If you are traveling throughout Italy to practice your language skills, you may notice some words which do not sound Italian at all. Italy is in fact characterized by an extraordinary linguistic diversity: besides the common national language, also called Standard Italian, there are several regional dialects.

One thing you probably don’t know is that Italian as it is spoken today is a dialect itself!

How is this possible?

When Italy was born in 1861, it needed a unitary language instead of the many different local dialects that people had been speaking for centuries. The variety which soon became the Standard Italian was the Fiorentine dialect, mostly because it was the language used by the most influent authors of the time (Dante, Petrarca and Boccaccio), which are considered the fathers of Italian literature.

Since then, given the big role played by the school system and TV in spreading the national language, Italian is becoming more and more popular in every context, especially among the young generations. That being said, dialects are still alive and they are commonly used in more informal contexts, as in the familiar sphere, or to more easily convey cultural specific concepts.

It is possible to describe the linguistic situation of the Italian territory as it follows: there are three major groups of Italian dialects, the Northern, the Central and the Southern dialects, which in turn are subdivided into other smaller groups. To give you a better idea, three of the most popular Italian dialects are presented here:

  • The Venetian is a good example of a Northern dialect: el leto is the Venetian way to name il letto (the bed), double consonants are singularized and the masculine article il is often replaced by el.
  • The most popular Central dialect is probably the one spoken in Rome. The so-called Romanesco has a few deviations from standard Italian: for instance, the article il is substituted by er and the often replaces in words like vorta (volta).
  • Following the worldwide success of movies like “Il Padrino” or tv phenomena such as “Il commisario Montalbano”, the Sicilian dialect is without any doubt the most famous variety among the Southern dialects. Its most unique characteristic is that plural endings of nouns are in i, regardless the gender. The plural of the masculine word uomo (man) will be omini, as well as the plural of the feminine word casa (house), casi.

And you? Have you ever heard anyone speaking an Italian dialect?

Giovanni Nuccio