Monday, December 22, 2014

Country Profile: The Languages of Italy

In today's country profile, we're going to be looking at the linguistic diversity of Italy, one of the most populous countries in Europe. While Italy is often known for its excellent cuisine and fascinating history, it is also home to a diverse array of languages, many of which belong to the Romance language family.

The Official Language

It should come as no surprise that the official language of Italy is Italian. The country is home to approximately 60 million native speakers of the language, which has many regional dialects. However, it is worth noting that some of these so-called Italian dialects are actually distinct Romance languages, and are referred to as dialects primarily for political reasons.

Recognized Minority Languages

In 1999, the Italian government officially recognized 12 languages as minority languages of Italy. Seven of these languages are Romance languages: Catalan, French, Franco-Provençal, Friulian, Ladin, Occitan, and Sardinian. The other five languages are German, Albanian, Greek, Slovene, and Croatian. Most of these languages have fewer than 100,000 speakers in Italy, and therefore make up a very small percentage of the country's population of 60 million people. However, there are approximately 225,000 speakers of German and 300,000 of Friulian, which is spoken primarily in Italy's Friuli region.

Rialto Bridge, Venice
Recognized Regional Languages

As we mentioned earlier, the linguistic classification of some of the Romance varieties in Italy can be quite confusing, as they are generally called dialects of the Italian language despite being distinct languages. Many of these varieties are recognized as regional languages in certain regions of the country. 

For example, Piedmontese is spoken by over 1 million Italians in the Piedmont region, while Sassarese and Gallurese are spoken in Sardinia. Venetian, spoken by nearly 5 million Italians, is also recognized by the region of Veneto.

There are also some German varieties that are recognized in parts of northeastern Italy. These include Cimbrian and Mòcheno, which are thought to be related to Bavarian varieties of German.

Other Languages

While it may seem like we've already mentioned quite a few languages, many more are spoken throughout Italy. There are plenty of other Romance varieties with disputed classifications, as well as numerous foreign languages that have been brought to the country due to immigration. These foreign languages include Arabic, Spanish, Ukrainian, Hindi, Polish, and Tamil.