Aperitif au Vallon des Auffes à Marseille, coucher de soleil
©Edwige Lamy

Marseille's way of speaking

The “Marseillais”, a language in its own right, belongs to the maritime branch of  ¨Provencal¨. It is a language which,  for the outsiders, may be seen  vulgar but which in reality is content to just name objects as  they are. Let it be said from the start, if in the Marseille speech, there is any vulgarity, it is more in the ears of the one who hears it than in the mouth of the one who  uses  it.

Marseille’s way of speaking is passed on from generation to generation

From the schoolyard to the “pétanque” courts, from the ‘Estaque’ to the ‘Pointe Rouge’, this language,  which is so dear to us, has  endured. If it still keepsa few secrets to the Marseille inhabitants, it remains a mystery and continues to intrigue travelers coming to visit Marseille.

Present in some particularly funny scenes made famous by Marcel Pagnol during a card game or by the crazy songs of Massilia Sound System, the Marseille language is at the centre of many works. Our language is based above all on metaphor and figurative meaning. In “Jean de Florette” by Marcel Pagnol, the grandfather gives affectionately the nickname of “Galinette” to Ugolin. If in the literal translation of the term, a ‘galinette’ simply is a gurnard, a fish that is put in the “bouillabaisse”(tradional dish made with fishes), the suffix “ette” gives a friendly aspect to the word and shows all the affection felt by  the old man  towards his nephew.

Sometimes some words can lead to some confusion because if in Marseille people buy ‘a restaurant’, they buy a big half a kilo bread loaf. ‘Pilotis’, in addition to being poles that carry houses, are also very high and uncomfortable stiletto heels for those who will wear them. The list of examples could go on for many pages.

An integral part of the history and culture of the city.

Marseille is not resumed by its visual environment: its beaches, its islands, its Calanques. The city has transmitted to its population an identity, a certain pride of being a citizen of the oldest city in France, a language of which  many words are used  spontaneously every day by subtly slipping them between two terms of the language of Molière.

To understand more about the importance of the Marseille language, it is possible to buy quality books written by local writers. If on your first visit to Marseille, you always wonder who “Dégun” is, is it a friend? A family member? A neighbour? On the second visit, one may  understand why the “Marseillais” talks so much about his colleagues, a term which in the French language has a somewhat different meaning.

Top 10 of  “Marseille expressions”

A true local can be recognized by his accent, his jabbers, but most of all by his expressions! Even his neighbours  from Toulon sometimes have  trouble  understanding him, to understand   the “Marseillais dialect” translations are over here!

1. « Arrete de m’emboucaner avec tes histoires de fadas ! »
Stop messing with me with your crazy stories

2. « Allez boulègue sinon il n’y aura plus dégun. »
Come on, hurry up otherwise they will be no one left.

3. « C’est quoi ce moulon là-bas ? »
What’s  that gathering over there?

4. « Il est complètement empégué ce jobastre ! »
This idiot is completely drunk!

5. « Il a voulu le chalet sur son vélo et ils sont tombés ! »
He tried to transport him on his bike and they fell down !

6. « Il fait trop chaud je vais caner ! »
It is too hot, I’m going to die!

7. « On a jouer au ballon et on l’a quillé dans l’arbre »
We played ball and we perched it in the tree

8. « Ce matin on était tous esquichés dans le métro »
This morning we were all squeezed into the metro.

9. « Peuchère, elle l’a attendu jusqu’à l’an Pèbre ! »
Poor thing, she waited for him for a long time!

10. « Il marrone tout le temps. »
He is always complaining.

And all the other words that only a local can understand …

Fillade = fight
Cafoutch = small room, cubbyhole a small storage room
Escagasser = hurting yourself or being tired
Estrasse = poor dress code
Zou maï ! = Go again one more time !
Se néguer = drowning
Se ruiner = hurting yourself
Tron de l’air = someone very energetic
Tè vé  ! = Oh look !
Quel toti ! = what an idiot !

Now you know all you need to speak “Marseillais”!

And if you want to speak even more the language of Marseille than a “Marseillais”, get   Robert Bouvier’s book “Le parler Marseillais” now!