Have you ever noticed that in Italy people often speak in different ways depending on which region and city they come from? Have you ever wondered if it exists, actually, a “pure” Italian? In this article we are going to talk about the different Italian dialects, so the regional languages spoken in the several Italian territories, from North to South.
The language varieties and the dialects in Italy
Considering an overview of the Italian dialects, the Italian linguistic heritage is one of the richest and varied in Europe. Among the different Italian dialects, in fact, there are not only those belonging to the branch of Romance languages (which includes Italian, Spanish and French), but also some coming from Germanic, Greek and Slavic languages.
Italian Republic’s official language, so the Standard Italian, historically comes from the literary Tuscan dialect spoken in Florence since the 13th century, used by the greatest authors, like Dante, Petrarca and Boccaccio. Substantially, Italian is just a dialect that “made it”, which managed to stand out from the other dialects spoken in the Italian territory becoming the national language.
It doesn’t mean that all the other dialects disappeared: in fact, a lot of them have survived, mostly spoken in informal contexts, more often in the countryside and by less literate people, who didn’t have to learn Standard Italian.
Nowadays dialects are still spoken, to varying degrees, in the several Italian regions and cities, by different age groups: for example, in Northern regions dialects tend to be used only by old people, who have been speaking them for their entire life, often together with Standard Italian. In Central and Southern regions, instead, it is more frequent to find younger dialect speakers, who use it mostly in informal contexts. According to an ISTAT’s survey of 2015, 45,9% of Italians speak only or mainly Standard Italian, 32,2% alternate it with dialect, while just 14% speak dialect only.
And which are these Italian dialects?
First of all, they can be divided into 3 groups:
1. Northern dialects (dialetti settentrionali o alto-italiani);
2. Tuscan and Central dialects (dialetti toscani e mediani);
3. Southern and Extreme Southern dialects (dialetti meridionali e meridionali estremi).
1) Northern dialects (dialetti settentrionali o alto-italiani)
The dialects spoken in the North of Italy belong to the first group. This northern area is delimited by an imaginary line, the La Spezia-Rimini line, which runs through Northern Italy from La Spezia (in Liguria) to Rimini (in Emilia-Romagna) and distinguishes the Northern dialects from the Central ones. The Northern dialects can be divided into two subgroups: the Gallo-Italian dialects (including Piedmontese, Lombard, Trentinian, Ligurian and Emilian-Romagnol) and the Venetan dialects (counting Venetian, Veronese, Paduan-Vicentino and Triestine). Their names come from the regions or cities where they are spoken.
2) Tuscan and Central dialects (dialetti toscani e mediani)
The second group includes two varieties: the Tuscan dialects (Florentine, Senese, Pisan-Lucchese-Pistoiese) and the Middle or Central dialects (Romanesco, Viterbese and Umbrian-Marchigiano).
3) Southern and Extreme Southern dialects (dialetti meridionali e meridionali estremi)
The third group consists of the Southern dialects (Abruzzese and Marchigiano, Molisano, Apulian, Neapolitan and Lucano) and the Extreme Southern dialects (Calabrian, Salentino and Sicilian).
Sardinian is not actually a dialect, but rather a distinct language, closer to latin and preserved almost unvaried over many centuries, thanks to Sardinia’s isolation from the rest of Italy.
Italian dialects are so peculiar and different from each other that it often happens that a certain dialect speaker doesn’t understand another speaker talking in his own dialect (and in this case they have to use Standard Italian). The dialects, in fact, differ on several levels: at first you can hear the difference in pronunciation, but it’s easy to notice also many other differences in vocabulary and in syntax.
Actually, dialect influences a lot the Standard Italian spoken in the various Italian regions, creating the Italian regional varieties, which are a sort of middle ground between dialect and standard language: Italian spoken in Naples is, for instance, very different from that spoken in Milan in terms of pronunciation, vocabulary and so on. In this case, usually, there is no problem with communication or understanding, but almost every time our Italian reveals from which region we come from.
To give you an idea of the differences between the several Italian dialects, we advise you to watch the video of the famous Roman comedian Enrico Brignano, in which he imitates the main dialects from North to South, Islands included. It is a very funny comedy sketch, because it is rare that one speaker is able to imitate so many dialects in a perfect way! If you don’t understand anything, don’t worry: it is not easy for us either!
After watching Enrico Brignano’s video, let us know in the comments what you have understood and if you have recognised any dialects: which one do you like the most? Which one would you learn?
In addition, if you don’t remember the difference between Standard Italian and dialect, we remind you that we have talked about it in this lesson: Who speaks STANDARD Italian? What’s the PURE ACCENT? How many DIALECTS are there?