Who speaks STANDARD Italian? What’s the PURE ACCENT? How many DIALECTS are there?

In the following lesson we are going to examine together the Italian linguistic situation, by making clarity on some topics that fascinate both the Italians and foreign students, but that might create some some difficulties when addressed, namely: what is meant by standard Italian (and how it opposes the various dialects), what is the pure accent and where they’re used and who use them.

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 Standard Italian, Italian dialects and pure accent in Italy

 

First of all, let’s clarify what we mean by:

The Standard Language and the Linguistic Norm

Generally, in linguistic, the concept of standard, refers to a language which is subjected by a normative codification, that is used as a reference model for the correct use and for teaching in schools.

Linguistic Norms, instead, according to the Italian linguist Claudio Giovanardi, can be defined as:

«un insieme di regole che riguardano tutti i livelli della lingua (fonologia, morfologia, sintassi lessico, testualità), accettato da una comunità di parlanti e scriventi (o perlomeno dalla stragrande maggioranza) in un determinato periodo e contesto storico-culturale». (A set of rules which cover all language levels (phonology, morphology, syntax, vocabulary, textuality), that is accepted by a community of speakers and writers (or at least by a vast majority) in a definite period and historical-cultural context)

Thus, it can be considered a social and cultural process that requires 3 elements:

1) professional speakers and writers, who produce sample texts, that are usually considered of great value.

2) normative authorities in matters of language that provide instructions and corrections like, for example, the Accademia della Crusca in Italy.

3) codici linguistici (grammars, dictionaries, ecc.);

 

Standard language and Italian Dialects

After the introduction we’ve made on standard language, we must add that this concept is opposed to the the concept of  dialect.
In Italy, there are thousands and thousands of dialects which are the richest and most diverse Italian linguistic heritage in Europe.

Now, let’s see which are the main differences between the standard language and the dialect:

– the standard language is prestigious and it’s associated with upper classes, while  dialects are usually stigmatized and associated with lower classes.

– the standard language has a codified norm, while dialects don’t.

– the standard language is nationally recognized, while the dialects are regional or local.

– the standard language is  used on a written level and an oral level as well, while dialects are usually used in oral forms.

Besides, it’s worth mentioning that in the history of several languages, one of the dialects in which a certain linguistic space was articulated, became the standard language.

That happens when one of the dialects, for a numbers of reasons, such as:

  • being spoken by the dominant class
  • being used to start a vast literary production
  • being a form of expression used by an economically powerful community 

starts:

  • gaining prestige,
  • expanding its structures
  • extending its functions,

and eventually becoming a fully developed language, ready to be promoted as the linguistic model in which society can identify itself.

That’s the case of Italy, in which the Tuscan Florentine dialect, that was one of the many Vulgar dialects that were spoken in Italy, through its classification as “standard”, allowed the other vernacular languages to evolve into dialects.

Note: “Lingua volgare” is an expression that is used to indicate the languages that were spoken by people in the Middle Age, in Western Europe and that came from Latin, since Classic Latin started to evolve into different forms, from region to region, after the the fall of the Western Roman Empire and a subsequent reduction of communication.

The Origin of Standard Italian and how it’s pronounced

The standard variety of the Italian language is based on Florentine vulgar tongue of the 14th century, that, thanks to the literary prestige brought by Dante Alighieri, Francesco Petrarca and Giovanni Boccaccio and also thanks to the economic and cultural supremacy achieved by Florence, acquired the status of literary language with the necessary requirements to respond the need of a suitable single language fitting the cultural renewal of the Renaissance.
In the first half of the 16th century, with the early language’s grammars spreading the Florentine style throughout Italy and making it a literary language, several norms of Italian language were established, codifying it as a standard language.

The release of some works particularly affected the the standardization of Italian language, namely:

– “Prose della volgar lingua“, written by Pietro Bembo, released in Venice in 1525,

– “La Grammatichetta vaticana” written by Leon Battista Alberti

– the first edition of the “Vocabolario degli Accademici della Crusca“, released in 1612 (followed by several revised and enlarged edition over time)

However, standard Italian has never totally coincided with the Florentine style, actually, since the 17th century it has started to welcome innovation of various origins, distancing itself even further from the Florentine style after the Italian Unification.

As regards the standard pronunciation, things get a little complicated.

In fact, as stated by Gian Luigi Beccaria:

l’italiano di pronuncia standard è una realtà linguistica in buona parte astratta, comunque nettamente minoritaria nell’uso effettivo posseduto solo dal l’1% della popolazione italiana”. (Italian standard pronunciation is an abstract linguistic reality, however significantly of a minor usage , owned by only 1% of Italian population)

He has also stated:

 “in Italia, chi più chi meno, tutti parlano con qualche venatura regionale. Non c’è nessuno in Italia che possieda l’italiano standard come lingua materna.” (in Italy, more or less everyone speaks with some regional influence. There’s no one who speaks the pure standard Italian)

 

WATCH OUT: Even though Italian mostly comes from Tuscan Florentine style, there are a few characteristics in the pronunciation of modern Tuscan Florentine which differ a lot from the standard pronunciation. Therefore the Florentines don’t possess a pure standard pronunciation.

In fact, that 1% of Italian population who has mastery of pure standard pronunciation, mentioned by Beccaria, corresponds to show people, journalists and TV anchors who have attended courses of diction.

 

Anyway, the standard pronunciation is not a key aspect for those who study Italian; what is truly important is speaking properly, by using an appropriate and correct grammar as well as a proper vocabulary for every context and situation. In this regard, we suggest you to take advantage of our offer 2×1, that, for only 69€, you’ll have access to our course Italiano in Contesto and a digital copy of our book Italiano Colloquiale that will help you to learn the Italian that is spoken everyday in various contexts and the most used expressions in informal contexts.

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