Emilian dialect

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Native to Italy
Native speakers
(no estimate available)
Dialects Bolognese, Ferrarese, Modenese, Reggiano, Parmigiano, Piacentino
Language codes
ISO 639-3 egl
Linguasphere 51-AAA-oka ... -okh

Emilian is a group of dialects of Emiliano-Romagnolo language, spoken in the area historically called Emilia, western portion of today's Emilia-Romagna region.

Although commonly referred to as a dialect of Italian, it does not descend from it. It is part of the Gallo-Italic group of languages, which are Western Neo-Latin, conserving innovative phonetic and syntactic features as in French, Occitan and Catalan, while Italian is part of Eastern Neo-Latin. There is no standardised version of Emilian.

The default word order is subject–verb–object. There are two genders, two grammatical cases, and a distinction between plural and singular. Emilian has a strong T–V distinction to distinguish varying levels of politeness, social distance, courtesy, familiarity, or insult. It employs a considerable number of diacritics.


Main articles: Emiliano-Romagnolo and Gallo-Italic

Emilian is a dialect of the Emiliano-Romagnolo language, one of the Gallo-Italic languages. There is a high degree of mutual intelligibility between the various varieties of Emilian, as well as with the other Emiliano-Romagnolo dialect: Romagnolo. The Gallo-Italic family comprises Emiliano-Romagnolo, Piedmontese, Ligurian and Lombard language.


Emilian is indigenous to the six most westerly provinces of Emilia-Romagna and surrounding areas.

As with all other Romance languages, Emilian has developed from Vulgar Latin, the popular sociolect of Latin spoken by soldiers, settlers and merchants of the Roman Empire, as distinguished from the Classical form of the language spoken by the Roman upper classes, the form in which the language was generally written. During the Empire's decline, and after its fragmentation and collapse in the 5th century, varieties of Latin began to diverge within each local area at an accelerated rate, and eventually evolved into a continuum of recognizably different typologies. Despite other influences, the phonology, morphology, and lexicon of Emilian are overwhelmingly evolved forms of Vulgar Latin, a now dead language. It is believed that Vulgar Latin lost the declension system of Classical Latin and, as a result, had the subject–verb–object sentence structure and the extensive use of prepositions that Emilian has.

At some point, Vulgar Latin diverged into Italo-Western languages and Eastern Romance. From the latter, languages like Romanian eventually evolved. Italo-Western would split into 2 branches, one of which led to Italian and the other to the Western Romance language group. This split into the Iberian languages, principally Portuguese and Spanish, and the Gallo-Romance languages. Gallo-Romance languages then began to split 4 ways: Franco-Provençal language, Occitano-Romance languages, langues d'oïl and Gallo-Italic. All Gallo-Romance languages have in common the loss of unstressed vowels except /-a/. From the Gallo-Italic group, whose approximate region corresponds to the north of Italy, the south of Switzerland, San Marino and Monaco, Emiliano-Romagnolo, the parent language of Emilian, spawned.

The invention of the printing press apparently slowed down the evolution of Romance languages from the 16th century on and brought a tendency towards greater uniformity of standard languages within political boundaries at the expense of other Romance languages and dialects, such as Emilian. In Italy, Italian dominates everyday communication and is spoken to a far greater extent by the population than Emilian. The use of Emilian has in the past been stigmatised, due to a number of cultural and social reasons, including discouragement by the Kingdom of Italy and by the Italian Republic; speaking the 'dialect' was considered a sign of poor schooling or low social status. It now appears to have lost its negative connotations: native speakers use it to address close friends and family, so its usage has come to indicate familiarity. Emilian is also commonly used in manufacturing industry or construction workplaces, where it is not uncommon to find foreign immigrants who speak it with workmates.

Geographic distribution[edit]

The Emilian dialects are spoken in the Northern Italian regions of Emilia-Romagna and Lombardy (provinces of Pavia, of Mantua and in some municipalities in the province of Cremona) and in the Central Italian regions of Tuscany (province of Massa-Carrara) and Marche (province of Pesaro e Urbino). They are also spoken in the lower part of Veneto (in part of the province of Rovigo) in an ancient zone known in Italian as transpadana ferrarese.[dubious ]

Official status[edit]

Emilian is not recognised as a minority language in the European Union or in Italy. Italy has been a signatory of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages since 27 June 2000, but has not ratified it. Via the Charter, the Council of Europe aims to protect and promote historical regional and minority languages in Europe.


One interpretation of the areas where the different versions of Emiliano-Romagnolo are spoken

Emilian varies considerably across the region and its dialects are generally grouped into Central Emilian, Eastern Emilian and Western Emilian.[citation needed] None have ever been any standardized. There is significant variation even within each dialect, and vowels especially are subject to wide variation. The borders between Emilian and the other Gallo-Italic languages are not well defined. For example, some dialectologists regard Pavese (the dialect of Pavia, Lombardy) as transitional between Emilian and Western Lombard, while others think of it as an Emilian dialect. The dialects of Piacenza and Cremona also feature elements of both Emilian and Western Lombard.

Linguasphere Observatory recognises the following dialects:[1]

Other definitions include the following:[citation needed]

  • Carrarese and the Lunigiano dialect, spoken in Carrara, Lunigiana, in almost all of Massa-Carrara and a good portion of the La Spezia province, i.e. west-northern Tuscany. Historically, this region has been part of both Tuscany and the Duchy of Parma at different times, so has a close economic relationship with the Emilian area and is geographically proximate thanks to the Magra and Vara rivers.
  • Massese (mixed with some Tuscanian features)
  • Casalasco, spoken in Southern Province of Cremona, Lombardy.

Emilian can be subdivided into five main subgroups, which in turn are made up of further varieties:[citation needed]

Group Dialect
Western Emilian Pavese-Vogherese
Central Emilian Reggiano
Eastern Emilian Bolognese
Meridional Emilian Carrarese
Valley Emilian Commachiese

Writing system[edit]

Main article: Latin script

Emilian is written using a Latin alphabet that has never been standardised. As a result, spelling varies widely across the dialects. The language is largely learnt orally and not taught in written form; however, the Bible was published in an Emiliano-Romagnolo language in 1865, although the work has since been lost.[2]


Emilian and Italian are not mutually intelligible and the two languages belong to different branches of the Romance language family tree (respectively Western Romance and Italo-Dalmatian).

With respect to Italian, Emilian has lost all final unstressed vowels except for /-a/. Subsequently, the tonic syllable has undergone vowel stretching. This has generated a diphthong in Bolognese. Bolognese's mèder "mother", dutåur "doctor" and âlber "tree" contrast with Piacentino's mär, dutur and ärbul. In Italian, the equivalents are madre, dottore and albero.

Emilian also features rounded vowels, which are typical of the Gallo-Iberian language group. Carrarese and Western Emilian share four of them: ä, ü, ö, and å. Western Emilian also has a schwa similar to the third vowel of Piedmontese that is written as ë in Piacentino. In Bolognese there are two: (ä and å), in Central Emilia only ä. The phonetic of the same word may vary across the diffusion area of this idiom, as in the case of the word snail, written as lümäga in Western Emilia and as lumèga in Bolognese. Another typical feature of Emilian dialects is extreme syncope, i.e. loss of atonic vowels within a word. Examples of this phenomenon in Bolognese are: śbdèl "hospital" (from the Latin hospitale), bdòć "louse" (from pediculus) and dscårrer "to speak" (from discurrere). In Ferrarese, examples of this are: tgnosar "to know" (form the Latin cognoscere) and rsvers "backwards" (from Latin's reversus). The Latin word regere "to lead" becomes resdora in Modenese and arzdåura in Bolognese.

A third feature of Emilian that distinguishes it from Italian is the absence of consonant gemination, which is a feature typical of Northern Italian languages spoken above the La Spezia–Rimini Line. In contrast, Standard Italian has retained this the contrastive use of consonant length that was present in Latin (e.g. palla and pala).

Lastly, Emilian employs a nasal velar sound [ŋ] (transcribed in Bolognese orthography with the grapheme ń) as in cuséń [ku'zeŋ] "cousin".


Emilian grammar shares several notable features with most other Romance languages, including:

It also has common features with all the other languages of the Gallo-Italic group.

Emilian declarative word order is subject–verb–object, although the object may precede the verb if the object is a pronoun. Emilian is a moderately inflected language and has much more synthesis than English, but much less than Classical Latin and Ancient Greek. Nouns and most pronouns are inflected for number (singular or plural); adjectives, for the number and gender (masculine or feminine) of their nouns; personal pronouns, for person, number, gender, and case; and verbs, for mood, tense, and the person and number of their subjects. Case is primarily marked using word order and prepositions, and certain verb features are marked using auxiliary verbs.


In Emilian, a numer of verb classes are present. Dîr "to say" is formed in the following way in the third person singular (for the indicative and subjunctive forms):

Infinitive Indicative Subjunctive Imperative
Present Preterite Imperfect Present Present
dîr "to say" dîs "says" l'à détt / dgé "said" dgeva "was saying" dégga "says" "say"

Because of the absence of a gerund or present participle, ongoing actions are described using multi-word verb forms. Esar dré "To be after" is the form used. For example, the literal meaning of A son dré magnar la mnestra "I am eating the soup" would be I am after to eat the soup.

The preterite is absent in Emilian and its functions are performed by the present perfect. The literal translation of Aier a son andá al marca’ "Yesterday I went to the market" into English is Yesterday I have gone to the market. Equally, A m’arcord quand Po l’ha giazá l’inveran del mil novzent vint "I remember that the river Po froze on winter of 1920" is grammatically correct. However, in the Bolognese variant the preterite is well established and used possibly more than in the local variant of standard Italian. For instance the above mentioned sentence would run as follows: A m arcôrd quand al Pô al giazé int l invèren dal méll novzänt vént. It is also possible to hear: Ajîr ai andé al marchè.

The present tense is used for future actions when an adverb of time is present rather than the future tense. For example, At daró un pom "I will give you an apple" employs the future tense because there is no indicator of time, but Adman at dag un pom "Tomorrow I will give you an apple" does not, as the time is marked.

Emilian has a verbal system with distinct affirmative and interrogative conjugations. This is exemplified by the present tense form of the verb fèr "to do". Mé a fag "I do" becomes faghia "do I do?"; Té t fè "You do" becomes Fèt "Do you do?"; Lò/Lì al/la fà "He/She does" becomes Fèl/Fèla "Does he/she do?"; Nuèter a fän "We do" becomes Faggna "Do we do?"; Vuèter a fèv "You (pl.) do" becomes Fèdi "Do you do?"; Låur i/al fàn "They [m/f] do" becomes Fèni "Do they do?"; and A sån "I am" becomes E såggna "Am I?".

An uncommon feature for a Romance language is the extensive use of idiomatic phrasal verbs (verb-particle constructions) much in the same way as in English and other Germanic languages, above all in Western Emilia, Vogherese-Pavese and Mantovano. For example, dèr so "give up"; fèr so "to tidy up", literally to do up; dèr zå "to brush/beat", literally to give down; mètter vî "to lock", literally to put away; dîr so "to tell up", literally to tell up; dèr vî "to give away"; èser dré (used to describe an action in progress, e.g. A san dré ch'a fag "I'm doing"); avair dré "to have on you" (e.g. A i ò dré di sold "I have money on me") are all common.



Every Emilian noun has a grammatical gender, either masculine or feminine. The grammatical gender of a noun referring to a human or other mammal usually corresponds to the noun's natural gender (i.e., its referent's sex or gender).


As with English, nouns are inflected for number; the plural noun is formed in a number of different ways. One of these is consonant alternation in a similar fashion to some Germanic languages. Another is a change in vowel sound, as in źnòć "knee" and źnûć "knees"; dutåur "doctor" and dutûr "doctors"; and calzaider "bucket" and calzîder "buckets". A third way nouns are pluralised is with special suffix changes, such as martèl "hammer" and martî "hammers"; fiôl "son" and fiû "sons"; cuséna "female cousin" and cuséni "female cousins"; and cuséna "kitchen" and cusén "kitchens". Sometimes there is no modification, as with lèg "lake" and lèg "lakes".


Nouns in Emilian are not inflected for any other grammatical categories. (However, personal pronouns are inflected by case and person)

Articles and determiners[edit]

Articles and determiners agree in gender and number with the noun they determine; and, unlike with nouns, this inflection is made in speech as well as in writing.

Emilian also has grammatical gender for the first three numerals, which contrasts with Italian, which has feminine and masculine only for uno "one". This is illustrated by the following examples in Ferrarese and Bolognese: un om, du oman, tri oman and un òmen, dû òmen, trî òmen "one man, two men, three men" and una dona, do don, tre don and una dòna, dåu dòn, trai dòn "one woman, two women, three women".


Pronouns can be inflected to indicate their role in a clause (subject, direct object, etc.), as well as the person, gender, and number of their referent. Not all of these inflections may be present at once.

There is a classic second-person singular and plural pronoun T–V distinction that is used to distinguish varying levels of politeness, social distance, courtesy, familiarity, or insult toward the addressee. This is different from Italian where the respectful pronoun is lei (third singular feminine person), but similar to French.

There are two kinds of personal pronouns, tonic and clitic (atonic and inseparable verb host), that are used in the verbal conjugation. For example, in Bolognese, Me a sun andèe "I went" is possible, where the word-for-word translation is I I am gone. This is not equivalent to Moi, je suis allé in French, where moi and je are functionally quite different from the Bolognese forms.


Emilian usually expresses negation in two parts, with the particle n attached to the verb, and one or more negative words (connegatives) that modify the verb or one of its arguments. Negation encircles a conjugated verb with n after the subject and the negative adverb after the conjugated verb, For example, simple verbal negation is expressed by n before the finite verb (and any object pronouns) and the adverb brisa after the finite verb. The presence of two negative markers typically derive from words indicating small quantity, like the French pas, (from Latin passus "step"), the Lombard minga and the Venetian miga "small round piece of bread", the Florentine punto "point" and the Romansh bucca "bite". In Bolognese and Ferrarese, brisa "crumb" is used. For example:

  • A n al so brisa • "I do not know it"
  • A n gh vag minga • "I am not going there"
  • I n dascóran mia tèg • "They are not talking to you"


Comparison between dialects[edit]

Below is a comparison of some of the different Emilian dialects. Even within the dialects, there is often variation and dialects that exist in their own right are spoken beyond those given.

Group Language Sample
Non-Emilian languages English The crow had stolen a piece of cheese from a window; perched on a treetop, he was ready to eat it when a fox saw him; he was absolutely starving.
Italian Il corvo aveva rubato da una finestra un pezzo di formaggio; appollaiato sulla cima di un albero, era pronto a mangiarselo, quando la volpe lo vide; era davvero affamata.
Western Emilian Pavese-Vogherese Al crov l'aviva rubà da una finestra un toch ad furmàg'; pugià in s'la sima d'un'àlbra (d'una pianta) l'era lì par mangiàsal, quand la vulp al l'hà vist; la gh'aviva propi fàm.
Piacentino Al cròv l'äva rubä da 'na finestra un toch ad furmäi; pugiä insima (or insüma) a una pianta (or un ärbul), l'era lé (or ) par mangiäl, quand la vulp al l'ha vist; la gh'äva dabon fam a bota.
Parmigiano Al corv l'äva robè da 'na fnéstra 'n tòch äd formàj; pozè insimma a 'na pianta, l'éra lì lì par magnärsol/magnärsel, quand la volpa l'al vèdda; la gh'äva fama dabón.
Central Emilian Reggiano Al crōv l'îva rubée da 'na fnèstra un pcòun ed furmâj; pularê in sém'a un êlber, l'éra lé lé per magnêrel, quànd la vòulpa al vèd; la gh'îva prôpria fàm.
Modenese Al còrv l'avìva rubê da 'na fnéstra un tòch ed furmàj; apolaiê in d'la żéma d'un èlber, l'éra lè lè da magnèrel, quànd la vôipa al vádd; l'éra di mòndi famèda.
Eastern Emilian Bolognese Al côrv l'avêva rubè da una fnèstra un pzulén ed furmâi; apugè in vàtta a un âlber, l'êra drî par magnèrel, quand la våulp al le vésst; l'avêva pròpi una gran sghéssa.
Mantovano La curnàcia l'eva rubà da 'na fnèstra 'n tòch ad formàj; pustà insìma a 'na pianta, l'éra prunt par magnàrsal, quand la vulp la l'à vist; la gh'eva propria fàm.
Ferrarese Al còrav l'eva rubà da na fnèstra un péz ad furmaj; pugià ad sóra n'àrbul, l'era pront par magnàrsal, quànd la vòlp al l'ha vist; la gh'eva propria fam.
Meridional Emilian Carrarese 'l corv i avev robat da 'na fnèstra 'n toc d' formai; as'tat 'n t' la zima d' 'n albr, i er lì lì p'r magnars'l, ma po' la golpa i l'ha vist, al avev propi fama.
Lunigiano Al crou i'eu rubà da 'na fnestra 'n toc ad formadj; asdà an cima a 'na pianta, i'er pront à mandjarsal, quand 'na gorpa la l'ha vist; l'agheu propri fama. (highlands)
'r crovo ghjavé robà da 'na fnestré 'n toco d' formaghjo; acovà 'ntla zime d' 'n arbro, ghjieré lì lì p'r manghjiarslo, quand'ei cla gorpe i l'ha mirà; l'ere davero afamà. (lowlands)
Valley Emilian Commachiese Al corv l'eva rubà da 'na fnastra un toch at furmaj; apugià at sauvra un erbal, l'ira praunt a magnersel, quand la vaulp là là vëst, l'ira propri (daveira) affamà.

Comparison with English[edit]

The Lord's Prayer in Emilian and the Catholic version of the English text:

Emilian[3] English[4]
Padar nostar c'a t'sé in cel, Our Father who art in heaven,
c'al sia santificà al Tu nom, hallowed be thy name.
c'al vegna al Tu regn, Thy kingdom come,
c'la vegna fata la Tu volontà Thy will be done
in cel com in tèra. on earth as it is in heaven.

Dàs incò al nostar pan qutidian, Give us this day our daily bread,
e armèt a nuàltar i nostar debit, and forgive us our trespasses,
isè com nualtar li armetòm ai nostar debitùr as we forgive those who trespass against us,
e non indùras in tentasiùn, and lead us not into temptation,
ma rendas libar dal mal. but deliver us from evil.
Isè al sia. Amen.


English Emilian
Yes , Ói (Bolognese); (Piacentino)
No (Bolognese); no (Piacentino)
I love you A t vói bän (Bolognese); a t' vöi bëin (Piacentino)
Thank you A t aringrâzi (Bolognese); a t' ringrasi (Piacentino)
Good morning Bån dé (Bolognese); bon giùran (Piacentino)
Goodbye A se vdrän (Bolognese); arvëdas (Piacentino)
I or a (Bolognese); me or mi (Piacentino)
And E (Parmigiano)
How much is it? Quant véńnel? or csa cåsstel? (Bolognese); cus al custa?, quant al custa? or cus al vegna? (Piacentino)
What's your name? Cum t ciâmet? (Bolognese); cma ta ciamat? (Piacentino)
My name is... A m ciâm... (Bolognese); me/mi a m' ciam... (Piacentino)
Tree Âlber (Bolognese); pianta or ärbul (Piacentino)
England Inghiltèra
London Lånndra
Emilia Emégglia (Bolognese); Emilja (Parmigiano); Emilia (Piacentino)
Romagna Rumâgna (Bolognese); Römagnä (Parmigiano); Rumagna (Piacentino)
Bologna Bulåggna (Bolognese); Bulogna (Piacentino)
City Zitè
Coffee Cafà (Bolognese); café (Piacentino)
Wine Vén (Bolognese); vëin (Piacentino)
Water Âcua
Nine Nôv (Bolognese); növ (Piacentino)
Sun Såul (Bolognese); sul (Piacentino)
Language Längua (Bolognese); lëingua (Piacentino)
God Dìo (Bolognese); diu (Piacentino)
See you A t salût
Excuse me Scuśèm, ch'al scûśa bän (Bolognese); scüsìm, scüsèm (Piacentino)
Do you speak English/Emilian? Dscårret in inglaiś/emigliàn?
Nation Naziån
Father Pèder
Mother Mèder
Brother Fradèl
Sister Surèla
Doctor Dutåur
America Amêrica
Africa Âfrica
Antarctica Antàrrtide
Italy Itâglia; Italja (Parmigiano)
Germany Germâgna
Army Esêrzit
World Månnd
Peace Pèś
War Guèra
High Èlt
Horse Cavâl
To do Fèr
Fire Fûg
Island Îsla
Milk Lât
Tongue or language Langua
Our Nòster
New Nôv
Skin Pèl
Rain Piôva
Three Trî (m) or Trai (f)



  • Colombini, F. 2007. La negazione nei dialetti emiliani: microvariazione nell’area modenese. University of Padua, MA Thesis.

Further reading[edit]

  • Pietro Mainoldi, Manuale dell'odierno dialetto bolognese, Suoni e segni, Grammatica - Vocabolario, Bologna, Società tipografica Mareggiani 1950 (Rist. anast.: Sala Bolognese, A. Forni 2000)
  • Fabio Foresti, Bibliografia dialettale dell'Emilia-Romagna e della Repubblica di San Marino (BDER), Bologna, IBACN Emilia-Romagna / Compositori 1997
  • E. F. Tuttle, Nasalization in Northern Italy: Syllabic Constraints and Strength Scales as Developmental Parameters, Rivista di Linguistica, III: 23-92 (1991)
  • Luigi Lepri e Daniele Vitali, Dizionario Bolognese-Italiano Italiano-Bolognese, ed. Pendragon 2007

External links[edit]