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Istriot, a language as beautiful as the Adriatic coast

Welcome back to our blog for endangered languages!

As promised, we are continuing our blog series on endangered languages, and this week we’re presenting Istriot!

When we refer to Istriot we don’t just mean the beautiful region that extends from Venice over to Croatia, we also refer to the Istriotic language, that for a long time was considered as a Venetian dialect. Today we know that Istriot is an indigenous Romance language, dating from as far back as pre-Venetian time, and that it was spoken on the Istrian peninsula.

It is ranked by the UNESCO as ‘severely endangered’. According to the 2002 census, only 400 people speak the language today.

Istriot

Istriot is suffering from a big crisis. Once spoken in the whole northern region of the Adriatic coast, now there remain only a few villages in which this language is spoken or understood: in Rovinj (it. Rovigno), Vodnjan (Vodnjan), Bale (Valle), Fažana (Fasana), Galižana (Gallesano) and Šišan (Sissano). It has gone from being an actively used language to one which is struggling to survive. The problem is that young people whose mother tongue is Istriot are choosing to use Croatian in conversation, even when they talk to their relatives. This is happening despite the fact that many of them were born and raised bilingual and it is the reason why the language is not being passed on to future generations.

Surrounded by two strong languages, Italian and Croatian, Istriot doesn’t have a leg to stand on and is at risk of vanishing in just a few generations. Influences from the two neighbour languages, Croatian and Italian, are very strong on all linguistic levels from pronunciation to the use of words.

To give you a feel for Istriot and its similarity to Italian, we have selected this abstract of a poem by an anonymous writer from Rovinnj, who signed it with his pen name Andria Uòrgani (1843). The name of the poem is “Il mendicante d’amore” – the beggar for love.

Istriot Italian English Translation
Se biella ti me pari
cù ti rèidi
Biella ti son
quando ti pjuri

ancuura,

Cù ti trùvi baròufa,
cù ti crèidi,
Chi ca te vjdo dòuti
se ‘namura.
Se bella tu mi appari
quando ridi
Bella tu sei anche
quando piangi,
Quando cerchi baruffa,
quando gridi,
Chiunque ti vede
di te s’innamora.
Every time you laugh
you are beautiful
You are pretty
even when you cry,
When you want to have a row,
when you scream
Whoever sees you,
falls in love with you.

Many Istriot speakers consider themselves to be Italian and don’t know that what they speak is an indigenous Romance language, not a Venetian dialect. Linguists fear that Istriot is going to become extinct in the near future. Nowadays it is very hard to find Istriot speakers in the villages mentioned above but the place were it is best conserved is Bale.

In hope of avoiding the disappearance of their mother tongue, some artists have begun to create works in their language, for example Istrian songs and literature. We recommend you the Croatian musician Tamara Obrovac, who has launched a project for the revitalisation of the Istriot language. Here is a video of her song ‘Se me ra morta privari’, enjoy: