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In Italian-language contexts, Milanese is often (like most non-standard Italian varieties spoken in Italy) called a "dialect" of Italian. However, linguistically, Milanese is closer to Western Romance language related to French, Romansh, and to other Gallo-Italian languages.
Partly because of the unofficial status of Milanese, several different orthographic conventions have developed. The oldest still in use, and probably the most widely used, is the convention adopted by the Milanese writer Carlo Porta. Typical of this system is the trigraph oeu for the vowels [ø] and [œ]. See: Classical Milanese orthography.
More recent conventions often try to:
- simplify the rules (which are sometimes not very intuitive in the Porta system)
- make the correct reading of Milanese easier for native Italian speakers
- reduce the gap between the written forms of Milanese and of other Lombard dialects
A number of the alternative systems use ü and ö for /y/ and /ø/, instead of u and oeu, in order to avoid confusion between Milanese and Italian vowels. They also, in general, reduce the number of accents involved, often removing the circumflex ^.
A comparison with Italian
There are few differences between standard Italian and Milanese syntaxes that have to be considered. The comparison is made easy by the fact that Milanese speakers are also speakers of standard Italian.
- More vowels occur in Milanese than in Italian. Milanese uses /ø/ and /y/ in addition to the 5 standard Italian vowels, and it uses vowel length.
- Almost every polysyllabic Italian word ends in a vowel. Conversely, words ending in consonants are very common in Milanese. As a consequence, many paroxytone Italian words are oxytone in Milanese. An example is the infinitive of verbs: In Italian, chiamare "to call" with stress on the second "a" is equivalent to Milanese ciamà.
- While most Italian subject pronouns derive directly from their Latin counterparts, Milanese subject pronouns derive from Latin accusative pronouns. As a result, Milanese subject pronouns resemble Italian object and dative pronouns: mi (Italian mi), ti (Italian ti), lu (Italian lui), lee (Italian lei), numm (Italian noi), viálter (Italian voi), lór (Italian loro).
- Subject pronouns are doubled in the 2nd- and 3rd-person singular. Singular "you are" ("thou art"; Italian tu sei) is ti te seet in Milanese. The first pronoun (ti in ti te seet) is the actual subject pronoun and is optional. The second pronoun (te in ti te seet), which is normally a dative pronoun, reinforces the subject and is compulsory. The 2nd-person verbal suffix -t derives from Latin "te", as well. So there are three subject pronouns a verb.
- Negation follows the verb in Milanese, while in Italian negation precedes the verb. For example, Italian non sei "you are not" is equivalent to Milanese ti te seet no or ti te seet minga. Minga is an alternative negational adverb (probably derived from Latin mica "crumb"), various forms of which are common in other Italian dialects and also in colloquial Italian, with non [verb] mica for reinforcing negations. French pas and Tuscan punto are examples of negations using words originally designating something small. Minga and no are about equally common in Milanese and are usually interchangeable, though one may be more euphonious in one sentence than the other. For slight differentiation, minga may deny the presence of countable things, whereas no simply negates, such as mi vegni no "I won't come" versus mi vegni minga "I really don't want to come and I won't" and gh'èn hoo minga "I have nothing (no money)", that is, "I'm poor" versus gh'èn hoo nò "I have no money with me".
Text using the original orthography, very close to the traditional orthography:
2:1 In chi dì là, on decrett de Céser Augùst l'ordinava che se fasess on censiment de tutta la terra. 2 Sto primm censiment l'è staa faa quand Quirini l'era governador de la Siria. 3 Tucc andaven a fass registrà, ciaschedun in la soa città. 4 Anca Giusepp, che l'era de la cà e de la famiglia de David, da la città de Nazareth e da la Galilea l'è andaa sù in Giudea a la città de David, ciamada Betlemm, 5 per fass registrà insemma a Maria, soa sposa, che l'era gravida. 6 Ben, pròppi intanta che se trovaven in quell sit, s'hinn compii per lee i dì de partorì. 7 L'ha mettuu al mond el sò primm, l'ha faa sù in di fass e l'ha miss giò in d'ona gruppia perchè gh'era minga de post per lor in la locanda. (Circolo Filologico Milanese, I Quatter Vangeli de Mattee, March, Luca e Gioann in dialett milanes, Milan 1995)
The same text in an alternative orthography, which could be used to render all Lombard varieties. Long vowels (both phonologically and phonetically long) are doubled, word-internal consonants are never doubled (in accordance with pronunciation), and final devoicing of obstruents is rendered orthographically:
2:1 In chi dí lá, un decrètt de Céser Aügüst l'urdinava che se fasèss un censiméent de tüta la tèra. 2 Stu primm censiméent l'è staa faa quaant Quirini l'éra guvernaduur de la Siria. 3 Tücc andaven a fass registrá, ciaschedün in la súa citá. 4 Anca Giüsèpp, che l'éra de la cá e de la famíglia de Davit, da la citá de Názareth e da la Galilèa l'è andaa sü in Giüdèa a la citá de Davit, ciamada Betlèmm, 5 per fass registrá insèma a María, súa spusa, che l'éra gràvida. 6 Bén, pròpi intanta che se truvaven in quèll sit, s'inn cumpii per lée i dí de parturí. 7 L'a mettüü al muunt el sò primm, l'a faa sü in di fass e l'a miss giò in d'una grüppia perchè gh'éra minga de pòst per luur in la lucanda.
And in English:
2:1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when  Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (ESV)
The number of speakers of Milanese last recorded in the city numbered at just 4,000 and is on the decline, with Italian being the dominant language.
- The number of inhabitants of Milan is approximately 1,500,000, and varieties close to Milanese are spoken outside Milan. However, many of them are immigrants from other parts of Italy, and even most others will not be able to speak Milanese fluently. See "Internet parla in milanese e Windows diventa «Finester»". Corriere della Sera. 2001-02-20. Retrieved 2013-11-02.