I sorta-kinda was "taught" that Sicilian turns all unstressed "e"s to "i"s and "o"s to "u"s.

Then I got to know a couple Calabrian songs whose dialect seemed almost Sicilian, so I extended that principle to Calabrian (at least Siculo-Calabrian) as well.

Except I was given the lyrics to them, and one of them (La mamma, by Otello Profazio) has both unstressed "e"s and "o"s, and the singer in the linked video clearly pronounces e.g. "oliofanti" as /ɔ.li.o'fan.ti/ and "contentezza" as /kon.tɛn'tet.tsa/.

Can I explain all this away as non-strict dialect, perhaps an influence of Italian? Is there a distinction between Sicilian and Calabrian in this respect, e.g. Sicilian is strict and Calabrian is more lenient, the latter allowing unstressed "e"s and "o"s in some cases whereas the former never allows them?

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    I think the answer given is fine, but I'd just like to point out that I don't think it's strictly accurate to say that /e/ "turns into" /i/ and /o/ "turns into" /u/: rather, the distinction between those pairs disappears, and the result is sounds that become indistinguishable allophones along a spectrum. Sometimes it may sound more like /e/ and sometimes more like /i/, but basically it's a matter of vowel reduction to something intermediate or speaker-dependent.
    – LjL
    Commented Nov 25, 2019 at 15:38

1 Answer 1


Not all Calabrian is the same

Calabrian (it: Calabrese) is the name given to the romance dialect continuum spoken in Calabria. It is commonly divided into two different language groups:

  • In the southern two-thirds of the region, the Calabrian dialects are more closely related to Sicilian, grouped as Central-Southern Calabrian, or simply Calabro, and are usually classified as part of Extreme Southern Italian (Italiano meridionale-estremo) language group.
  • In the northern one-third of the region, the Calabrian dialects are often classified typologically with Neapolitan language (it: Napoletano-Calabrese) and are called Northern Calabrian or just Cosentino.

Your description is accurate of the Sicilian varieties spoken in the south of Calabria, but as you go further north, the influence of Neapolitan shows a gradual difference in the treatment of vowels, where unstressed /e/ and /o/ are pronounced as a schwa [ə].

The artist in your song is Otello Profazio, from Rende, Cosenza. As you can see, as things go this is relatively northern:

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