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Regional Italian (Italian: italiano regionale), sometimes also called dialects of Italian, is any regional[note 1] variety of the Italian language. Such regional varieties and standard Italian exist along a sociolect continuum, and are not to be confused with the actual languages of Italy[note 2] that predate the national tongue or any regional dialect thereof. The various forms of Regional Italian have phonological, prosodic and lexical features which originate from the underlying substrate of the original language.
The various Tuscan, Corsican and Central Italian dialects are, to some extent, the closest ones to Standard Italian in terms of linguistic features, since the latter is based on a somewhat polished form of Florentine.
Regional Italian and the languages of Italy
The difference between Regional Italian and the actual languages of Italy, often imprecisely referred to as dialects, is exemplified by the following: in Venetian, the language spoken in Veneto, "we are arriving" would be translated into sémo drio rivàr, which is quite distinct from the Standard Italian stiamo arrivando. In the regional Italian of Veneto, the same expression would be stémo rivando or siamo dietro ad arrivare. The same relationship holds throughout the rest of Italy: the local dialect of standard Italian is usually influenced by the underlying regional language, which can be very different from Italian with regard to phonology, morphology, syntax, and vocabulary. Anyone who knows Standard Italian well can usually understand Regional Italian, while not managing to grasp the regional languages.
Many contemporary Italian regions already had different substrata before the conquest of Italy and the islands by the ancient Romans: Northern Italy had a Celtic (the part of Italy where those languages were prevalent was known as Gallia Cisalpina, "Gallia on this side of the Alps"), a Ligurian and a Venetic substratum. Central Italy had an Etruscan substratum, Southern Italy had an Italic and Greek substratum, and finally Sardinia had a Nuragic and Punic substratum. These languages in their respective territories contributed in creolising Latin, the official language of the Roman Empire.
Even though the Sicilian School, using the Sicilian language, had been prominent earlier, by the 14th century the Tuscan dialect of Florence had gained prestige once Dante Alighieri, Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch) and Giovanni Boccaccio all wrote major works in it: the Divina Commedia, the Canzoniere and the Decameron. It was up to Pietro Bembo, a Venetian, to identify Florentine as the language for the peninsula in the Prose della volgar lingua in which he set up Petrarch as the perfect model. Italian, however, was a literary language and so was a written rather than spoken language, except in Tuscany and Corsica.
The creation of a unified Italian language was the main goal of Alessandro Manzoni, who advocated building a national language mainly derived from Florence's vernacular with some inputs from Lombard and Venetian. Italian was then an unwieldy means for expressing thought. Having lived in Paris for a long time, Manzoni had noticed that French, on the contrary, was a very lively language, spoken by ordinary people in the city's streets. The only Italian city where common people spoke something similar to literary Italian was Florence, so he thought that Italians should choose Florentine as the basis for the national language.
The Italian Peninsula's history of fragmentation and colonization by foreign powers (especially France, Spain and Austria-Hungary) between the fall of the Western Roman Empire and its unification in 1861 played a considerable role in further jeopardizing the linguistic situation. When the unification process took place, the newly founded country used Italian mainly as a literary language. Many Romance and non-Romance regional languages were spoken throughout the Italian Peninsula and the islands, each with their own local dialects. Following Italian unification Massimo Taparelli, marquis d'Azeglio, one of Cavour's ministers, is said to have stated that while Italy had been created, there still was to create Italians (that is, a common national identity).
Italian as a spoken language was born in two "linguistic labs" consisting of the metropolitan areas in Milan and Rome, which functioned as magnets for internal migration. Immigrants were only left with the national language as a lingua franca to communicate with both the locals and other immigrants. After unification, Italian started to be taught at primary schools and its use by ordinary people increased considerably, along with mass literacy. The regional dialects of Italian, as a product of standard Italian clashing with the regional languages, were also born.
The various regional languages would be retained by the population as their normal means of expression until the 1950s, when breakthroughs in literacy and the advent of TV broadcasting made Italian become more and more widespread, usually in its regional varieties.
This section may stray from the topic of the article. (September 2013)
The solution to the so-called language question, which concerned Manzoni, came to the nation as a whole in the second half of the 20th century by television, as its widespread adoption as a popular household appliance in Italy was the main factor in helping all Italians learn the common national language regardless of class or education level.
At roughly the same time, many southerners moved to the north to find jobs. The powerful trade unions successfully campaigned against the use of dialects to maintain unity among the workers. The use of Standard Italian helped the southerners, whose "dialects" were not mutually intelligible with those of northerners, assimilate. The large number of mixed marriages, especially in large industrial cities such as Milan and Turin, resulted in a generation that could speak only Standard Italian and usually only partly understand their parents' "dialects".
Primarily within North American Italian diaspora communities, Italian dialects that have nearly died out in Italy have been preserved in several major cities across Australia, Canada and the United States. That is due, in large part, to older-generation immigrants, often with low levels of education, having left Italy during or before World War II and maintaining little contact with either Italy or Standard Italian. A significant number of endangered dialects have survived, passed on from one generation to another to varying degrees. They have kept innumerable archaisms as well as adopted linguistic features and lexical borrowings from American English, Canadian English, Canadian French, and Latin American Spanish, respective to the milieu of the individual community in question.
To a much smaller degree, a similar situation occurred in Middle Eastern-Italian communities, namely those of Egypt and Lebanon, as well as South American-Italian diasporas in Argentina and Brazil. Italian diasporas within Europe tend to maintain much stronger ties with Italy and also have easier access to Italian television, which almost exclusively broadcasts in the standard language.
Characteristics of regional Italian
Establishing precise boundaries is very difficult in linguistics, and this operation at the limit can be accomplished for individual phenomena (such as the realization of a sound), but not for all of them: it is necessary to proceed in part by abstractions. In general, an isogloss is an imaginary line that marks the boundary of a linguistic phenomenon. The line traditionally referred to as La Spezia-Rimini (though it is currently moving to the Massa-Senigallia line) is an important isogloss for Southern Europe, which delimits a continuum of languages and dialects characterized by similar phenomena that differ from others for these same phenomena.
This imaginary line is used here to define not only a boundary between dialect groups, but also between Northern regional Italian on the one hand and Central and Southern regional Italian on the other. Other well-defined areas are the Tuscan, the extreme Southern Italian (comprising the peninsular part of Calabria, Salento and Sicily), and finally the Sardinian ones.
Based on borders like La Spezia-Rimini, here are the most well-identified groups of regional Italian.
Northern regional Italian is characterized by a different distribution of the open and closed e and o ([e, ɛ, o, ɔ]) compared to the Florentine model, particularly evident in Milan, where the open e is pronounced at the end of the word (perché [perˈkɛ]) or in the word body in closed syllable (i.e. followed by consonant: stesso [ˈstɛsːo]) and the closed e in word body in open syllable (i.e. not followed by consonant: bene [ˈbeːne]). Except for the extreme Ligurian Levante, in Liguria, and especially in the capital, there is the opposite phenomenon: there is a tendency to close all the e even where the Italian standard does not envisage it. In Genoa for example the names Mattèo, Irène, Emanuèle and the name of the city itself are pronounced with the closed e; Moreover, there is no difference in the pronunciation of the word pesca either to mean "peach" (standard [ˈpɛska]) and "fishing" (standard [ˈpeska]).
A characteristic of the North in opposition to the South is the almost always voiced ([z]) consonant in intervocalic position, whereas in the south it is always voiceless: [ˈkɔːza] vs. [ˈkɔːsa]. Also in opposition to the south, the north is characterized by the reduction of phonosyntactic doubling at the beginning of the word (after vowels) and the almost total abandonment of the preterite tense in verb forms as it is not present in the majority of Gallo-italic languages (they are replaced by the present perfect).
In the vocabulary are used words like anguria (also common in Sardinia and Sicily), which means "watermelon", instead of cocomero, bologna for mortadella (but not everywhere), piuttosto che ("rather than") in the sense of "or" and not "instead", etc. The latter, in particular, is a custom that has begun to spread also in other areas of Italy, stirring up linguistic concern, as it is used with a semantic sense in contrast to that of standard Italian.
In Tuscany and especially in Florence, the Tuscan gorgia is very well known. That is, the lenition of the occlusive consonants in the post-vocal position, even at the beginning of the word if the previous word ends up by vowel: la casa "the house" [la ˈhaːsa], even to its total disappearance. Always in phonetics there is a decrease in the diphthong uo (ova, scola, bona instead of uova, scuola, buona), while in the syntax a tripartite system of demonstrative adjectives is in use: questo ("this") to indicate something close to the speaker (first person), codesto (lost in the other varieties) for something close to the contact person (second person), or quello "that" for something far from both (third person). We also note the use of the impersonal formula to the first plural person: noi si va instead of noi andiamo ("we are going") and the replacement of the pronoun pronounced second person singular with the form of the pronoun object: Te che fai stasera? instead of Tu che fai stasera? ("What are you doing tonight?"). There are several cases of this phenomenon even in the written language. Also typical of several areas including Tuscany is the use of the article before a female given name (la Elena, la Giulia); such use has passed from Tuscany to other regions, when used in front of the surname of known characters, particularly of the past (il Manzoni). In the vocabulary there is the use of spenge instead of spegne ("extinguishes") or words like balocco instead of giocattolo ("toy"), busse instead of percosse or botte ("beatings"), rena instead of sabbia ("sand"), cencio instead of panno ("cloth").
It should be pointed out that the Tuscan historical dialects (including Corsican) belong to the same linguistic system of Italian, with minimal morphological and lexical differences compared to standard Italian, so from this point of view there is no substantial difference between local and regional Italian dialect;[clarification needed] there are some differences in the pronunciation of consonants, because of phenomena such as the Tuscan gorgia, which have never entered the standard Italian.
Central and Southern Italy
Central and Southern regional Italian is characterized by the usage of the affricate consonants in place of fricatives after nasal consonants (insomma [inˈtsomːa] instead of [inˈsomːa]), and by the doubling of the g's and b's (abile [ˈabːi.le] instead of [ˈaːbi.le], regina [reˈdːʒiːna] instead of [reˈdʒiːna]). A popular trait in the everyday southern speech is the usage of the apocope of the final syllable of the words, (ma' for mamma "mom", professo' for professore "professor", compa' for compare "buddy, homie" etc.).
In continental Southern Italy there is a different distribution of closed and open vowels (The pronounce "giòrno" with an open o is very widespread in Campania for example), while in Calabria, Salento and Sicily closed vowels are completely missing and speakers just pronounce open vowels ([ɛ, ɔ]), while in the other regions the discrepancies with the pronunciation Standards are minor (albeit relevant) and non-homogeneous; on the Adriatic side is more evident, as in certain areas of central-east Abruzzo (Chieti-Sulmona), largely in central-northern Apulia (Foggia-Bari-Taranto), and in eastern Basilicata (Matera) where it is present The so-called "syllabic isocronism": free syllable vowels are all pronounced closed and those in close syllables all open (see the well-known example un póco di pòllo instead of un pòco di póllo "a bit of chicken"); Even in the Teramo area (northern Abruzzo), and up to Pescara, the vowels are pronounced with a single open sound (for example dove volete andare stasera? [ˈdɔːvɛ vɔˈlɛːtɛ anˈdaːrɛ staˈsɛːra], Thus showing an inexplicable coincidence with the phonetic outcomes of Sicily and Calabria, although there is no direct link with them. As already mentioned here, the intervocalic s is always voiced, and the use of the preterite is also frequent instead of the use of the present perfect. In continental southern Italy, from Rome down to Calabria, possessive pronouns often are placed after the noun: for example il libro mio instead of il mio libro ("my book").
Another characteristic of regional Italian varieties in central and southern Italy is the deaffrication of the letter c between vowels or at the beginning of a word followed by a vowell: in almost all peninsular Italy from Tuscany to Sicily luce is pronounced [ˈluːʃe] instead of [ˈluːtʃe], cena is pronounced [ˈʃeːna] instead of [ˈtʃeːna] as it is pronounced in northern Italy and in standard Italian.
Based on the significant linguistic distance between the Sardinian language (and any other traditionally spoken in Sardinia) and Italian, the Sardinianised Italian emerging from the contact between such languages is to be considered a group of its own and its features can not be directly ascribed to either the Northern or the Southern Italian varieties. It is to be pointed out that, while the Sardinian phonetics and the introduction of Sardinian words in a full Italian conversation are common, especially if they are Italianised in the process (e.g. tzurpu "blind", scimpru "dumb" and babbu "father" becoming ciurpo, scimpro and babbo respectively), the regional Sardinian variety of Italian embracing almost any of the following syntactic and morphological changes is placed on the low end of the diastratic spectrum, and its usage (while relatively common among the less educated) is not positively valued by both the bilingual Sardinian speakers, who regard it as neither Sardinian nor Italian and nickname it italianu porcheddìnu ("piggy Italian", standing for "broken Italian"), and the Italian monolinguals from Sardinia and the other parts of the country.
In Sardinianised Italian, the verb is usually sent back to the end of the sentence, especially in any exclamatory and interrogative sentences used in the direct speech (e.g. Legna vi serve? "Are you in need of wood?" from the Sardinian Linna bos serbit?, compared with the standard Italian Avete bisogno di legna?). It is also common for the interrogative sentences to use a pleonastic tutto, from the Sardinian totu, like in Cosa tutto hai visto? "What have you seen?" from Ite totu as bidu? compared with the standard Italian Cosa hai visto?. The present continuous makes use of the verb essere "to be" like in English rather than stare (e.g. Sempre andando e venendo è! "He/She is always walking up and down" from Semper/Sempri andande e beninde est! compared with the standard Italian Sta sempre andando e venendo!): that is because the present continuous built with verb stare does not, in such regional variety, express the idea of an action ongoing at a certain point, but rather something that will take place in the very near future, almost on the point of happening (e.g. Sto andando a scuola with the meaning of "I'm about to go to school" rather than "Right now as we speak, I'm going to school"). It is also common to use antiphrastic formulas which are alien to Italian, by means of the particle già (Sard. jai / giai) which is similar to the German use of ja... schon especially for ironic purposes, in order to convey sardonic remarks (e.g. Già sei tutto studiato, tu! "You're so well educated!" from Jai ses totu istudiatu, tue! which roughly stands for "You are so ignorant and full of yourself!", or Già è poco bello! "He/It is not so beautiful!" from Jai est pacu bellu! meaning actually "He/It is so beautiful!"). One also needs to take into consideration the presence of a number of other Sardinian-specific idiomatic phrases being literally translated into Italian (like Cosa sembra? "What does it look like?" from Ite paret? meaning "How do you do?" compared to the standard Italian Come stai?, Mi dice sempre cosa! "She/He's always scolding me!" from the Sardinian Semper cosa mi narat! compared to the standard Italian Mi rimprovera sempre!, or again Non fa! "No chance!" from Non fachet! / Non fait! compared to standard Italian Non si può!), that would make little sense to an Italian speaker from another region.
As mentioned earlier, a significant number of Sardinian and other local loanwords (be they Italianised or not) are also present in such regional dialect of Italian (e.g. scacciacqua from the Sardinian parabba / paracua "raincoat", continente "Mainland" and continentale "Mainlander" with reference to the rest of the country and its people as well, etc.). Some words may unintentionally reflect ignorance of the original language on the speaker's part when referring to a singular noun in Italian with Sardinian plurals, due to a lack of understanding of how singular and plurals nouns are formed in Sardinian: common mistakes are "una seadas", "un tenores", etc.
Finally, for what regards phonetics, the regional Italian spoken in Sardinia follows the same five-vowel system of the Sardinian language without length differentiation, rather than the seven-vowel system. Metaphony has also been observed: any tonic e and o ([e, o]) have a closed sound whenever they are followed by a closed vowel (i, u), and they have it open if they are followed by an open one (a, e, o). Hypercorrection is also common when applying the Italian rule of syntactic gemination; intervocalic t, p, v, c are usually elongated. Intervocalic /s/ voicing is the same of Northern Italy, that is [z].
- Regional in the broad sense of the word; not to be confused with the Italian endonym regione for Italy's administrative units
- Notwithstanding their linguistic status, most of the actual languages of Italy (with particular reference to the non-recognised ones) are called "dialects" (dialetti) by the general population.
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