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 languages Italian
Regional languages see " legal status"
Minority languages see " legal status"
Main immigrant languages Spanish, Albanian, Arabic language, Romanian, Hungarian, and Romani
Main foreign languages English (34%)
French (16%)
Spanish (11%)
German (5%)
Other regional language (6%)
Sign languages Italian Sign Language
Common keyboard layouts
Italian QWERTY
Italian Keyboard layout.svg
Source Special Eurobarometer, Europeans and their Languages, 2006
Communities recognized by Italy as historical language minorities. [5]

There are approximately thirty-four 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 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 erroneously implies that the languages spoken in Italy are actual "dialects" of Standard Italian in the prevailing linguistic sense of " varieties or variations of a language."[ citation needed] This is generally not the case in regards to the languages of Italy, as they are, for the most part, not varieties of Standard Italian. Most of the regional languages of Italy predate Standard Italian and evolved locally from Vulgar Latin and independently of what would become Standard Italian, long before the fairly recent spread of Standard Italian throughout Italy. [8] 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 better classified as separate languages that evolved independently from Latin, rather than "dialects" or variations of the Standard Italian language. [9] [10] Conversely, with the spread of Standard Italian throughout Italy in the 20th century, local varieties of Standard Italian influenced to varying extents by the underlying local languages, most noticeably at the phonological level, have also developed throughout the peninsula; though regional boundaries seldom correspond to isoglosses distinguishing these varieties, they 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. [11][ 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 is yet to ratify the treaty, and therefore its provisions protecting regional languages do not apply in the country. [12]

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". [13]

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). [14] The selection of those varieties to the exclusion of numerous others is a matter of some controversy. [15] The law also makes a distinction between those who are considered minority groups (Albanians, Catalans, Germanic peoples indigenous to Italy, Greeks, Slovenes and Croats) [16] and those who are not (all the others). [14]

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); [18] German is unofficial but recognised in the Lys Valley (Lystal) (Le Statut spécial de la Vallée d'Aoste, Title VIe, Art. 40 - bis). [18]
  • 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); [19] (Legge regionale 16 novembre 2007, n. 26, Art. 16). [20]
  • Piedmont: Piedmontese is unofficial but recognised as the regional language (Consiglio Regionale del Piemonte, Ordine del Giorno n. 1118, Presentato il 30/11/1999); [21] [22] the region "promotes", without recognising, the Occitan, Franco-Provençal, French and Walser languages (Legge regionale 7 aprile 2009, n. 11, Art. 1). [23]
  • Sardinia: Sardinian, Sassarese and Gallurese are unofficial but recognised and promoted "enjoying the same dignity and standing of Italian" (Legge regionale 15 ottobre 1997, n. 26) [24] in their respective territories, as well as Catalan in the city of Alghero and Tabarchino in the islands of Sulcis. [24]
  • Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol: 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); [25] Ladin, Cimbrian and Mòcheno are unofficial but recognised in their respective territories (Statuto speciale per il Trentino-Alto Adige, Titolo XI, Articolo 102). [25]
  • Veneto: Venetian is unofficial but recognised (Legge regionale 13 aprile 2007, n. 8, Art. 2, comma 2). [26]
  • Sicily: Sicilian is unofficial but recognised as the regional language (Legge regionale 9/2011) [27].
  • Apulia: Griko, Arbëresh and Franco-Provençal minority languages are safeguarded (Legge regionale 5/2012) [28].
  • Lombardy: Lombard is unofficial but recognised as the regional language (Legge regionale 25/2016) [29].