The languages of Italy: Regional dialects & Dante Alighieri – Part 1

Posted on October 9, 2018 in Italy Holidays by Ian Davis Tags:

Worldwide, regional dialects are a point of contention with misinterpretation and outright confusion at the prospect of such diversity in something that one would assume, holds one concrete, unified form. In the English language for instance, Queen’s English is all good and well but the reality is that Britain is so much more than that. Britain is Geordie, Cockney, West Country, Brummie, Glaswegian… and the list goes on.

In a similar, and yet altogether dissimilar way,  there is also often a lot of confusion surrounding Italian dialects. Italian dialects are much more than regional versions of Italian, with just a few word variations pronounced with a different accent. Dialects are proper languages. In fact, they are older than what is now considered, standard Italian.

The Italian nation was created only in 1961 and until that time its territory was very fragmented. The South was mostly under the influence of the Bourbon family, while the French and the Austrians dominated parts of the North. One should also not forget the powerful Catholic Church in the Vatican City. Even in the Middle Ages, the territory of future Italian was characterised by Duchies, Kingdoms, city-states and republics often in conflict with each other.

For centuries the populations inhabiting the various corners of the peninsula had very few contacts with each other and were mainly concerned with dealing with the current rulers. Therefore, when Italy was unified 54 years ago, authorities had a crucial task at hand: to unify the people in order to create one singular nation.

There is no better way to make people feel part of the same community than to give them a common language. For that purpose, Literary Tuscan was selected, which is why Florentine Dante Alighieri, the gentleman in the image, is considered to be the father of Italian language! His literary work and that of other poets of his time constituted the basis of Standard Italian today.

While Italian was being introduced, regional languages already in use were coexisting next to Italian. In fact, they never ceased to be used in informal and everyday contexts. That is why, to the present day, many Italians still speak, or at least have a certain degree of understanding of their regional dialect in addition to ‘Italian’. In some regions the use of dialect remains strong with even younger generations using it to communicate in their households or in conversations with other locals.

Dialects are generally more used in border regions, on the islands and in areas with a traditionally strong regional identity. It is also important to remember that in urban centres dialects are considerably less used than in rural or mountain areas.

Dialects are only one element of the countless geographic and cultural differences that make Italian regions so different from each other. The more you visit different parts of the country, the more you will discover how every region is unique and brings a fundamental contribution to national culture!​