By: Harriet Cook
According to a country profile published by the site Ethnologue (available here) there are some 34 native individual languages spoken in Italy. These are Albanian, Arpitan, Bavarian, Catalan, Cimbrian, Corsican, Emilian, French, Friulian, standard German, Greek, International Sign, Italian, Italian Sign Language, Judeo-Italian, Ladin, Ligurian, Lombard, MÃ³cheno, Napoletano-Calabrese, Occitan, Piedmontese, Romagnol, Romani (Sinte), Romani (Vlax), Sardinian, Sardinian (Campidanese), Sardinian (Gallurese), Sardinian (Logudorese), Sardinian (Sassarese), Sicilian, Slavomolisano, Slovene, Venetian and Wasler. If you'd like to see more information about where each of these languages are spoken and how many people speak them, you can do so either on this Ethnologue page or in Section 1 of this academic paper.
Paolo Coluzzi's paper on regional and minority languages in Italy is particularly interesting and states that the vast majority of these languages are not dialects of standard Italian, but rather 'independent linguistic varieties that developed directly from Latin'. Though the common consensus seems to be to use the term 'language', there are still instances where these languages are referred to as dialects. This BBC page on Italian languages, for example, states that 50% of the population living in Italy 'speak a regional dialect as mother tongue'.
Though not all of the languages listed above enjoy an official status or any kind of legal protection, a law passed in 1999 recognised Albanian, Catalan, German, Greek, Slovene, Croatian, French, Franco-ProvenÃ§al, Friulian, Ladin, Occitan and Sardinian as historical language minorities. If you are interested in reading what kind of recognition was given to these languages almost twenty years ago, you can find the law here. Other legislation has been passed, both within Italy and outside it, to protect these languages and you can find out more about this in Coluzzi's paper where he dedicates an entire section to legislation.
UNESCO's Interactive Atlas of the World's Languages In Danger (available here) says that there are currently 31 endangered languages in Italy. The organisation arranges its list of languages that are in danger according to whether they are vulnerable, definitely endangered, severely endangered, critically endangered or extinct. The vast majority of those languages from Italy included in this atlas are classified as being definitely endangered.
In today's blog post we wanted to take a closer look at three of Italy's regional languages and the three we have chosen are Cimbrian, Friulian and Piedmontese.
Cimbrian is spoken in northeastern Italy and is a Germanic language. Its speakers are known as Zimbern and it has three major dialects which are spoken in the village of Roana, Luserna in Trentino, the village of Giazza and some villages in the Carnic Alps. According to Omniglot the language is spoken by about 2,230 people. If you'd like to hear the language being used, the last two sentences Marco says in this video are in Cimbrian and you can really notice the Germanic sounds:
A course in Standard Cimbrian is available to follow here and for more about the history and development of Cimbrian, see here.
This Romance language is spoken in the Friuli region in northeast Italy. A study updated in 2015 found that there were 600,000 Friulian speakers in the provinces of Gorizia, Pordenone and Udine. Some 420,000 of these speakers used the language regularly while 180,000 only used it occasionally; these numbers account for 60% of the population in the three provinces. For more data on the use of Friulian, you can follow the link at the bottom of this page and if you'd like to hear the language being spoken, click play on the video below:
Piedmontese, the final of the three languages we are looking at today, is a Romance language spoken in Piedmont which lies in the northwest of Italy. There has been debate in the past as to whether Piedmontese is a language or a dialect and you can read more about this here. For information about Piedmontese's legal position, see here and for a selection of online Piedmontese resources, see here. Finally, if you are interested in hearing how Piedmontese is spoken, click play on the video below:
We hope to cover more of Italian's regional languages in future blog posts so please keep checking back if you are interested in learning more about them!