Sicilians - Orientation

Identification. Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. The name derives from the Sicels, a people who settled Sicily in prehistoric times. Currently a semiautonomous region of the Republic of Italy, Sicily, for administrative functions, also includes adjacent minor islands.

Location. Sicily is located at the center of the Mediterranean, between 36° and 38° N and 12° and 15° E. Triangular-shaped, the island has an area of 25,500 square kilometers. Only 144 kilometers from Tunisia in North Africa, Sicily has historically been a bridge between Africa and Europe, and Between the eastern and western Mediterranean. The island is separated from the Italian mainland to the northeast by the Strait of Messina. Sicily is mainly mountainous and hilly. On the east coast, Mount Etna, an active volcano, is Sicily's highest peak. The largest lowland, the Plain of Catania, is located nearby. Other lowlands are also located along the coasts. Much of the topography in the interior consists of rugged, deforested hills. Sicily has a typical Mediterranean climate of moderate, wet winters and hot, dry summers; the lack of Summer rain, together with insufficient irrigation, has profoundly affected agriculture.

Demography. With an estimated population of slightly more than 5 million in 1987, Sicily contained somewhat less than one-tenth of the population of Italy. Emigration Because of lack of work has depopulated the interior, whose towns and villages are composed mainly of the very young and the very old. The movement of people has proceeded from the interior to the coastal cities and from the island overseas. Waves of emigration from the island have been occurring for at least a century, initially to destinations such as the United States, and more recently to industrialized areas of northern Italy and Europe.

Linguistic Affiliation. The native language of most Sicilians is a Romance language, derived mainly from Latin. The vocabulary includes many words borrowed from Arabic and from other cultures that influenced Sicily. Although often classified as a southern Italian dialect, the local language is usually mutually unintelligible with the national language. As a result of the past isolation of towns, noticeable differences in local vocabulary and pronunciation still persist and are important social markers to Sicilians. Owing to the influence of television, the school system, and other unifying phenomena, most Sicilians, particularly the younger people, are bilingual in their native language and in the national language of Italy.

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