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Italian dialects refer to the various Romance languages other than Italian that are spoken in Italy. [1] Ethnologue, the registrar of the ISO 639-3 recognizes them as languages of Italy.[2]

Languages and dialects of Italy


Origin of Italian dialects

Many Italian regions already had a different substratum before the conquest of Italy by the Romans: Northern Italy had a Celtic substratum (this part of Italy was known as Gallia Cisalpina, "Gallia on this side of the Alps"), a Ligurian substratum, or a Venetic substratum. Central Italy had an Etruscan substratum, and Southern Italy had an Italic or Greek substratum. All of that began as a diversification between the way to speak Latin (the official language of the Roman Empire).

Due to the Italian Peninsula's history of fragmentation and colonization by foreign powers (especially France, Spain and Austria-Hungary) between the fall of the Western Roman Empire and unification in 1861, there has been considerable linguistic diversification.

During this period, most local used the colonial language, rather than the local vernacular, for official business. As a result, a formal grammar structure rarely developed. In addition, while literate citizens would make notes in the vernacular, Latin was often used for actual publications.[citation needed]

The synthesis of an Italian language from the various dialects was the main goal of Alessandro Manzoni, who advocated building a national language derived mainly from the vernacular of Florence, which had gained prestige since Dante Alighieri and Niccolò Machiavelli used it to publish their major works, the Divina Commedia and The Prince (respectively), during the Italian Renaissance.

Various dialects remained the common language of the populace until the 1950s, when, with progressive increases in literacy, standard Italian became gradually accepted as the national language. Until World War II, many people who could not afford schooling or who simply had no use for a national language continued to use their own dialects in their daily lives.[citation needed]

Current usage

The solution to the so-called language question that had troubled Manzoni[citation needed] came to the nation as a whole in the second half of the twentieth century, from television. Its widespread adoption as the most popular appliance[citation needed] in the Italian home was the single main factor in helping all Italians learn the common national language regardless of class or education level. At roughly the same time, many southerners moved to the north to find jobs. The powerful trade unions successfully campaigned against the use of dialects to maintain unity among the workers. This allowed southerners, whose dialects were not mutually intelligible with the northerners', to integrate using Standard Italian. The large number of mixed marriages, especially in large industrial cities such as Milan and Turin, resulted in a generation that could confidently speak only Standard Italian, and usually only partly understood the dialects of their parents.[citation needed]

As a result of these phenomena, dialects in Italy remain in use most strongly where little immigration occurred; that is, in the South, North-Eastern Italy, in rural areas (where there has been less ethnic blending and influence from trade unions), and among older speakers. Being unable to speak Standard Italian still carries a stigma, and even strongly pro-dialect political forces such as the Northern League rarely resort to anything else than Standard Italian to write or speak publicly.[citation needed]

Use of dialects in literature is not inconsiderable. The plays of Carlo Goldoni in Venetian are notable example. In music, the Neapolitan dialect is the basis of Canzone Napoletana. The various dialects of Italy are also spoken in parts of the world with significant Italian immigrant populations.

Dialects of Italian and dialects of Italy

Italian language
Dante Alighieri
Schools and Encyclopaediae
Accademia della Crusca
Sicilian School
Enciclopedia Italiana
Italian exonyms
Italian honorifics
Italian musical terms
Italian phonology
Italian profanity
Italian Sign Language
List of languages of Italy
List of English words of Italian origin
Literature and other

Dialects of Italian are regional varieties, more commonly and more accurately referred to as Regional Italian, with features of all sorts, most notably phonological and lexical, percolating from the underlying substrate languages. Tuscan, and Central Italian in general, are in some respects not distant from Italian in linguistic features, due to Italian's history as derived from a somewhat polished form of Florentine. Nevertheless, the traditional speech of Tuscany is rightly viewed as part of the collection of Dialects of Italy. Some of the "dialects of Italy" should thus be considered distinct languages in their own right by some scholars, and actually are assigned to separate branches on the Romance language family tree by Ethnologue and other academic works.

For historical, cultural and political reasons, most "Italian dialects" have not yet been given an official status, with the Italian legislation only recognizing as proper languages Franco-Provençal, Friulan, Ladin, Occitan, Lombard, Venetian and Sardinian [3]. This distinction is more political than linguistic, since no distinction can be drawn on linguistic grounds between language and dialect. Each dialect is, in fact, a minor language.

A clear example of the differences and the confusion between the languages of Italy and the Italian language is the following. The Venetian language, a language of Italy, has a very different grammar from Italian. In Venetian, "we are arriving" would be translated "sémo drio rivàr," which is quite distinct from the Italian "stiamo arrivando." In the Venetian Italian, (inflessione veneziana, italiano regionale del Veneto) the statement would be "stémo rivando," which is how a Venetian would colloquially pronounce the Italian "stiamo arrivando." However in Italian, there are also differences between standard Italian and "dialetti": two different definitions are often expressed with the same term "dialetti italiani", it is a common conviction that all of them are varieties of standard Italian. So, the dialects popularly held by some to be a variety derived from standard Italian, and the same is true for well-known "dialetti" which show considerable differences in grammar, syntax and vocabulary: for example, Roman, Tuscan, Calabrese, Umbrian, Neapolitan, Sicilian, Marchigian which must not be confused with proper languages as Franco-Provençal, Friulan, Ladin, Occitan, Lombard, Venetian, Piedmontese, Ligurian and Sardinianand Gallo-Italic languages.

All the dialects of Italy exhibit internal variety, especially the dialects of the South-Central, where the fragmentation into different states was more pronounced and where there was montane isolation. An example is Sicilian, where at least three different and non-mutually intelligible linguistic groups are to be found (Western, and Eastern), further divisible into six varieties within which there are differences in pronunciation, grammar and lexicon between one village and another (especially in Western Sicilian). Yet the several varieties spoken in Lombardy are all conventionally referred to as Sicilian language.

Malta's close ties with Italy meant that Maltese played a similar role to the other Italian dialects,[4] and under Fascist Italy, it was simply considered another dialect, even though it is based on Western Arabic with heavy interlarding of Italian vocabulary.[5]

List of language varieties of Italy

See also: List of languages of Italy


  1. ^ Lepschy, G. (2002). Mother Tongues and Other Reflections on the Italian Language. University of Toronto Press.
  2. ^ Ethnologue report for Italy
  3. ^ Law n. 482 of the Italian Republic, art. 2
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ [2]
  6. ^ Harris, Martin; Nigel Vincent (2001). The Romance Languages (4th ed. ed.). Routledge. ISBN 0-415-16417-6. 
  7. ^ ""Italian Language", Encarta". Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. 
  8. ^ Eurolang report on Corsican
  9. ^ Encyclopedia Britannica
  10. ^ Galli de Paratesi, N. (1984). Lingua toscana in bocca ambrosiana. Bologna: Il Mulino.

External links


  • Comrie, Bernard, Matthews, Stephen and Polinsky, Maria: The Atlas of Languages: The Origin and Development of Languages Throughout the World. Rev. ed., New York 2003.
  • Manlio Cortelazzo, Carla Marcato, Dizionario etimologico dei dialetti italiani, Torino: UTET libreria, 2005, ISBN 8877500395.
  • Giacomo Devoto and Gabriella Giacomelli, I Dialetti delle Regioni d'Italia, Florence: Sansoni Editore, 1971 (3rd edition, Tascabili Bompiani, 2002).
  • Grimes, Barbara F. (ed.): Ethnologue: Languages of the World. Vol. 1, 2000.
  • Hall, Robert A. Jr.: External History of the Romance Languages, New York 1974.
  • Maiden, Martin: A Linguistic History of Italian, London 1995.
  • Maiden, Martin and Parry, Mair: The Dialects of Italy, London 1997.
  • Andrea Rognoni, Grammatica dei dialetti della Lombardia, Oscar Mondadori, 2005.

See also



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