Languages of Italy

Languages of Italy
Linguistic map of Italy - Legend.svg
Regional and minority languages of Italy[1][2][3][4][not in citation given]
Official languagesItalian
Regional languagessee "legal status"
Minority languagessee "legal status"
Main immigrant languagesSpanish, Albanian, Arabic, Romanian, Hungarian, and Romani
Main foreign languages
Sign languagesItalian Sign Language
Common keyboard layouts
Italian QWERTY
Italian Keyboard layout.svg
SourceSpecial Eurobarometer, Europeans and their Languages, 2006
Communities recognized by Italy as historical language minorities.[5]

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][not in citation given]

Legal status

Recognition at the European level

Italy is a signatory of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, but has not ratified 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.[8] 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.[17][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);[19]
    • German is unofficial but recognised in the Lys Valley (Lystal) (Le Statut spécial de la Vallée d'Aoste, Title VIe, Art. 40 - bis).[19]
  • 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);[21] (Legge regionale 16 novembre 2007, n. 26, Art. 16).[22]
  • Lombardy:
    • Lombard is unofficial but recognised as the regional language (Legge regionale 25/2016).[23]
  • Piedmont:
    • Piedmontese is unofficial but recognised as the regional language (Consiglio Regionale del Piemonte, Ordine del Giorno n. 1118, Presentato il 30/11/1999);[24][25]
    • the region "promotes", without recognising, the Occitan, Franco-Provençal, French and Walser languages (Legge regionale 7 aprile 2009, n. 11, Art. 1).[26]
  • Sardinia:
  • Sicily:
    • Sicilian is unofficial but recognised as the regional language (Legge regionale 9/2011).[28]
  • 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);[29]
  • Trentino:
    • Ladin, Cimbrian and Mòcheno are unofficial but recognised in (Statuto speciale per il Trentino-Alto Adige, Titolo XI, Articolo 102).[29]
  • Veneto:
    • Venetian is unofficial but recognised (Legge regionale 13 aprile 2007, n. 8, Art. 2, comma 2).[30]