Neapolitan: Comme tu a chi tiene/tieni mente


Senior Member
Hello everyone, I'm looking at the song Torna a Surriento and this line is giving me a bit of trouble (not least because I'm finding different variants of it).

On the English Wikipedia (link) it gives the third line as "Comme tu a chi tieni mente" which it translates as "like you do with the people you look at" (which doesn't seem right to me), and on the Italian Wikipedia (link) it gives the line as "Comme tu a chi tiene mente" and translates it as "Come tu a chi ti ha in mente," but this still leaves me a little confused.

I know in Italian tenere a mente means "to keep in mind" (I suppose this could as be avere in mente as in the Italian translation above) and I think in Neapolitan both the third person and second person can be rendered as tiene, though of course in Italian tieni is second person and tiene is third person. When I listen to Pavarotti singing this line it sounds to me like he's saying tieni a mente, but when I hear Caruso singing it it sounds like he's saying tiene mente, but it also occurs to me that in Neapoltian it could be tien'a mente, with the a reduced.

This all leaves me a little confused. Contextually it feels like the one who should be "keeping in mind" is 'him', the third person, and this seems to be what's implied by the Italian translation (the English translation is very strange to me), though looking at the Neapolitan it looks like the person who is "keeping in mind" is "tu", the second person.

Can anyone help me unravel this?

  • bearded

    Senior Member
    Hello Ihsiin

    Here are the original lyrics (first part):

    Vide 'o mare quant'è bello
    Spira tantu sentimento
    Comme tu a chi tien' a mente
    Ca scetato 'o faie sunnà.

    A literal translation into standard Italian:

    Vedi il mare quanto è bello,
    ispira tanto sentimento
    come (ispiri) tu a chi hai in mente:
    che - sveglio - lo fai sognare.

    My translation attempt into English:

    Look at the sea, how beautiful it is:
    it inspires so much feeling
    - like you (inspire) to the one you have in mind -
    that, even if/when awake, you make him dream.

    (It is: so much feeling...that… , a complicated poetic/musical syntax! And 'the one' could as well be a woman, therefore 'you make them dream').

    I hope that helps. The words ''tien'a mente'' really mean ''you have/keep in mind''. (In Italian 'tenere a mente' is to remember).
    As for pronunciation, please note that all final -e and -o sounds are pronunced like schwa in the original.
    Pavarotti was not a good example, as he was from Northern Italy - and he had no fine ear for the accents...
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    Senior Member
    Thanks bearded, this helps a lot. How you describe it is how I read it, but would you say then that the translation on the Italian Wikipedia of Come tu a chi ti ha in mente is incorrect? Or could the Neapolitan also be read like this?
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    Senior Member
    On the English Wikipedia (link) it gives the third line as "Comme tu a chi tieni mente" which it translates as "like you do with the people you look at"
    Having listened to the song, I tend to consider this interpretation right. See also here.
    My try in standard Italian:
    Guarda il mare come è bello / ispira tanto sentimento/ come fai tu quando rivolgi lo sguardo a qualcuno/ e lo fai sognare a occhi aperti.


    Senior Member
    Ok, thanks, let me see if I understand correctly.

    The article above indicates that in Neapolitan the phrase tené mente can mean ‘to look intently.’ Also, and as I read here, the preposition a causes gemination, so if the preposition were in use we’d expect to hear tien’a mmente, but when I listen to Caruso singing the song I don’t detect any gemination here. As such I understand that the phrase in the song is in fact tiene mente, with the sense of looking intently.

    So far so good, I hope I’ve understood correctly to this point. But I’m still a little unsure about the perspective, since in Neapolitan both the second and third person can be rendered tiene. I feel like I could understand these two lines: comme tu a chi tiene mente / ca scetato ‘o fai sunnà in two ways:

    1. Just like you to one who gazes [at you] / whom you make dream whilst he is awake.

    2. Just like you to one whom you gaze at / whom you make dream whilst he’s awake.

    Is the first interpretation possible? Is the object pronoun compulsory, as bearded has said, or can it be implied?