Languages of Italy

Languages of Italy
Regional and minority languages of Italy [1][2][3][4]
Official languages Italian
Regional languages see "legal status"
Minority languages see "legal status"
Main immigrant languages Spanish, Albanian, Arabic, Romanian, Hungarian, and Romani
Main foreign languages
Sign languages Italian Sign Language
Common keyboard layouts
Italian QWERTY
Source Special Eurobarometer, Europeans and their Languages, 2006

There are approximately thirty-four native living spoken languages and related dialects in Italy,[6] most of which are indigenous evolutions of Vulgar Latin, and are therefore classified as Romance languages. Although they are sometimes referred to as regional languages, there is no uniformity within any Italian region, and speakers from one locale within a region are typically aware of the features distinguishing their local tongue from the one of other places nearby. The official and most widely spoken language across the country is Standard Italian, a direct descendant of Tuscan.

Almost all the Romance languages native to Italy, with the notable exception of Italian, are often colloquially referred to as "dialects", although for some of them the term may coexist with other labels like "minority languages" or "vernaculars".[7] However, the use of the term "dialect" to refer to the languages of Italy may erroneously imply that the languages spoken in Italy are actual "dialects" of Standard Italian in the prevailing linguistic sense of "varieties or variations of a language".[8] This is not the case regarding the longstanding languages of Italy, as they are not varieties of Italian. Most of the local Romance languages of Italy predate Italian and evolved locally from Vulgar Latin, independently of what would become the national language, long before the fairly recent spread of Italian throughout Italy.[9] In fact, Standard Italian is itself either a continuation of, or a dialect heavily based on, Florentine Tuscan. The indigenous local Romance tongues of Italy are therefore classified as separate languages that evolved independently from Latin, rather than "dialects" or variations of the Italian language.[10][11] [12] Conversely, with the spread of Standard Italian throughout Italy in the 20th century, local varieties of Italian have also developed throughout the peninsula, influenced to varying extents by the underlying local languages, most noticeably at the phonological level; though regional boundaries seldom correspond to isoglosses distinguishing these varieties, these variations on Italians are commonly referred to as Regional Italian (italiano regionale).

There are several minority languages that belong to other Indo-European branches, such as Cimbrian (Germanic), Arbëresh (Albanian), the Slavomolisano dialect of Serbo-Croatian (Slavic), and Griko (Hellenic). Other non-indigenous languages are spoken by a substantial percentage of the population due to immigration.[13]

Recognition at the European level

Italy is a signatory of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, but is yet to ratify the treaty, and therefore its provisions protecting regional languages do not apply in the country.[14]

The Charter does not, however, establish at what point differences in expression result in a separate language, deeming it an "often controversial issue", and citing the necessity to take into account, other than purely linguistic criteria, also "psychological, sociological and political considerations".[15]

Recognition by the Italian state

The following minority languages are officially recognized as "historical language minorities" by the Law no. 482/1999: Albanian, Catalan, German, Greek, Slovene, Croatian, French, Franco-Provençal, Friulian, Ladin, Occitan and Sardinian (Legge 15 Dicembre 1999, n. 482, Art. 2, comma 1).[16] The selection of those languages to the exclusion of numerous others is a matter of some controversy.[17] Some interpretations of said law also state that the phrasing would seem to imply a further distinction, considering only some groups (namely Albanians, Catalans, Germanic peoples indigenous to Italy, Greeks, Slovenes and Croats) to be national minorities.[18][16] Nonetheless, the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, signed and ratified by Italy in 1997, applies to all the groups mentioned by the 1999 national law, with the addition of the Romani.

The original Italian Constitution does not explicitly express that Italian is the official national language. Since the constitution was penned there have been some laws and articles written on the procedures of criminal cases passed that explicitly state that Italian should be used:

  • Statute of the Trentino-South Tyrol, (constitutional law of the northern region of Italy around Trento) – "[...] [la lingua] italiana [...] è la lingua ufficiale dello Stato." (Statuto Speciale per il Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, Art. 99, "[...] [the language] Italian [...] is the official language of the State.")
  • Code for civil procedure – "In tutto il processo è prescritto l'uso della lingua italiana. (Codice di procedura civile, Art. 122, "In all procedures, it is required that the Italian language is used.")
  • Code for criminal procedure – "Gli atti del procedimento penale sono compiuti in lingua italiana." (Codice di procedura penale, Art. 109 [169-3; 63, 201 att.], "The acts of the criminal proceedings are carried out in the Italian language.")
  • Article 1 of law 482/1999 – "La lingua ufficiale della Repubblica è l'italiano." (Legge 482/1999, Art. 1 Comma 1, "The official language of the Republic is Italian.")


Recognition by the regions

  • Aosta Valley:
    • French is co-official (enjoying the same dignity and standing of Italian) in the whole region (Le Statut spécial de la Vallée d'Aoste, Title VIe, Article 38);[20]
    • German is unofficial but recognised in the Lys Valley (Lystal) (Le Statut spécial de la Vallée d'Aoste, Title VIe, Art. 40 - bis).[20]
  • Apulia:
  • Friuli-Venezia Giulia:
    • Friulian and Slovene are "promoted", but not recognised, by the region (Legge regionale 18 dicembre 2007, n. 29, Art. 1, comma 1);[22] (Legge regionale 16 novembre 2007, n. 26, Art. 16).[23]
  • Lombardy:
    • Lombard is unofficial but recognised as the regional language (Legge regionale 25/2016)[24].
  • Piedmont:
    • Piedmontese is unofficial but recognised as the regional language (Consiglio Regionale del Piemonte, Ordine del Giorno n. 1118, Presentato il 30/11/1999);[25][26]
    • the region "promotes", without recognising, the Occitan, Franco-Provençal, French and Walser languages (Legge regionale 7 aprile 2009, n. 11, Art. 1).[27]
  • Sardinia:
  • Sicily:
    • Sicilian is unofficial but recognised as the regional language (Legge regionale 9/2011)[29].
  • South Tyrol:
    • German is co-official (enjoying the same dignity and standing of Italian) in the province of South Tyrol (Statuto speciale per il Trentino-Alto Adige, Titolo XI, Articolo 99);[30]
  • Trentino:
    • Ladin, Cimbrian and Mòcheno are unofficial but recognised in (Statuto speciale per il Trentino-Alto Adige, Titolo XI, Articolo 102).[30]
  • Veneto:
    • Venetian is unofficial but recognised (Legge regionale 13 aprile 2007, n. 8, Art. 2, comma 2).[31]

Conservation status

According to the UNESCO's Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger, there are 31 endangered languages in Italy.[32] The degree of endangerment is classified in different categories ranging from 'safe' (safe languages are not included in the atlas) to 'extinct' (when there are no speakers left).[33]

The source for the languages' distribution is the Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger[32] unless otherwise stated, and refers to Italy exclusively.


Definitely endangered

Severely endangered


All living languages indigenous to Italy are part of the Indo-European language family. The source is the SIL's Ethnologue unless otherwise stated.[35] Language classification can be a controversial issue, when a classification is contested by academic sources, this is reported in the 'notes' column.

They can be divided into Romance languages and non-Romance languages.

Romance languages

Gallo-Rhaetian and Ibero-Romance

Language Family ISO 639-3 Dialects spoken in Italy Notes Speakers
FriulianGallo-RomanceGallo-RhaetianRhaetianfur600,000 [36]
CatalanIbero-RomanceEast IberiancatAlgherese20,000
OccitanIbero-RomanceOcociProvençal; Gardiol100,000

Gallo-Italic languages

Language ISO 639-3 Dialects spoken in Italy Notes Speakers
Emiliano-RomagnoloemlEmilian; Romagnol (Forlivese);Emilian and Romagnol have been assigned two different ISO 639-3 codes (egl and rgn, respectively).1,000,000
LigurianlijTabarchino; Mentonasc; Intemelio; Brigasc500,000
LombardlmoWestern Lombard (see Western dialects of Lombard language); Eastern Lombard; Gallo-Italic of Sicily3,600,000
VenetianvecTriestine; Fiuman; Chipilo Venetian; Talian; veneziano LagunarUsually not considered as being Gallo-Italic3,800,000

Italo-Dalmatian languages

Not included is Corsican, which is mainly spoken on the French island of Corsica. Istriot is only spoken in Croatia. Judeo-Italian is moribund.

Language ISO 639-3 Dialects spoken in Italy Notes Speakers
ItalianitaTuscan;National language60,000,000
Central ItaliannapRomanesco; Sabino; Marchigiano5,700,000
NeapolitanitaAbruzzese; Cosentino; Bari dialect3,000,000
SicilianscnSalentino; Southern Calabrian4,700,000

Sardinian language

Sardinian is a distinct language group with significant phonological and lexical differences among its varieties. Ethnologue, not without controversy, even goes as far as considering Sardinian to be four separate languages, all being included along with Corsican and the Corso-Sardinian varieties in a hypothetical subgroup (Southern Romance[37]) which has gained little support from linguists. UNESCO, while seeming to share the same opinion of Ethnologue by calling Gallurese and Sassarese alternately "Sardinian",[32] considers them to be dialects of Corsican rather than Sardinian on the other hand.[32] As is not infrequently the case in such controversies, the linguistic landscape of Sardinia is in principle most accurately described as being, for the most part, a dialect continuum.

Language ISO 639-3 Dialects spoken in Italy Notes Speakers
Campidanese SardiniansroSouthern dialect of Sardinian proper500,000
Logudorese SardiniansrcCentral dialect of Sardinian proper500,000
GalluresesdnOutlying dialect of Corsican100,000
SassaresesdcOutlying dialect of Corsican100,000

Non-Romance languages

Albanian, Slavic, Greek and Romani languages

Language Family ISO 639-3 Dialects spoken in Italy Notes Speakers
ArbëreshAlbanianToskaaeconsidered an outlying dialect of Albanian by the UNESCO[32]100,000
Serbo-CroatianSlavicSouthWesternhbsMolise Croatian1,000
SloveneSlavicSouthWesternslvGai Valley dialect; Resian; Torre Valley dialect; Natisone Valley dialect; Brda dialect; Karst dialect; Inner Carniolan dialect; Istrian dialect 100,000
Italiot GreekHellenic (Greek)AtticellGriko (Salento); Calabrian Greek20,000
RomaniIndo-IranianIndo-AryanCentral ZoneRomanirom

High German languages

Language Family ISO 639-3 Dialects spoken in Italy Notes Speakers
GermanMiddle GermanEast Middle GermandeuTyrolean dialectsAustrian German is the usual standard variety315,000
CimbrianUpper GermanBavarian-Austriancimsometimes considered a dialect of Bavarian, also considered an outlying dialect of Bavarian by the UNESCO[32]2,200
MochenoUpper GermanBavarian-Austrianmhnconsidered an outlying dialect of Bavarian by the UNESCO[32]1,000
WalserUpper GermanAlemannicwae3,400

Geographic distribution

Northern Italy

The Northern Italian languages are conventionally defined as those Romance languages spoken north of the La Spezia–Rimini Line, which runs through the northern Apennine Mountains just to the north of Tuscany; however, the dialects of Occitan and Franco-Provençal spoken in the extreme northwest of Italy (e.g. the Valdôtain in the Aosta Valley) are generally excluded. The classification of these languages is difficult and not agreed-upon, due both to the variations among the languages and to the fact that they share isoglosses of various sorts with both the Italo-Romance languages to the south and the Gallo-Romance languages to the northwest.

One common classification divides these languages into four groups:

Any such classification runs into the basic problem that there is a dialect continuum throughout northern Italy, with a continuous transition of spoken dialects between e.g. Venetian and Ladin, or Venetian and Emilio-Romagnolo (usually considered Gallo-Italian).

All of these languages are considered innovative relative to the Romance languages as a whole, with some of the Gallo-Italian languages having phonological changes nearly as extreme as standard French (usually considered the most phonologically innovative of the Romance languages). This distinguishes them significantly from standard Italian, which is extremely conservative in its phonology (and notably conservative in its morphology). [38]

Southern Italy and islands

Approximate distribution of the regional languages of Sardinia and Southern Italy according to the UNESCO's Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger:

Mother tongues of foreigners

Language (2012)[39][40]Population

Standardised written forms

Although "[al]most all Italian dialects were being written in the Middle Ages, for administrative, religious, and often artistic purposes,"[41] use of local language gave way to stylized Tuscan, eventually labeled Italian. Local languages are still occasionally written, but only the following regional languages of Italy have a standardised written form. This may be widely accepted or used alongside more traditional written forms:

See also


  1. Tagliavini, Carlo (1962). Le origini delle lingue neolatine: introduzione alla filologia romanza. R. Patròn.
  2. "La variazione diatopica". Archived from the original on February 2012.
  3. Archived 7 November 2005 at the Wayback Machine.
  4. AIS, Sprach-und Sachatlas Italiens und der Südschweiz, Zofingen 1928-1940
  5. "Lingue di Minoranza e Scuola: Carta Generale". Retrieved 8 October 2017.
  6. "Italy". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2017-07-22.
  7. Loporcaro 2009; Marcato 2007; Posner 1996; Repetti 2000:1–2; Cravens 2014.
  8. Cravens 2014
  9. Tullio, de Mauro (2014). Storia linguistica dell'Italia repubblicana: dal 1946 ai nostri giorni. Editori Laterza, EAN: 9788858113622
  10. Maiden, Martin; Parry, Mair (March 7, 2006). The Dialects of Italy. Routledge. p. 2.
  11. Repetti, Lori (2000). Phonological Theory and the Dialects of Italy. John Benjamins Publishing. Retrieved 3 November 2015.
  12. Andreose, Alvise; Renzi, Lorenzo (2013), "Geography and distribution of the Romance Languages in Europe", in Maiden, Martin; Smith, John Charles; Ledgeway, Adam, The Cambridge History of the Romance Languages, Vol. 2, Contexts, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 302–308
  13. "Legge 482". Retrieved 2015-10-17.
  14. "Chart of signatures and ratifications of Treaty 148". Council of Europe. Archived from the original on 17 October 2015. Retrieved 17 October 2015.
  15. What is a regional or minority language?, Council of Europe, retrieved 2015-10-17
  16. 1 2 Norme in materia di tutela delle minoranze linguistiche storiche, Italian parliament, retrieved 2015-10-17
  17. Cravens 2014
  18. Archived 16 May 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
  19. "Legge 482". Archived from the original on 9 October 2015. Retrieved 2015-10-17.
  20. 1 2 Statut spécial de la Vallée d'Aoste, Title VIe, Region Vallée d'Aoste, retrieved 2015-10-17
  21. Puglia, QUIregione - Il Sito web Istituzionale della Regione. "QUIregione - Il Sito web Istituzionale della Regione Puglia". QUIregione - Il Sito web Istituzionale della Regione Puglia. Retrieved 2018-06-10.
  22. Norme per la tutela, valorizzazione e promozione della lingua friulana, Regione Autonoma Friuli Venezia Giulia, retrieved 2015-10-17
  23. Norme regionali per la tutela della minoranza linguistica slovena, Regione Autonoma Friuli Venezia Giulia, retrieved 2015-10-17
  24. «L.R. 25/2016 - 1. Ai fini della presente legge, la Regione promuove la rivitalizzazione, la valorizzazione e la diffusione di tutte le varietà locali della lingua lombarda, in quanto significative espressioni del patrimonio culturale immateriale, attraverso: a) lo svolgimento di attività e incontri finalizzati a diffonderne la conoscenza e l'uso; b) la creazione artistica; c) la diffusione di libri e pubblicazioni, l'organizzazione di specifiche sezioni nelle biblioteche pubbliche di enti locali o di interesse locale; d) programmi editoriali e radiotelevisivi; e) indagini e ricerche sui toponimi. 2. La Regione valorizza e promuove tutte le forme di espressione artistica del patrimonio storico linguistico quali il teatro tradizionale e moderno in lingua lombarda, la musica popolare lombarda, il teatro di marionette e burattini, la poesia, la prosa letteraria e il cinema. 3. La Regione promuove, anche in collaborazione con le università della Lombardia, gli istituti di ricerca, gli enti del sistema regionale e altri qualificati soggetti culturali pubblici e privati, la ricerca scientifica sul patrimonio linguistico storico della Lombardia, incentivando in particolare: a) tutte le attività necessarie a favorire la diffusione della lingua lombarda nella comunicazione contemporanea, anche attraverso l'inserimento di neologismi lessicali, l'armonizzazione e la codifica di un sistema di trascrizione; b) l'attività di archiviazione e digitalizzazione; c) la realizzazione, anche mediante concorsi e borse di studio, di opere e testi letterari, tecnici e scientifici, nonché la traduzione di testi in lingua lombarda e la loro diffusione in formato digitale.»
  25. Ordine del Giorno n. 1118, Presentato il 30/11/1999, Consiglio Regionale del Piemonte, retrieved 2015-10-17
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