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The ‘Italian’ dialects least understood by Italians


Although Italian is the official language of Italy, it’s not widely known that the country boasts some 34 spoken languages and/or related “dialects” that can be subdivided into hundreds more. The majority of these languages are Romance-based, meaning that they evolved from Vulgar Latin. At what point, though, is the language considered a language or a dialect? This is the case for two such Mediterranean languages – one connected to Italy geographically and culturally, but not politically. The other is an Italian territory. They are respectively Corsica and Sardinia.

We hope that you will find the lesson interesting and after reading it, draw on what you personally think about whether Sardinian and Corsican are distinct languages or Italian dialects.

Sardinian is the least understandable “dialect” for an Italian. Note in the headline the word, Italian in quotation marks and in the opening sentence quotation marks around the word dialect. The reason being to point out the simple fact that Sardinian is not an Italian dialect, but a Romance language that has evolved separate from all the other languages of the continent. Italian and Sardinian are both Romance languages, but the kinship ends there, they are related as much as Italian and Portuguese are. Sardinian within the Romanza family does not even belong to the same subgroup of which Italian or any other language of Italy or the continent belongs, but forms a subgroup of its own, that of Romanza Insulare. The Romanza Insulare are separate from the Western group which includes French, northern Italian dialects, Occitan, Catalan, Spanish, Portuguese, just as it is separated from the Eastern group which includes Italian, central-southern Italian dialects, and Romanian.

Moreover, thanks to Sardinia’s geographical isolation, Sardinian is the Romance language that has had less external influences and according to linguists the language most similar to Latin than any other existing language.

Just to give an idea of what Sardinian is like, here are some sentences in Sardinian Logudorese / Nuorese, spoken in the center-north of the island, one of the two variants in which the Sardinian language is divided, the other is Campidanese, spoken to the south. Of the two variants, Logudorese / Nuorese is the one that has remained more similar to Latin.

The men are in the house.
Italian: Gli uomini sono in casa. Sardinia’s north: Sos homines sun in domo.

We go out early tomorrow.
Italian: Domani usciamo presto. Sardinia’s north: Cras essimus chito.

Let’s go eat at my brother’s house.
Italian: Andiamo a mangiare a casa di mio fratello.
Sardinia’s north: Andamus to send a domo de frade meu.

My brother is older than me.
Italian: Mio fratello è più grande di me.
Sardinia’s north: Frade meu est piùs mannu de a mie.

There are two bad dogs in my sister’s house.
Italian: In casa di mia sorella ci sono due cani cattivi.
Sardinia’s north: In domo de sorre mea bi sun duos canes malos.

We are afraid of them and cannot enter the door.
Italian: Noi abbiamo paura di loro e non possiamo entrare dalla porta.
Sardinia’s north: Nois los timímus and no podimus intrare dae sa janna.

Now let’s take the topic one step further. To Sardinia’s north lies the island of Corsica. Though the island is now a French territory, the people are italic in origin with a language related to another Romanza Insulare language, Corsican. Both Sardinian and Corsican derive from the same dialect of Vulgar Latin, the so-called Insular Latin, which had separated from Continental Latin as early as the 2nd century AD. However, both Sardinian and Corsican still share a good part of the old insular vocabulary, which exists only in Sardinian and Corsican and not in Italian. The Corsican vulgar begins to diverge from the Sardinian one after the 10th century, when Corsica was colonized by the republic of Pisa, which brings its own Italian-type Vulgar to the island which is grafted onto the Corsican vulgar, modifying it and making it more similar and comprehensible to Italians, as opposed to Sardinian. However, the Corsican has kept the old insular vocabulary which is incomprehensible to an Italian, but not to a Sardinian.

Examples :
Corso – Sardo Logudorese – Italiano
tandu – tando (allora) then
falà – falare (scendere) descend
pesà – pesare (alzarsi) get up
aiò – ajò (andiamo) we go, let’s go
metzánu – metzánu (scadente, di bassa qualità, sciupato) damaged, spoiled
corciu – su cortzu (il poveretto, la buonanima) poor soul, good soul
muccighile – mutzighile (muso) snout
ghjàcaru (cane) – jàgaru (cane da caccia) hunting dog
brocciu – brotzu (ricotta) ricotta
tzìntzala – tzìntzula (zanzara) mosquito

Our conclusion, it is very likely that if the Pisans had not colonized Corsica, the language would have developed more similar to Sardinian rather than its distant relationship with the Tuscan dialect, which Corsican also has.

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