Boot and Stem Theory

Sicilian English

Most textbooks define a "stem-changing rule" in which the stem of some Sicilian verbs changes in the present tense forms of the first, second and third-person singular and the third-person plural. Elsewhere, the stem remains unchanged.

For example, Prof. Cipolla defines the following rule (Mparamu, p. 64):

If the stem vowel is i, it changes to e as in: aspittari-aspettu.

If the stem vowel is u, it changes to o as in: allungari-allongu.

If the stem vowel is e as in sèntiri, it changes to i: sintèmu, sintìti.

If the stem vowel is o as in mòriri, it changes to u: murèmu-murìti.

I see a different rule. On this page, I suggest that all Sicilian verbs are stem-changing verbs.

Specifically, all Sicilian verbs appear to have an unstressed "stem" and a stressed "boot."

  • the stem appears in all conjugations except:
    • the present indicative — 1st sing., 2nd sing., 3rd sing. & 3rd pl.
    • the imperative — 2nd sing.
  • the boot replaces the stem in these locations
  • the infinitive reflects either the stem or the boot

Using Prof. Cipolla's examples of aspittari and sèntiri, there is an unstressed i in stem and a stressed e in the boot:

aspettu aspittamu
aspetti aspittati
aspetta aspèttanu
sentu sintemu
senti sintiti
senti sèntinu

The verbs allungari and mòriri both have an unstressed u in stem and a stressed o in the boot:

allongu allungamu
allonghi allungati
allonga allònganu
moru muremu
mori muriti
mori mòrinu

Similar "boot and stem" patterns can be found in all Sicilian verbs. For example, the verbs parrari and rispùnniri — which are not normally classified as stem-changing verbs — both have an unstressed vowel in stem and a stressed vowel in the boot:

parru parramu
parri parrati
parra pàrranu
rispunnu rispunnemu
rispunni rispunniti
rispunni rispùnninu

After accounting for this pattern, there are very few irregular verbs in the Sicilian language. And because the language is so regular, it is relatively simple to create a software tool that automatically conjugates Sicilian verbs, like the one that I created for Chiù dâ Palora.

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