Languages of Italy
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There are approximately thirty-four native living spoken languages and related dialects in Italy, most of which are indigenous evolutions of Vulgar Latin, and are therefore classified as Romance languages. Although they are sometimes referred to as regional languages, there is no uniformity within any Italian region, and speakers from one locale within a region are typically aware of the features distinguishing their local tongue from the one of other places nearby. The official and most widely spoken language across the country is Standard Italian, a direct descendant of Tuscan.
Almost all the Romance languages native to Italy, with the notable exception of Italian, are often colloquially referred to as "dialects", although for some of them the term may coexist with other labels like "minority languages" or "vernaculars". However, the use of the term "dialect" to refer to the languages of Italy may erroneously imply that the languages spoken in Italy are actual "dialects" of Standard Italian in the prevailing linguistic sense of "varieties or variations of a language". This is not the case regarding the longstanding languages of Italy, as they are not varieties of Italian. Most of the local Romance languages of Italy predate Italian and evolved locally from Vulgar Latin, independently of what would become the national language, long before the fairly recent spread of Italian throughout Italy. In fact, Standard Italian itself can be thought of as either a continuation of, or a dialect heavily based on, Florentine Tuscan. The indigenous local Romance tongues of Italy are therefore classified as separate languages that evolved independently from Latin, rather than "dialects" or variations of the Italian language. Conversely, with the spread of Standard Italian throughout Italy in the 20th century, local varieties of Italian have also developed throughout the peninsula, influenced to varying extents by the underlying local languages, most noticeably at the phonological level; though regional boundaries seldom correspond to isoglosses distinguishing these varieties, these variations on Italians are commonly referred to as Regional Italian (italiano regionale).
There are several minority languages that belong to other Indo-European branches, such as Cimbrian (Germanic), Arbëresh (Albanian), the Slavomolisano dialect of Serbo-Croatian (Slavic), and Griko (Hellenic). Other non-indigenous languages are spoken by a substantial percentage of the population due to immigration.[not in citation given]
- 1 Legal status of Italian
- 2 Historical language minorities
- 3 Regional recognition of the local languages
- 4 Conservation status
- 5 Classification
- 6 Geographic distribution
- 7 Mother tongues of foreigners
- 8 Standardised written forms
- 9 Gallery
- 10 Notes
- 11 References
- 12 External links
Legal status of Italian
The original Italian Constitution does not explicitly express that Italian is the official national language. Since the constitution was penned, there have been some laws and articles written on the procedures of criminal cases passed that explicitly state that Italian should be used:
- Statute of the Trentino-South Tyrol, (constitutional law of the northern region of Italy around Trento) – "[...] [la lingua] italiana [...] è la lingua ufficiale dello Stato." (Statuto Speciale per il Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, Art. 99, "[...] [the language] Italian [...] is the official language of the State.")
- Code for civil procedure – "In tutto il processo è prescritto l'uso della lingua italiana. (Codice di procedura civile, Art. 122, "In all procedures, it is required that the Italian language is used.")
- Code for criminal procedure – "Gli atti del procedimento penale sono compiuti in lingua italiana." (Codice di procedura penale, Art. 109 [169-3; 63, 201 att.], "The acts of the criminal proceedings are carried out in the Italian language.")
- Article 1 of law 482/1999 – "La lingua ufficiale della Repubblica è l'italiano." (Legge 482/1999, Art. 1 Comma 1, "The official language of the Republic is Italian.")
Historical language minorities
Recognition by the Italian state
The Republic safeguards linguistic minorities by means of appropriate measures.— Italian Constitution, Art. 6
The Art. 6 of the Italian Constitution was drafted by the Founding Fathers to show sympathy for the country's historical linguistic minorities, in a way for the newly-founded Republic to let them become part of the national fabric and distance itself from the Italianization policies promoted earlier because of nationalism, especially during Fascism.
However, more than a half century passed before the Art. 6 was followed by any of the above-mentioned "appropriate measures". Italy applied in fact the Article for the first time in 1999, by means of the national law N.482/99.
Before said legal framework entered into force, only four linguistic minorities (the French-speaking community in the Aosta Valley; the German-speaking community and, to a limited extent, the Ladin one in the Province of Bolzano; the Slovene-speaking community in the Province of Trieste and, with less rights, the Province of Gorizia) enjoyed some kind of acknowledgment and protection, stemming from specific clauses within international treaties. The other eight linguistic minorities were to be recognized only in 1999, including the Slovene-speaking minority in the Province of Udine and the Germanic populations (Walser, Mocheni and Cimbri) residing in provinces different from Bolzano. Some now-recognized minority groups, namely in Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Sardinia, already provided themselves with regional laws of their own. It has been estimated that less than 400.000 people, out of the two million people belonging to the twelve historical minorities (with Sardinian being the numerically biggest one), enjoyed state-wide protection.
Around the 1960s, the Italian Parliament eventually resolved to apply the previously neglected article of the country's fundamental Charter. The Parliament thus appointed a "Committee of three Sages" to single out the groups that were to be recognized as linguistic minorities, and further elaborate the reason for their inclusion. The nominated people were Tullio de Mauro, Giovan Battista Pellegrini and Alessandro Pizzorusso, three notable figures who distinguished themselves with their life-long activity of research in the field of both linguistics and legal theory. Based on linguistic, historical as well as anthropological considerations, the experts eventually selected thirteen groups, corresponding to the currently recognized twelve with the further addition of the Sinti and Romani-speaking populations. The original list was approved, with the only exception of the nomadic peoples, who lacked the territoriality requisite and therefore needed a separate law. However, the draft was presented to the law-making bodies when the legislature was about to run its course, and had to be passed another time. The bill was met with resistance by all the subsequent legislatures, being reluctant to challenge the widely-held myth of "Italian linguistic homogeneity", and only in 1999 did it eventually pass, becoming a law.
In the end, the historical language minorities were thus recognized by the Law no. 482/1999: Albanian, Catalan, German, Greek, Slovene, Croatian, French, Franco-Provençal, Friulian, Ladin, Occitan and Sardinian (Legge 15 Dicembre 1999, n. 482, Art. 2, comma 1).
Some interpretations of said law seem to divide the twelve languages into two groups, with the first including the non-Latin speaking populations (with the exception of the Catalan-speaking one) and the second including only the Romance-speaking populations. Some other interpretations state that a further distinction is implied, considering only some groups to be national minorities. Regardless of the ambiguous phrasing, all the twelve groups are technically supposed to be allowed the same measures of protection; furthermore, the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, signed and ratified by Italy in 1997, applies to all the twelve groups mentioned by the 1999 national law, therefore including the Friulians, the Sardinians, the Occitans, the Ladins etc., with the addition of the Romani.
In actual practice, not each of the twelve historical language minorities is given the same consideration. In fact, the discrimination lies in the urgent need to award the highest degree of protection only to the French-speaking minority in the Aosta Valley and the German one in South Tyrol, owing to international treaties. For example, the institutional websites are only in Italian with a few exceptions, like a French version of the Italian Chamber of Deputies. A bill proposed by former prime minister Mario Monti's cabinet formally introduced a differential treatment between the twelve historical language minorities, distinguishing between those with a "foreign mother tongue" (the groups protected by agreements with Austria, France and Slovenia) and those with a "peculiar dialect" (all the others). The bill was later implemented, but deemed unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court.
The selection of the twelve recognized languages to the exclusion of others is a matter of some controversy. Daniele Bonamore argues that many regional languages were not given recognition in light of their historical participation in the making of the Italian language: languages like Sicilian, Umbrian, Neapolitan, Venetian and Tuscan are considered historical founders of the Italian linguistic majority; outside of such epicenter are, on the other hand, Friulian, Ladin, Sardinian, Franco-Provençal and Occitan, which are recognized as distinct languages.
Recognition at the European level
Italy is a signatory of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, but has not ratified the treaty, and therefore its provisions protecting regional languages do not apply in the country.
The Charter does not, however, establish at what point differences in expression result in a separate language, deeming it an "often controversial issue", and citing the necessity to take into account, other than purely linguistic criteria, also "psychological, sociological and political considerations".
Regional recognition of the local languages
- Aosta Valley:
- Friuli-Venezia Giulia:
- Piedmontese is unofficial but recognised as the regional language (Consiglio Regionale del Piemonte, Ordine del Giorno n. 1118, Presentato il 30/11/1999);
- the region "promotes", without recognising, the Occitan, Franco-Provençal, French and Walser languages (Legge regionale 7 aprile 2009, n. 11, Art. 1).
- The region considers the cultural identity of the Sardinian people as a primary asset (l.r. N.26/97, l.r. N.22/18), in accordance with the values of equality and linguistic pluralism enshrined in the Italian Constitution and the European treaties, with particular reference to the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages 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) in their respective linguistic areas.
- South Tyrol:
According to the UNESCO's Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger, there are 31 endangered languages in Italy. The degree of endangerment is classified in different categories ranging from 'safe' (safe languages are not included in the atlas) to 'extinct' (when there are no speakers left).
The source for the languages' distribution is the Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger unless otherwise stated, and refers to Italy exclusively.
- Alemannic: spoken in the Lys Valley of the Aosta Valley and in Northern Piedmont
- Bavarian: South Tyrol
- Ladin: several valleys, comunes and villages in the Dolomites, including the Val Badia and the Gardena Valley in South Tyrol, the Fascia Valley in Trentino, and Livinallongo in the Province of Belluno
- Sicilian: Sicily, southern and central Calabria and southern Apulia
- Neapolitan: Campania, Basilicata, Abruzzo, Molise, northern Calabria, northern and central Apulia, southern Lazio and Marche as well as eastern fringes of Umbria
- Romanesco: Metropolitan City of Rome in Lazio and in some comunes of southern Tuscany
- Venetian: Veneto, parts of Friuli-Venezia Giulia
- Algherese Catalan: the town of Alghero in northwestern Sardinia; an outlying dialect of Catalan language not listed separately by the SIL
- Alpine Provençal: the upper valleys of Piedmont (Val Mairo, Val Varacho, Val d'Esturo, Entraigas, Limoun, Vinai, Pinerolo, Sestrieres); the original joint ISO code [prv] for Alpine Provençal and Provençal has been retired on false grounds.[clarification needed]
- Arbëresh: (i) Adriatic zone: Montecilfone, Campomarino, Portocannone and Ururi in Molise as well as Chieuti and Casalvecchio di Puglia in Apulia; (ii) San Marzano in Apulia; (iii) Greci in Campania; (iv) northern Basilicata: Barile, Ginestra and Maschito; (v) North Calabrian zone: ca. 30 settlements in northern Calabria (Plataci, Civita, Frascineto, San Demetrio Corone, Lungro, Acquaformosa etc.) as well as San Costantino Albanese and San Paolo Lucano in southern Basilicata; (vi) settlements in southern Calabria, e.g. San Nicola dell'Alto and Vena di Maida; (vii) Sicilian zone: Piana degli Albanesi and two nearby villages near Palermo; (viii) formerly also Villabadessa in Abruzzi; an outlying dialect of Albanian
- Cimbrian: vigorously spoken in Luserna in Trentino; disappearing in Giazza (part of the commune Selva di Progno) in the Province of Verona and in Roana in the Province of Vicenza; recently extinct in several other locations in the region; an outlying dialect of Bavarian
- Corsican: spoken on Maddalena Island off the northeast coast of Sardinia
- Emilian-Romagnol: Emilia-Romagna, parts of the provinces of Pavia, Voghera, and Mantua in southern Lombardy, the Lunigiana district in northwestern Tuscany, the Alta Valle del Tevere district in northern part of the Province of Perugia and eastern part of the Province of Arezzo, the Province of Pesaro-Urbino in the Marche, and in a zone called Traspadana Ferrarese in the Province of Rovigo in Veneto
- Faetar: Faeto and Celle San Vito in the Province of Foggia in Apulia; an outlying dialect of Francoprovençal not listed separately by the SIL
- Franco-Provençal: the Alpine valleys to the north and east of the Susa Valley in Piedmont; disappeared in France and Switzerland
- Friulian: Friuli-Venezia Giulia except the Province of Trieste and western and eastern border regions, and Portogruaro area in the Province of Venice in Veneto
- Gallo-Italic of Sicily: Nicosia, Sperlinga, Piazza Armerina, Valguarnera Caropepe and Aidone in the province of Enna, and San Fratello, Acquedolci, San Piero Patti, Montalbano Elicona, Novara di Sicilia and Fondachelli-Fantina in the province of Messina; an outlying dialect of Lombard not listed separately by the SIL; other dialects were formerly also spoken in southern Italy outside Sicily, especially in Basilicata
- Gallurese: northeastern Sardinia; an outlying dialect of Corsican
- Ligurian: Liguria and adjacent areas of Piedmont, Emilia and Tuscany; settlements in the towns of Carloforte on the San Pietro Island and Calasetta on the Sant'Antioco Island off the southwest coast of Sardinia
- Lombard: Lombardy (except the southernmost border areas) and the Province of Novara in Piedmont
- Mòcheno: Palù, Fierozzo and Frassilongo in the Fersina Valley in Trentino; an outlying dialect of Bavarian
- Piedmontese: Piedmont except the Province of Novara, the western Alpine valleys and southern border areas, as well as minor adjacent areas
- Resian: Resia in the northeastern part of the Province of Udine; an outlying dialect of Slovene not listed separately by the SIL
- Romani: spoken by the Roma community in Italy
- Sardinian, consisting of both the Campidanese (southern Sardinia) and Logudorese (central Sardinia) dialects
- Sassarese: northwestern Sardinia; a transitional language between Corsican and Sardinian
- Yiddish: spoken by parts of the Jewish community in Italy
- Walser German: the village of Issime in the upper Lys Valley/Lystal in the Aosta Valley; an outlying dialect of Alemannic not listed separately by the SIL
- Molise Croatian: the villages of Montemitro, San Felice del Molise, and Acquaviva Collecroce in the Province of Campobasso in southern Molise; a mixed Chakavian–Shtokavian dialect of Serbo-Croatian not listed separately by the SIL
- Griko (Salento): the Salento peninsula in the Province of Lecce in southern Apulia; an outlying dialect of Greek not listed separately by the SIL
- Gardiol: Guardia Piemontese in Calabria; an outlying dialect of Alpine Provençal
- Griko (Calabria): a few villages near Reggio di Calabria in southern Calabria; an outlying dialect of Greek not listed separately by the SIL
- Vastese: the town of Vasto.
All living languages indigenous to Italy are part of the Indo-European language family. The source is the SIL's Ethnologue unless otherwise stated. Language classification can be a controversial issue, when a classification is contested by academic sources, this is reported in the 'notes' column.
They can be divided into Romance languages and non-Romance languages.
Gallo-Rhaetian and Ibero-Romance
|Language||Family||ISO 639-3||Dialects spoken in Italy||Notes||Speakers|
|Language||ISO 639-3||Dialects spoken in Italy||Notes||Speakers|
|Emiliano-Romagnolo||eml||Emilian; Romagnol (Forlivese);||Emilian and Romagnol have been assigned two different ISO 639-3 codes (egl and rgn, respectively).||1,000,000|
|Ligurian||lij||Tabarchino; Mentonasc; Intemelio; Brigasc||500,000|
|Lombard||lmo||Western Lombard (see Western dialects of Lombard language); Eastern Lombard; Gallo-Italic of Sicily||3,600,000|
|Venetian||vec||Triestine; Fiuman; Chipilo Venetian; Talian; veneziano Lagunar||Grouped with either Gallo-Italic or Italo-Dalmatian||3,800,000|
|Language||ISO 639-3||Dialects spoken in Italy||Notes||Speakers|
|Central Italian||nap||Romanesco; Sabino; Marchigiano||5,700,000|
|Neapolitan||ita||Abruzzese; Cosentino; Bari dialect||3,000,000|
|Sicilian||scn||Salentino; Southern Calabrian||4,700,000|
Sardinian is a distinct language with significant phonological differences among its own varieties. Ethnologue, not without controversy, even goes as far as considering Sardinian to be a macrolanguage with four separate languages of its own, all being included along with the Corsican varieties in a specific subgroup of the Romance languages, named Southern Romance: this hypotesis has gained little support from linguists. UNESCO, while seeming to share the same opinion of Ethnologue by calling Gallurese and Sassarese "Sardinian", considers them to be originally dialects of Corsican rather than Sardinian on the other hand. As is not infrequently the case in such controversies, the linguistic landscape of Sardinia is in principle most accurately described as being, for the most part, a dialect continuum.
|Language||ISO 639-3||Dialects spoken in Italy||Notes||Speakers|
|Campidanese Sardinian||sro||Ortographic model of the southern Sardinian dialects||500,000|
|Logudorese Sardinian||src||Ortographic model of the central Sardinian dialects||500,000|
|Gallurese Sardinian||sdn||Outlying dialect of Corsican, sometimes considered part of Sardinian||100,000|
|Sassarese Sardinian||sdc||Outlying dialect of Corsican, sometimes considered part of Sardinian||100,000|
Albanian, Slavic, Greek and Romani languages
|Language||Family||ISO 639-3||Dialects spoken in Italy||Notes||Speakers|
|Arbëresh||Albanian||Tosk||aae||considered an outlying dialect of Albanian by the UNESCO||100,000|
|Slovene||Slavic||South||Western||slv||Gai Valley dialect; Resian; Torre Valley dialect; Natisone Valley dialect; Brda dialect; Karst dialect; Inner Carniolan dialect; Istrian dialect||100,000|
|Italiot Greek||Hellenic (Greek)||Attic||ell||Griko (Salento); Calabrian Greek||20,000|
High German languages
|Language||Family||ISO 639-3||Dialects spoken in Italy||Notes||Speakers|
|German||Middle German||East Middle German||deu||Tyrolean dialects||Austrian German is the usual standard variety||315,000|
|Cimbrian||Upper German||Bavarian-Austrian||cim||sometimes considered a dialect of Bavarian, also considered an outlying dialect of Bavarian by the UNESCO||2,200|
|Mocheno||Upper German||Bavarian-Austrian||mhn||considered an outlying dialect of Bavarian by the UNESCO||1,000|
The Northern Italian languages are conventionally defined as those Romance languages spoken north of the La Spezia–Rimini Line, which runs through the northern Apennine Mountains just to the north of Tuscany; however, the dialects of Occitan and Franco-Provençal spoken in the extreme northwest of Italy (e.g. the Valdôtain in the Aosta Valley) are generally excluded. The classification of these languages is difficult and not agreed-upon, due both to the variations among the languages and to the fact that they share isoglosses of various sorts with both the Italo-Romance languages to the south and the Gallo-Romance languages to the northwest.
One common classification divides these languages into four groups:
- The Italian Rhaeto-Romance languages, including Ladin and Friulan.
- The poorly researched Istriot language.
- The Venetian language (sometimes grouped with the majority Gallo-Italian languages).
- The Gallo-Italian languages, including all the rest (although with some doubt regarding the position of Ligurian).
Any such classification runs into the basic problem that there is a dialect continuum throughout northern Italy, with a continuous transition of spoken dialects between e.g. Venetian and Ladin, or Venetian and Emilio-Romagnolo (usually considered Gallo-Italian).
All of these languages are considered innovative relative to the Romance languages as a whole, with some of the Gallo-Italian languages having phonological changes nearly as extreme as standard French (usually considered the most phonologically innovative of the Romance languages). This distinguishes them significantly from standard Italian, which is extremely conservative in its phonology (and notably conservative in its morphology).
Southern Italy and islands
One common classification divides these languages into two groups:
- The Italo-Dalmatian languages, including Neapolitan and Sicilian, as well as the Sardinian-influenced Sassarese and Gallurese which are sometimes grouped with Sardinian but are actually of southern Corsican origin.
- The Sardinian language, usually listed as a group of its own with two main Logudorese and Campidanese ortographic forms.
All of these languages are considered conservative relative to the Romance languages as a whole, with Sardinian being the most conservative of them all.
Mother tongues of foreigners
Standardised written forms
Although "[al]most all Italian dialects were being written in the Middle Ages, for administrative, religious, and often artistic purposes," use of local language gave way to stylized Tuscan, eventually labeled Italian. Local languages are still occasionally written, but only the following regional languages of Italy have a standardised written form. This may be widely accepted or used alongside more traditional written forms:
- Piedmontese: traditional, definitely codified between the 1920s and the 1960s by Pinin Pacòt and Camillo Brero
- Ligurian: "Grafîa ofiçiâ" created by the Académia Ligùstica do Brénno;
- Sardinian: "Limba sarda comuna" was experimentally adopted in 2006;
- Friulian: "Grafie uficiâl" created by the Osservatori Regjonâl de Lenghe e de Culture Furlanis;
- Ladin: "Grafia Ladina" created by the Istituto Ladin de la Dolomites;
- Venetian: "Grafia Veneta Unitaria", official manual from Regione Veneto local government published in 1995, although written in Italian.
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