The local language as a cultural resource. Garthmann … who is he?

Parrocchia di San Pantaleo. Sorso prima metà del Novecento

One of the fundamental components of our cultural heritage is represented by Sorso dialect, which was observed with scientific interest a long time ago and that we must take a cue if we want to safeguard and strengthen our identity.

Surprisingly, today, its deep commitment to the language and dialects of the islanders by Wagner and many of his students, at a time when there was not nearly the danger of a loss of linguistic competence on the part of Sardis.

At a time when the theme dismissive of literary language to focus its attention on local dialects, the German linguist addressed his students, including Christian Garthmann towards a systematic and extensive field work so that they could get close, albeit for a short period, with the agro-pastoral society which generated such dialects.



Garthmann:….who is he?


donneIn the mid- fifties of the past century, Max Leopold Wagner gave to one of his pupils – the Swiss Christian Garthmann – the task of studying the dialect of Sip , as the argument of the thesis entitled Die Mundart von Sip [1], a a copy of which is preserved in the Public Library of Salvatore Farina Sip . It is a work that examines the dialect in all respects and takes into account the interference occurring between spoken of Sip , one of Sassari, Porto Torres and Stintino. From his analysis is accurate and complete , among other things , that the sorsese differs from Sassari to some secondary features and therefore ” agree bring them together under the single name of Sassari ” [2] and taking up the thesis Italianist Wagner, highlighted as a ” vowel – course Tuscan style would therefore superimposed on a Sardinian vocalism ” [3] . Particularly thorough and accurate analysis is devoted to phonetics.

The contents of this work have not been made known to the generality of the people but it can be said with certainty that studies conducted on our territory by the Swiss scholar , are known in the scientific field , and particularly in the field isolates from various scholars of the Sardinian language ( Leonardo Sun , Massimo Pittau , Antonio Sanna , Nicola Tanda and others).

Several people helped the country in its pursuit of Christian Garthmann Sip , in particular , the memory of Garthmann was alive in the memory of Mr. Petronio Pani , with whom I had the pleasure of conversing over again.

To my question , tending to know the occasion on which he had met for the first time the Swiss scholar , he replied :

“We met by chance , us guys , in those years, we usually find ourselves at the corner of Via Umberto and Via Bicocca ; Christian … he got there , a beautiful healthy boy in velvet trousers … ; spoke in Italian and it was a lot any questions at all! If he could have asked for something to animals , just that they could not answer him . “

The impression of Garthmann , which I derived from the enthusiastic words of Petronius Pani , although it was not always easy for him to satisfy my insistent requests of dates and names and remember everything exactly , after half a century, was that of a tireless researcher of a scholar who used to meticulously write down every word that was spoken, he transcribed pronunciation and meaning and , when possible , was taking photographs of the object in question.

It was established from the beginning a friendship between Christian and Petronius : the latter was a person with a lively intelligence, great curiosity about the news and loved unconditionally all the cultural expressions of his land and therefore could not escape , despite his young age, the value of work that the ” virtual peer ” was leading the Swiss dialect sorsese (due to the sing-song pronunciation closed and we are good-naturedly teased by neighbors and Sassaresi Sennoresi ) .

In 1955 Garthmann staying with the family of the priest Aristide Fais , in Piazza Sant’Agostino in Sip , and every so often you could see with a colleague : it was another student , also a pupil of Wagner , who was working on the study the dialect of the nearby village of Sennori , in conjunction with the work of Garthmann to Sip .

A few years ago I asked about the Swiss Aristide Lai , nephew by the aforementioned Don Fais , who was not yet born at the time, he met the scholar especially through the stories of his family and by means of the correspondence exchanged during all the years between his family and Garthman ( some letter, some photos , postcards ) .

It appeared , therefore, indirectly the student Garthmann he used to get up early in the morning in order to reach the group of workers who , at six, gathered in Piazza Sant’Agostino , and from there go to the countryside to face the day’s work (à ra zurradda ) . In this way he could sit alongside someone willing to talk to him, that while patiently recorded everything, and chatted to follow them zappadòri in the country , to see them in action in the workplace and to establish the movements with the camera.

Aristide Lai has known Garthmann in person only in the mid- eighties when the Swiss , now advanced in years, and during one of the last trip to Sardinia , had gone to greet the family who had hosted in his youth.

Appunti02But those were memories of Mr. Petronio Pani direct :

“Christian was equipped with a camera, sometimes photographing objects and then asked for their dialect … did not seem to follow well-defined patterns , or was I did not know and did not understand his plan of work; sometimes occurred with me and Nicola Tanda (but with Nicola that with me) some words that were spoken during the day and which did not understand the meaning . “

He smiled when he recalled to Mr. Pani profanity ( unique ) , some alluding to the female sex , which Garthmann unknowingly and diligently wrote down in his notebook and then submit them to the attention of his friends in the evening !

“There’s always been the joker laugh at the expense of others .”

It is however clear that everyone in the country were very willing to help Garthmann estimated for the mild-mannered , ” was always afraid of disturbing … ‘, the country has accepted it well because it aroused curiosity and because they were proud of his interest ; also were intrigued by the his research and surprised by the fact that the alien was interested in them at all, to objects and aspects of their lives and equipment to which they themselves , struggling with the hard work daily for survival, did not seem to give a weight , ” was initially he who asked the questions , after he did not have more need because , on the contrary , it was the people who went out to meet him . “

They gave him the opportunity to take pictures , accompanying him even in the countryside , some ( about 40 ) , are on permanent display in the spacious lobby of the Municipal Library ” Salvatore Farina ” , and relate to everyday moments , bakery , farm work , the harvest , wagons pulled by animals, women’s work , the work in the farmyard, the crushing of grapes , daily work , during the summer, took place mainly at the door of the house is cleaned the legumes ( especially lentils ) from impurities , intertwined leaves of the dwarf palm , they worked the wool and so on.

Concluded his research work, Garthmann , inevitably , returned to Switzerland while maintaining contact by letter with people that more had been close : with family Fais , who returned to visit while he was traveling in Sardinia , in the eighties, and with Mr. Pani which has kept with great care a letter that the student sent him from Chur , Switzerland, on 11 July 1957 :

“Dear Petronio ,

has already been a long time since I left Sardinia , but often I think about it .

Meanwhile, many things have changed. I finished my studies and I got the degree. After teaching in several schools have been named to the high school of Chur , where I teach French and Italian . And from 3 months husband. Now I’m going over my dissertation on the dialect of Sip and see that there are so many things to add and fix it before it printed . Since you will interessavi much to my work and you gave me a Sip an excellent help , I turn once again to you with so many questions . I beg you to answer them, but only if you have time and taste. “

We enclosed a paper which contained a list of dialect words , pointing to his friend sorsese the system to intervene (in writing ) to the side of each word:

” Sign in margin means you do not know the meaning of a word , you may add it then.

Et in margin means that I do not know the etymology , that is the origin of a word that interests me so much . Would you like to write me , if you know a relative word , both in Sorso , both in Sassari or logudorese or Italian ? .

Does it exist? In the margin means that I am not sure if a word really exists and please ensure you yes or no .

Sometimes I do not know the correct spelling (eg two ro one ) and please fix it.

I think the answer there is always enough space next to the question . “


And so I spent more than fifty years from the living room of Garthmann to Sip and, to use his own expression , in the meantime, ” … many things have changed … ” , but not only Sip throughout the island and throughout the Western world.

The causes which led to the change , resulting inter alia, the removal of the new generations traditions and the work in the countryside ( actually conducted with primitive systems ) are varied and mostly attributable to the influence of the so-called affluent society , Sip that occurred for example with the economic boom following the foundation of the industrial petrochemical plant at Porto Torres in the early sixties .

The education of the masses , the flattery and patterns of behavior continually served up by the media , are all reasons that led people to be reflected in other cultures .

He then went manifesting the language problem , the crisis of the dialects , originating from the comparison with other realities, problem experienced by linguists , anthropologists and sociologists who have begun to feel the need to pursue a constructive debate for groped to stem the ‘ extent of the problem , aware of the close link between language and identity and the need to remain close to their roots to better face the future.

The ongoing debate of scholars , was finally rewarded, to attract the attention of the government on the issue of the Sardinian language , which led to the promulgation of Law on the promotion and enhancement of the Sardinian language , [4]and of the national law lays down rules in concerning the protection of historical linguistic minorities . [5]

These two standards have served to limit the risk of further damage to the linguistic island and at the same time provide a means for recovery, for the protection and enhancement of the cultural heritage.

But the provision of the law alone is not enough if it is not accompanied by a sufficient interest in the community sorsese enhancement of their own dialect , maintain vital especially among children and young people who are losing their active competence . It is also important that we learn not to be ashamed to speak in sorsese and it is equally important to create those circumstances, so that the children learn spontaneously in the family.

And the awakening of such interest shall be responsible in the first place for teachers who , having the privilege of working closely with children and young people , therefore, have the right to put in place a series of initiatives and strategies to make them understand the importance that the school itself attaches to the local dialect , attracting as their curiosity about the figure of a character who perhaps have never even heard speak , Christian Garthmann , and explain so that this gentleman “foreigner” , he never lost contact with sip , he continued to maintain good relations of friendship with the people who had hosted , and has perfected over the years his research on our dialect and our traditions from faraway Switzerland.

Despite the proximity of 500 meters, while the language of the sorsese Sorso is, in nearby Sennori Logudorese Sardinian is spoken, albeit with the odd feature to have in the plural only nouns male gender; most likely influenced by the morphology of Sassari / Sorsese where the plural is the same for male and female.


The article entitled “The local language as a cultural resource: Sip and Christian Garthmann” was published in December of 2009 in no. 36 of the Journal of Sardinian culture “Sardegna Antica



Vanna Pina Delogu       San Pantaleo Santa Croce

San Pantaleo, editore Carlo Delfino, Sassari maggio 2012, € 39.00

Santa Croce, editore Documenta di Cargeghe (SS), gennaio 2013, € 18.00

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[1] C. GARTHMANN, Thesis published after the author: Die von Mundart Sip, Abhandlung zur Erlangung Doktorwurde der Fakultät der Philosophischen I der Universitat Zurich, Zurig, 1967.

[2] Sun, Leonardo, The language of Sassari: the problem of origins, in AA. VV, Studies in honor of Max Pittau, Faculty of Humanities, University of Sassari, Sassari 1994, p. 56.

[3] Ibidem, p. 57.

[4] L. R. n. 26 del 15/10/1997.

[5] L. n. 482 del 15/12/1999.

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