Once spoken throughout Monaco-Ville, then an ‘outcast’ language, today it is difficult, if not impossible, to hear Monegasque in the streets of the Principality.

An integral part of Monaco’s heritage, the indomitable Monegasque language survived as best it could against the English, Italian and French invaders. The recent announcement of compulsory teaching for pupils up to 3rd year (US 8th grade) has sparked a glimmer of hope for the language’s advocates.

A lost generation

For Claude Passet, secretary general of the Académie des langues dialectales, the challenge now will be to “take it out of classroom and into everyday usage”.  A bridge needs to be built between the end of compulsory education in 3rd year and the rest of the school career.

“Today, there are maybe two students who take the Monegasque option up to the baccalaureate”.  It’s not much, but it’s understandable: the dominance of the English language is a reality at both the European and Monegasque levels.  “In a country where there are 139 nationalities, with all the languages you can possibly imagine, it’s tough.”

Monegasque was also  banned for a while.  Claude Passet, born in 1946, remembers: “it was considered a mongrel language”.  A whole generation was cut off from the language.  Today, grandparents speak Monegasque, but not the parents.

« Je cale à la plage »

However, a few words remain in everyday use, and the use of Monegasque today makes it a jargon rather than a language in its own right. Here are some examples:

« Je cale à la plage » : which in French would be “je descends à la plage” (I’m heading down to the beach);
« Oh tu as vu, il a sguié» : il a glissé   (he slipped);
« Il est furbou » : il est malin (he’s smart);
« C’est un furbacciou » : il est malin, (he’s sly)

Monégasque is a colourful language and “very direct, but not vulgar”, warns Claude Passet. “Monegasque, in the vernacular, tends to call things what they are.  For example, if you want to say someone is tight-fisted, we say that he has “a sea urchin in his pocket”. We call a telephone answering machine, a parrot: a “papagalu”.

The language isn’t just colourful, it’s also singsong, like Italian.  “We pay attention to the tone and without the intonation of the voice, if you don’t learn the language, it makes absolutely no sense”.  The aim is therefore for people to come and speak Monegasque at the academy, the last bastion for adults who wish to learn it.

Will the reintroduction of compulsory classes lead to renewed interest?  “That’s what we hope in any case,” confirms Claude Passet.  In the meantime, the Académie des langues dialectales has re-opened its doors to students of “a lenga d’i nostri avi”, the language of our ancestors.

>> SEE ALSO: « Ümparamu u munegascu ! » : Discovering the Monegasque language