It is a language spoken by an estimated seven million people but has been suppressed in its home country.

Now a Scottish teacher who runs the world’s only academic course for the Neapolitan language is calling on institutions in Italy to do the same to help safeguard its future.

Massimiliano Canzanella, a 50-year-old English teacher at Bellahouston Academy in Glasgow, has spent around a decade teaching Neapolitan and has been doing introductory classes at the University of Glasgow for the past four years.

The classes are organised by Language4Water, a student-volunteer run project that trains non-professional native or bilingual speakers to teach their own languages, with 100% of the profits from the classes donated to WaterAid, a NGO focused on water, sanitation and hygiene. 

A Romance language, Neapolitan is spoken by around seven million people in Naples and across much of southern Italy. 

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However, it has no legal status in Italy, and as such is not permitted to be taught in state-run schools, while attempts to teach it at the University of Naples Federico II have also failed. 

Mr Canzanella, a native of Naples who has lived in Scotland for over 20 years, said his desire to see Neapolitan introduced in Italian classrooms comes amid “a growing consensus” back in Italy that to do so would be beneficial for Naples and for Italy his home country as a whole. 

HeraldScotland: Neapolitan teacher Massimiliano Canzanella Neapolitan teacher Massimiliano Canzanella (Image: Herald Scotland)

He said: “There’s a growing consensus around the idea of this – really, that Neapolitan is an important aspect of our culture that needs to be reintroduced. 

“If we could only disband this superstition that Neapolitan is the language of the illiterate or the savage then we could achieve the smoothest transition and the smoothest reintroduction of Neapolitan into the curriculum and that would be beneficial for Neapolitans and for Italy as a whole.

“My goal is to achieve the status of language for Neapolitan. The ultimate aim is for Neapolitan young people to be able to just speak and learn Neapolitan, particularly in the early years of their education, so they can maximise their potential.”

Prior to his move to Glasgow, Mr Canzanella said his attempts to introduce Neapolitan classes into secondary schools or universities in Naples through the creation of a magazine and other initiatives were “not met favourably” by local academics, which then motivated him to “try and do so elsewhere”. 

It’s a problem that he feels stems from decades of stigmatisation towards the language by the more affluent classes in Naples.

He said: “It goes back to a known problem after World War Two when there was an official, yet unspoken, ban on the language, which led to the formation of a brand-new breed of Neapolitan person, one that would speak only Italian and be absolutely wary of speaking a single word of Neapolitan. 

HeraldScotland: Massimiliano has been teaching the classes at Glasgow University for around four years Massimiliano has been teaching the classes at Glasgow University for around four years

“It created a lot of bias and stigmatisation against Neapolitan speakers who tended to be more and more from the more deprived areas. That included where I come from, a massively deprived area in Naples city centre. My parents grew up in this area, and in those areas they were told that, despite speaking Neapolitan outside the classroom, they had to speak Italian inside it. 

“No explanation was given apart from the fact it was considered the language that was used by the illiterate or mobsters. That led to this growing disparity within our population between two completely different types of Neapolitan people, one of whom looked down on the other: the affluent classes looking down on the plebs, as they commonly referred to them.”

It’s a stigma that means that even as a 50-year-old man who has taught Neapolitan for a decade, Mr Canzanella still has trouble speaking it in his own classroom.

He said: “After 10 years of teaching Neapolitan I also have a fear of speaking it. Even in a recent class I was shaking because if you were told, as a four-year-old, that you must not speak this language then that stays with you. 

“I am convinced that if you deprive a young person of the possibility to speak their own native language you are depriving the local community and wider society around it of a real opportunity to progress and flourish. 

“Naples is a Camorra crime-riddled area. This is due to the fact that local inhabitants have been deprived of basic means to make themselves protagonists of their own citizenship. They’ve just been told to sit back and watch crime around them flourish. 

“Neapolitans are being deprived of reaching their true potential by speaking their own language. “