A journey to Italy from dialects to languages

Italy dialects post

Everyone who has been to Italy knows that this a varied country with 20 regions, each one with different traditions, cuisine and customs.

But did you know that every region and even every town in Italy has a dialect?

Although Italian is the official language of Italy, it’s not widely known that the country boasts some 34 spoken languages and related dialects. The majority of these languages are Romance-based, meaning that they evolved from Vulgar Latin. These include Sicilian, Neapolitan, Sardinian, and more.

From North to South we will take you on a journey to Italy through the dialects and languages that are spoken in this beautiful country!

Diversity of dialects

A dialect is usually only spoken and not written and it is used in informal context or from people who did not learn standard Italian. It has reached us thanks to verbal communication of our ancestors.

The dialects are from North, central and South Italy.

The Northern dialects are Piedmontese, Emilian-Romagnol, Ligurian, Lombard, Venetian, Trentinian, Ligurian and Emilian-Romagnol and the Venetan dialects

Ladin and Friulan are part of the Rhaeto-Romance languages

Central Italy includes the Tuscan dialect Marchigiano (central part of Marche) · Umbrian dialects (Umbria) · Sabino (L’​Aquila and Province of Rieti) · Tuscia dialect (Tuscia, northern part of Latium) and Romanesco or roman dialect, Abruzzese

Southern Dialects include Sicilian, Calabrian, Neapolitan, Apulian dialect

Sardinian is considered a language not a dialect, even the Divina Commedia written by Dante Alighieri was translated into it!

Origins of Italian

Italian finds its origins in the Latin language as all neolatin idioms. But the Italian we speak today is based on the Florentine dialect (original of Florence) which, in the 19th century, was considered a pure language. Alessandro Manzoni, the famous Italian writer of the 19th century, based his masterpiece Promessi sposi (The Betrothed) on it as he thought that “the vocabulary of Italy couldn’t be other than that of the living florentine language” (in 1868 report Dell’unità della lingua e dei mezzi di diffonderla  – On the unity of language and the ways of disseminating it).

According to the UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, there are 31 endangered languages in Italy! (www.wikipedia.org)

Italian Local languages

In the Northern part of Italy in Trentino Alto Adige, German is widely spoken and actually is the first language people will address you when you meet them for a greeting or in shops! This is because this region was under the Austro-Hungarian empire back in the 19th century.

But let’s explore the languages that Italy boasts in its own territory:

In South Tyrol German is co-official (enjoying the same dignity and standing of Italian) in the province of South Tyrol (Statuto speciale per il Trentino-Alto Adige, Titolo XI, Articolo 99),

Ladin is the third co-official language of South Tyrol

In Trentino Ladin, Cimbrian and Mòcheno are unofficial but recognised in (Statuto speciale per il Trentino-Alto Adige, Titolo XI, Articolo 102).

In the Veneto region, Venetian is unofficial but recognised (Legge regionale 13 aprile 2007, n. 8, Art. 2, comma 2)

In the Aosta Valley French is co-official (enjoying the same dignity and standing of Italian) in the whole region (Le Statut spécial de la Vallée d’Aoste, Title VIe, Article 38).

Franco-Provencal is unofficial, but protected and promoted according to federal and regional laws.

German is unofficial but recognised in the Lys Valley (Lystal) (Le Statut spécial de la Vallée d’Aoste, Title VIe, Art. 40 – bis).

In Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Friulian and Slovene are “promoted”, but not recognised, by the region (Legge regionale 18 dicembre 2007, n. 29, Art. 1, comma 1); (Legge regionale 16 novembre 2007, n. 26, Art. 16).

Lombard is unofficial but recognised as the regional language in Lombardy (Legge regionale 25/2016).

In Piedmont, Piedmontese is unofficial but recognised as the regional language (Consiglio Regionale del Piemonte, Ordine del Giorno n. 1118, Presentato il 30 November 1999).

The region “promotes”, without recognising, the Occitan, Franco-Provençal, French and Walser languages (Legge regionale 7 aprile 2009, n. 11, Art. 1).

Apulia has got two languages Griko, Arbëresh (is the Albanian language spoken by the Arbëreshë people of Italy or Italo-Albanians. This language, part of the Albanian language, is closely related to the Albanian Tosk spoken in Albania) and Franco-Provençal are recognized and safeguarded (Legge regionale 5/2012).

In Sardinia the region considers the cultural identity of the Sardinian people as a primary asset in relation to the Regional minorities and the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (l.r. N.26/97). All the languages indigenous to the island (Sardinian, Catalan, Tabarchino, Sassarese and Gallurese) are recognised and promoted as “enjoying the same dignity and standing of Italian” (l.r. N.26/97).

Sicilian spoken in the homonymous region, is unofficial but recognised as the regional language (Legge regionale 9/2011).

We hope we managed to give you a good insight of the Italian linguistic panorama.

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