Monday, January 6, 2014

Language Profile: Lombard

Today we're looking at Lombard, a less-known member of the Romance language family. It is primarily spoken in Lombardy, the region in northern Italy home to the city of Milan, as well as parts of southern Switzerland.

Lombard doesn't hold any official status in Italy. This is because the Italian government considers it to be a dialect of Italian, despite the fact that it belongs to a different part of the Romance language family tree. Most linguists, as well as the Ethnologue, consider Lombard to be a distinct language from Italian. In fact, the language is more closely related to Friulian and Occitan than Italian.

A 19th century depiction of
Milan's famous opera house, La Scala
The language has two main varieties that are mutually intelligible but do have some phonological differences. The Western Lombard dialect is spoken in Switzerland and parts of Italy near Milan. Eastern Lombard, on the other hand, is spoken in the area near the Italian cities of Bergamo and Brescia. 

In Italy, the majority of Lombard speakers belong to older generations, as most young people tend to only speak Italian due to the influence of school and television. The use of minority languages is often not socially prestigious in Italy, and has been historically discouraged by Italian politicians as well. However, Lombard is widely spoken in some areas of Italy, such as Lake Como, Bergamo, and Brescia. In recent years, it has also been increasingly used by musicians as a way to express their local identity.

For the most part, Lombard seems to be faring much better in Switzerland than in Italy. The Swiss city of Bellinzona is home to the Centro di dialettologia e di etnografia, a research institution that studies various Lombard dialects and has published a five volume dictionary that covers all the Lombard varieties spoken in Switzerland. The language is also used in radio and television broadcasts in the area.