Aragonese, especially merchants, who settled in the capital in those years.

Alfonso d'Aragona spagnolo nel napoletano
Alfonso of Aragon

The Aragonese in Naples: renaissance and culture

After a long war, which ended with the victory of Alfonso I (V of Aragon) and with the expulsion of Renato d'Angiò, in 1442 the Angevins abandoned Naples giving way to the Aragonese dynasty. Alfonso I he was among the main promoters of the culture of Renaissance, and he loved to surround himself with Italian enlightened people with whom he discussed literature and philosophy. The cultural climate promoted during the reign of Alfonso was characterized by the establishment in 1443 of theAlfonsina Academy, the first academy in Italy, which was later called Pontaniana.

Alfonso I he never learned Italian well, but he always continued to write and speak in Catalan and above all in Castilian, since he was the son of a Castilian prince and had been raised in the court of Henry III. During the reign of this sovereign another Spanish immigration took place, similar to that which had already taken place in Sicily, and much more consistent than that which took place at the time of the court of Robert of Anjou. The new immigrants soon formed kinship ties with the families of the kingdom: entire families settled in the kingdom by acquiring fiefs and kin, many other Spaniards were employed in the administration, and there were also many prelates who came from Spain, along with peasants, artisans, employees, shopkeepers, as evidenced by the coupons of the royal treasury. Even the king's fool came from Spain. The nobles of Naples were largely Aragonese and the Aragonese were entrusted with the most important posts in the administration of the kingdom. Such an influx of Spaniards had, among other things, the consequence of strengthening feudalism in the kingdom, which had already undergone a strong impulse during the Angevin domination. With Alfonso I the language of the court and of the chancellery became Spanish and so until 1480. Since then the influence of Spanish in the social life of Naples was evident in the parties and entertainment, in the fascinating and overwhelming gallantry of the costume, in the display of robes and mounts. At his court all vernacular literature was in Castilian, since, ignoring the king of Italian, he never encouraged indigenous literary production; In fact, many poets and writers followed him from Spain, who, in some cases, came into contact with our humanists.

Ferrante d'Aragona
Ferrante of Aragon

Ferrante d'Aragona and the Italianization of Catalan culture

In fact, literature in the Italian vernacular was not part of the entertainment of the Neapolitan court, largely Spanish. With the death of Alfonso I in 1458 the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily returned to divide and the son of Naples ascended the throne Alfonso, Ferrante of Aragon. With the division of the kingdom the migratory flow from Spain slowed down, and indeed in some cases many of those who had followed Alfonso in the new conquered lands returned to Spain. Perhaps it was also following the advice of his father on the verge of death, which would have recommended that he remove all the Aragonese and Catalans from himself and seek the support of the Italians, who Ferrante he sought the support of the Neapolitans more than his father himself and the importance of the Catalans in the city of Naples thus it went downsizing. During his reign the Italianization of the Aragonese residing in Naples grew considerably, and not infrequently the Neapolitans entered the administration and were also the king's ministers. However, the Spanish element did not regress to the point of definitively leaving Neapolitan life, both for social and dynastic ties that still closely linked the city to the Spanish language and culture. In Catalan the coupons of the treasury continued to be drawn up for many years, as Catalan and Castilian remained the languages of the court. Although Ferrante was not, like his father, a lover of literature, Spanish literature did not completely disappear from Neapolitan culture, as evidenced by the large number of Spanish poetry books from the libraries of the Neapolitan barons of the time.

Carlo V
Charles V

The Spanish Viceroyalty

The Spaniards in Naples not only left the Neapolitan population fascinated by their gallantry and their courteous manners, but were also considered guilty of having spread very negative moral habits and customs in the city, as Pontano reports, according to which the Neapolitans would have learned from the Spanish average bad habit of swear on the "heart" or "body of God", the passion for prostitutes, and the contempt for human life, cause of the multiplication of crimes of blood. Even when in the 1502, at the end of the struggles between the Spanish and the French for the lands of southern Italy, Naples was annexed to the kingdom of Ferdinand the Catholic and the viceroy, the numerous viceroys who succeeded one another, for almost two centuries, until the end of the following century, rarely abandoned their mother tongue during their short stay in the Neapolitan capital and surrounded themselves with a court of their compatriots; this meant that until the beginning of the XVIII century the Spanish language was part of Neapolitan life, making its influence felt both in the sphere of social and cultural customs. In these years Spanish remained the language of the court and of the chancery, but not the one in which the laws (which were written in Spanish and Catalan only in Sardinia), for which the Italian was used, despite the custom of kings and viceroys to let you enter formulas in Spanish. Among the higher classes of society, the wealthy Neapolitans often tried their hand at speaking there Spanish, considering their behavior a sign of affection and of loyalty towards their rulers.

Carlo di Borbone
Charles of Bourbon

From the Austrians to the Bourbons

During the short Austrian viceroyalty (1707-1733), Spanish remained the official language, and with the restoration of the Spanish monarchy in Naples with Charles of Bourbon, the use of the Castilian as the language of the chancellery, in which it was used on an equal footing with Italian. King Charles, even though born to a French and an Italian, he preferred speak Castilian; his court was in fact frequented by many soldiers and employees arrived from Spain, and by Neapolitan gentlemen who had spent the years of Austrian rule in Spain, fighting alongside Philip V. During the years of Bourbon domination over the city, they gradually diminished, since the contacts between the Spaniards and the mother country became more and more sparse, Spanish immigration in Italy became more and more contained.

The schooling policy of Bourbon contributed to the spread of the teaching of Italian and, in the wake of new dominant culture which was taking hold throughout Europe in the 18th century, the French language si made way at the expense of the Spanish. Nevertheless, the linguistic traces that almost four centuries of Spanish domination in Naples have left in the local language are numerous and very interesting.

The following research is based on the identification and description of these traces, entirely dedicated to the analysis of Spanish words passed to Neapolitan.

Here are some examples of Spanish in the Neapolitan:

Ammuinà/ Ammuìna (make confusion / Annoyances) from Amohinar (annoy, irritate).
Amprèssa (quickly) from Prisa( promptly).
Arravuglià / Arrevugliato (Wrap / Wrap) from - ArrebujarArrebucarse (Wrap-Wrap).
Arrugnà / Arrugnato (Contract / Contract-Wrinkled) from Arrugar (contract-wrinkle).
Buffettone (slap) from Bofeton (idem).
Butteglia (bottle) from Botella (idem but also from the French buteille).
Cammisa (Shirt) from Camisa (idem).
Canzo (opportunity) from Alcanzar (achieve, reach).
Còsere (sew) from Coser (ditto).
Cracked (injured) by Quebrado ( Broken )
Cu mmico / Cu ttic (with me-with you) from Conmigo - Contigo (idem).
Cunto (tale, fable) from Cuento (idem).
Faraglioni (rocks of Capri) from Farallòn (rock emerging high from the sea).
Guappo (Camorra, arrogant) from Guapo (handsome, guappi were seen as charming men).
Lazzaro / Lazzarone (impolite and badly dressed person) from Lazarus (ragged, leper).
Mum (mom) from Mama
'Mpanata (food covered with flour or breadcrumbs and then fried) from Empanada (pie with meat and peas).
Muntone (pile) from Montòn (idem).
I die (mouthful) from Almuerzo (snack, breakfast).
'Ngarrà (hit, guess, guess) from Agarrar (catch, grab).
Nenna / Ninno (boy, girl) from Niño (idem).
'Nfizzà / 'Mpizzà (poke, introduce, thread) from Fijar (introduce, fix)
'Ngrifarse (rear up, get up, get up) from Engrifarse (idem)
Palia (to beat, to strike) from Apaleàr (hit with a pole).
Palomma (dove) from Paloma (dove).
Papiello (the university papyrus or a weighty document) from Papèl (paper, document).
Pass - Passiata (walk, walk) from Pasear ( to stroll ).
Ricchione (pederast) from Orejones (name given by the Spaniards (from oreja -ear) to the vicious and corrupt Peruvian nobles who had their ears pierced and stretched
Relief (watch) from Reloj (idem)
Rollo (roll, round package) from Rollo (idem).
It will happen (raving, raving, rambling) from Desvariar (rant).
Scarfà (reheat) from Escalfar (idem).
Swarming (elegant jacket) from Chamberga o Chambergo (jacket, rag hat).
To stay (in the sense of being) from Estar (stay, be). In the Neapolitan language, being often replaces being as in Spanish.
To keep (in the sense of having, possessing) from Tenér ( to have ).
Trezzià (discover the playing cards little by little) from Terciar (to put something diagonally, but it also has other variations, among other meanings there is to divide into several parts).

Source RAE (Real Academia Espanola)


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Will be 25 August 2020 - 10:00

'O tavùt (the coffin) / El ataud
'A lapis (the pencil) / El lápiz

Domenico Tortora 25 August 2020 - 14:21

Other terms are missing, such as sta zerrato CHIUSO, from the Spanish (Cerrato) closed; it's still:
scapece zucchini with vinegar; from the Spanish Escapece, way of preparing all the vegetables the vinegar… ..etc

Alejandro 29 November 2020 - 23:32

¡Escabeche, hombre!

Federico Quagliuolo 29 November 2020 - 23:33

Of course, those listed are obviously suggestions, it would take very long to list them all

Alejandro 29 November 2020 - 23:38

Also in Spain we have the “Belén” widely used at Christmas. It seems to me that this tradition comes from Naples.
In the balleari islands once belonging to the kingdom of Aragon such as Naples, there is a traditional food very similar to pizza, if called "coca".

Gianfranco Amiranda 2 December 2020 - 23:05

Also cajola from cajola-cage and currea from correa-cinta.

Íñigo Álvarez de Toledo 2 April 2021 - 10:38

I believe that in the first part of the article we use Catalan and Aragonese as a synonym, but Catalonia as a political entity did not exist, only the Kingdom of Aragon, largely of which Catalan was not spoken.

Charles of Bourbon was first King of the Two Sicilies and gave up to become King of Spain etc.

Thank you and greetings

Maximum 21 May 2021 - 14:07

one who speaks of Aragonese and… Catalans, makes me understand a lot about the partiality of his stories.


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