A journey through Italian dialects and languages

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“A language is a dialect with an army and navy.”
— Max Weinreich, sociolinguist and Yiddish scholar

Did you know that Italy is incredibly rich in terms of dialects and languages? You may be wondering what the difference between a language and a dialect is. Well, a dialect is a variety of a language that people speak in a particular part of a country, usually containing some different words and grammar. Normally, dialects of the same language are considered to be mutually intelligible (can be understood easily), while different languages are not.

The official language of the Republic of Italy is Italian, historically known as the ‘literary Tuscan’, used by renowned writers such as Dante Alighieri, Francesco Petrarca and Giovanni Boccaccio during the XIII century. Curiously enough, Italian as we know it was only used by a small minority before Italy became unified in 1861. Up until that moment, Italy included and still includes a myriad of dialects that derive from Latin, Greek, Albanian, Slavic and Germanic languages. Let’s have a look at what other languages/dialects are spoken in Italy, and in which of the 20 regions we can find them.

 

http://www.map-of-italy.org/map.htm

 

 

Language / Dialect spoken

 

Language type

 

Spoken in

 

Francoprovenzale (Franco-Provençal, Arpitan or Romand)

 

Romance

 

Aosta Valley
Apulia
Piedmont

 

Occitano (Occitan)

 

Romance

Calabria
Piedmont

 

Piemontese (Piedmontese)

 

Romance

 

Aosta Valley
Liguria
Piedmont

Ligure (Ligurian)

 

Romance

 

Liguria
Piedmont
Sardinia

Lombardo (Lombard)

 

Romance

 

Lombardy
Piedmont
Trentino

Emiliano-Romagnolo (Emilian-Romagnol)

 

Romance

 

Emilia-Romagna
Lombardy
Marche

 

Gallo-Italico di Basilicata (Gallo-Italic of Basilicata)

 

Romance

 

Basilicata
Campania

 

Gallo-Italico di Sicilia (Gallo-Italic of Sicily)

 

Romance

 

Sicily

 

Veneto (Venetian)

 

Romance

 

Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Trentino
Veneto

 

Dialetto toscano (Tuscan dialects)

 

Romance

Tuscany

 

Dialetti italiani mediani (Central-Italian dialects)

 

Romance

 

Abruzzo
Lazio
Marche
Umbria

 

Dialetti italiani meridionali (Southern-Italian dialects)

 

Romance

 

Abruzzo
Basilicata
Campania
Lazio
Molise

 

Catano (Catalan)
Gallurese (Gallurese)
Sassarese (Sassarese)
Sardo (Sardinian)

 

Romance

Sardinia

 

Ladino (Ladin)

 

Romance

 

Trentino
Veneto

 

Friulano (Friulian)

 

Romance

 

Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Veneto

 

Siciliano (Sicilian)

 

Romance

 

Apulia
Calabria
Sicily

 

Sudtirolese (South Tyrolean German)
Bavarese centrale (Bavarian)
Cimbro (Cimbrian)
Mòcheno (Mòcheno)

 

Germanic

 

Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Piedmont
Trentino
Veneto
Valle d’Aosta

 

Walser (Walser German)

 

Germanic

 

Piedmont
Valle d’Aosta

 

Sloveno (Slovenian)

 

Slavic

 

Friuli-Venezia Giulia

 

Serbo-croato (Serbo-Croatian)

 

Slavic

 

Molise

 

Albanese (Albanian)

 

Other

 

Abruzzo
Apulia
Basilicata
Campania
Calabria
Molise

 

Greco (Greek)

 

Other

 

Apulia
Calabria
Sicily

 

Each dialect or language comes with a variety of sounds and words that differ from region to region.

In most cases, people in the North tend to pronounce the vowels e and o with an open sound rather than closed; this can become confusing for words such as pesca (peach – the correct diction here is pèsca [open e] like in caffè) or pesca (fishing – the correct diction here is pésca [closed e], like in perché). People from the centre of Italy tend to have a diction closer to the ‘original’ pronunciation of the Italian language that derived from Tuscany, which is also the Italian form of language taught for acting in theatre or cinema. In the South, the situation is usually reversed: open vowels become closed, and closed ones become open.

Keep in mind that each region also has different dialects; that means that people may not understand one another even if they come from the same region!

The funny bit is that some dialects/languages are completely different to Italian; this is normally the case for southerners from Apulia, Campania, Sicily, Sardinia, or northerners from Lombardy, Piedmont or Aosta Valley. Their dialects/languages are so different that it is often impossible to understand what is being discussed, unless you are from the same area.

To give you a hands-on example, watch the video below where some of our Italian colleagues pronounce a few common words in their dialects.

This concludes our mini-trip to Italy and its many regions!

Start learning Italian now!

Luciano was a Localisation Editor at busuu. Having grown up in Rome in a bilingual family, languages are a big part of his life. He later moved to London where he studied Computer Games Design and Story Development. You can usually find him playing board games, mooching around art galleries and cooking! He also loves reading and writing.

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