Member Login:

Piron, ghèi, cerasa:

Piron, ghèi, cerasa:

Italiano? No, dialetto!

Italiano? No, dialetto!

Piron (from the Greek - Piroúni) - Fork, in the Veneto region.

  Ghèi (from the German - Geld) – Money, in Milan.

  Cerasa (from the Latin - Cerasum) – Cherry, in Napoli.

As we learn about the twenty regions of Italy, we come across a variety of dialects spoken around the Belpaese (or beautiful country). Why so many dialects? What is their origin?  As the Roman empire extended its borders, Latin spread throughout the Mediterranean area and overlapped the local languages. Rome did not impose the use of Latin in its new territories, therefore the process of language assimilation occurred through different modalities and events.

With the barbarian invasions of the Roman empire starting in 375 C.E., the newly created Latin-influenced languages in conjunction with the languages of the invaders, generated localized dialects, according to scholars.

Dialects are not a corruption of the Italian language, as originally thought. Both Italian and most of its dialects owe their origin to Latin. However, Italian and its dialects differ in their use. The former is the official language of the Republic of Italy, San Marino and the Canton Ticino in Switzerland; while the latter, are languages spoken among family and friends and transmitted orally from one generation to the other within specific geographical areas.

Present day Italian is largely based on the Florentine dialect. Starting in 1300, this dialect spread beyond Florence thanks to the literary works of Dante, Petrarca and Boccaccio that circulated among the educated social classes. However, in 1861, the year of Italy’s unification, the majority of the population was largely illiterate and spoke many dialects. The creation of a public-school system at the onset of the unification built the identity of one country using one common idiom, the Florentine dialect. After the Second World War, further uniformity of the language from North to South was created through state run television channels using educational programs that made standard Italian official.

Dialects have also always held a place in Italian arts. Throughout the centuries, writers and poets used dialects in their works. As early as the 17th century, Carlo Goldoni wrote comedies in Venetian; in the 19th century, Gioachino Belli composed sonnets in Romanesco (the Roman dialect). Similarly, the poet Carlo Porta made use of Milanese. More recently in the 20th century, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s poems were in Friulan, while Tonino Guerra drew from the dialect of Emilia Romagna. Let’s not forget Eduardo De Filippo, one of the most original Italian playwrights, whose plays are in Neapolitan.

In today’s Italy, both the Italian language and its dialects coexists peacefully. Dialects express the legacy of the past, a connection to one’s own roots, and a sense of belonging to a local community. They reflect values, humor, and a vision of life.  They make their speakers feel at home even when they are away. As the writer Camilleri famously said, dialect is: “La lingua degli affetti” – the language of the loved ones.

In addition to dialects, the Italian Constitution recognizes and safeguards 12 linguistic minorities of other languages spoken on the Italian territory: Albanian, Catalan, German, Greek, Slovene, Croatian, French, Franco-Provencal, Friulan, Ladin, Occitan, and Sardinian. The co-existence of these languages and dialects does not diminish the value of their common language, Italian; rather, it enriches the cultural and linguistic heritage of the country.

YouTube Video on Italian Dialects

Written By: The ICC Editorial Team and Paola Disconzi 


The Italian Cultural Center of Minneapolis/St. Paul is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization
  250 Third Ave N., Suite 625 | Minneapolis, MN 55401 | (612) 295-4111 

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software