The language of Dario Fo, an outward-looking reinvention



As H. Arendt said: “[…] Men in the plural, that is, men in so far as they live and move and act in this world, can experience meaningfulness only because they can talk with and make sense to each other and to themselves”. It is also the instrument by which human beings make sense.

Dario Fo had understood that language(s) was/were the source of the action, in the political sense and communication as a common understanding of a heritage. It is with this interest for its own time that Fo started to discover the machinery, the mysteries and the language games and created Grammelot, a made-up language that earned him, among other things, censorship, a Nobel and bursts of laughter whose echoes will remain for long.

In 1969, he presented for the first time Mistero Buffo where he adopted this new theatrical and asemic language, consisting of an assembly of sounds, onomatopoeia, syllables and existing words related to a gestuality and mime.

Fo explained that he discovered the Grammelot by studying the Commedia dell’Arte, he has been also inspired by Molière, Ruzante, minstrels of the Middle Ages, the Northern dialects of Italy added on the mechanisms of Henri Bergson’s laughter telling that “we will always have a comical phrase by writing an absurd idea in a stereotypical phrase model”. As explained by Mr. Cappa and R. Nepoti “the absolute originality of Fo language resides in the fact that it does not derive from the absence of precedents”, Fo created a language that does not have the tribute to a myth, but suggests rather his reinvention, in a balance between tradition and innovation. For this reason, it must be considered that it is not an automatism in the surreal sense but rather a language built, aware, controversial. Notably, Grammelot is based on the phonetics of a recognizable language, so on intonation, rhythm, sound and breathing. To reinvent the language, Fo studied profoundly these elements, as well as when playing in French, he was using the harmonic pace of the real French, the same as in English. To this, he added a gestures and a mime controlled. As he stated in one of his last interviews, it is not a matter of moving but of managing. It is a matter of studied and cultivated language.

Also the interest which he wore at the language emerged in his public life as in his intimate life. When he was taking about Franca Rame, he was praising the way of his wife to quickly move his thought with unexpected, never banal words. At the public level, his polemical sense of language is indisputable. He lived its contemporaneity by never confusing temporal plans, he used the minstrels to speak about his time. Often the distance of the linguistic norm, which is a new expressive form, responds to a desire to unmask the reality and express an inconvenience. In literature, for example, you could name it Johnny the Partisan by Beppe Fenoglio in which the author mixes Italian and English to express personal and collective twists and turns of this historical and cultural tragedy that the Second World War has been.

In the same way, Dario Fo, in l’Uomo e la tecnologia (see video above), ironically explains that we are running late concerning to technology, but that men will all finally understand and win; he goes on to explain Grammelot in English, the functioning of a machine. He talks, stretches, insists, reverses the words and gestures in an asemic speech but at the same time interpretable that pushes us to the doubt and reflection. Again, H. Arendt explained that “The trouble concerns the fact that the “truths” of the modern scientific world view, though they can be demonstrated in mathematical formulas and proved technologically, will no longer lend them- selves to normal expression in speech and thought”. So, are we faced to never be able to understand, think and express the things that we are able to do? Do we need machines to talk instead of us? One can perfectly write Grammelot in this space of contemporary thinking, or lexical flexibility of English and the evolution of the technology pose us before the risk of misunderstanding and the shift of thinking. Thus, Dario Fo shows us a humanistic vivacity, worried passion and policy with which he moves us to a common sense, he rehydrates the language of his power, he helps us to discover a fold of our intelligence by appreciating it and, finally, he gives us a way of thinking about the world in which we live.


Written by Francesca Bisiani

PHD student in linguistic and literary studies, University of Trieste.

Lecturer at the FLD University – Paris

Translated by Olga Jeczmyk: Translator-Interpreter, Social Media and Content Manager as well as Communication and Terminology Trainee. Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament in Luxembourg.