Speaking the Lingo…

Dialects have existed for many years and in many languages; some languages are known to have more dialects than others, and Italian is certainly up there.

Halfway through the 20th Century, Italian dialects became less prominent due to a series of different factors; families began to replace dialect with standard Italian to communicate amongst themselves and academic staff were required to master standard Italian as this was the language taught in schools. Despite perhaps not being as prominent as they once were, dialects are still present throughout Italy. Italians often switch from dialect to standard Italian, depending on how formal they need to be and who they are talking to. Non-native speakers of Italian have all encountered dialects when travelling in Italy, finding some easier to understand than others. The ones we’ve personally struggled with the most are bergamasco (Bergamo), romanesco (Rome), messinese (Messina, Sicily) and the Veneto dialect.

Regional Italian is a version of standard Italian that is unique to a specific region; mostly spoken, regional Italian is the language used in everyday life. Linguist Tullio De Mauro states that there are four main varieties of regional Italian: the Northern variety, the Tuscan variety, the Roman variety and the Southern variety.

Meanwhile, dialects are not a variation or a derivation of standard Italian; instead, they simply exist alongside it (and existed many years before it). Mostly spoken, rather than written, there are hundreds of Italian dialects and they are often non-intelligible between different regions, as they are often more similar to other European languages than to Italian itself. The La Spezia/Rimini isogloss (an imaginary line that creates a geographic divide between one particular linguistic area and another) divides northern dialects, belonging to western romance languages, and central and southern dialects, belonging to eastern romance languages. To see just how many dialects are used in Italy, have a look at the following map:


As part of working in a linguistically diverse environment, surrounded by colleagues from different regions of Italy, here at Intrawelt we notice a selection of different dialects around us. Some words of the dialetto marchigiano are relatively easy to work out as they are similar to standard Italian; others however are completely undecipherable to other Italians, let alone non-natives!


For example, Italians outside the Marche region might be able to understand these dialectal words:

gambià = cambiare (to change)

pacènsa = pazienza (patience)

trosomarì = rosmarino (rosemary)

arburu = albero (tree)

vusciardo = bugiardo (liar)


Whereas these may prove slightly more difficult to decipher:

mizzù = ubriaco (drunk)

frélla = zanzara (mosquito)

acciaccarelle = nocciole (hazelnuts)

cillittu = uccellino (small bird)

ciucu = piccolo (small)

mandì = tovaglia (tablecloth)

schiantulìn = racemolo d’uva (bunch of grapes)

Dialects can be complicated, but here at Intrawelt we don’t let that phase us! Just like Giacomo Leopardi, our neighbour from Recanati, we appreciate that “a dictionary can embrace only a small part of the vast tapestry of a language”, and we want to embrace all of it!

(Un vocabolario può contenere solo una piccola parte del patrimonio di una lingua). Source: omniglot.com

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