Languages of Italy

For dialects of the Italian language (which are influenced by these regional languages), see Regional Italian.
Languages of Italy

Languages of Italy by groups[1][2][3][4]
Official languages Italian
Regional languages see "legal status"
Minority languages see "legal status"
Main immigrant languages Spanish, Albanian, Romanian, Hungarian, and Romani
Main foreign languages English (34%)
French (16%)
Spanish (11%)
German (5%)
Other regional language (6%)
Sign languages Italian Sign Language
Common keyboard layouts
Italian QWERTY
Source Special Eurobarometer, Europeans and their Languages, 2006
Communities recognized by Italy as historical language minorities.[5]

There are a number of regional languages spoken to varying degrees in Italy, most of which belong to various branches of the Romance languages and are hence descendants of Vulgar Latin. The official and most widely spoken language is Italian, a descendant of Tuscan.

All Romance varieties spoken in Italy, except Standard Italian, are often colloquially referred to as "dialects", although for some of them the term may coexist with other labels like "minority languages" or "vernaculars".[6] However, the use of the term "dialect" to refer to the languages of Italy erroneously implies that the languages spoken in Italy are actual "dialects" in the prevailing linguistic sense of "varieties or variations of a language." This is generally not the case in regards to the languages of Italy, as they are, for the most part, not varieties of Standard Italian. Most of the regional languages of Italy evolved or diverged locally from Vulgar Latin alongside, but mostly independently, of what would become Standard Italian, long before the fairly recent spread of Standard Italian throughout Italy. In fact, Standard Italian is itself either a continuation of, or a dialect heavily based on, the Florentine Tuscan language. Most regional languages in Italy are thus better classified as separate languages descended independently from Latin, rather than "dialects" or variations of the Standard Italian language.[7][8] Conversely, with the spread of Standard Italian throughout Italy in the 20th century, regional varieties or actual dialects of Standard Italian, known as regional Italian dialects, have also developed throughout the peninsula.

There are several minority languages that belong to other Indo-European branches, such as Cimbrian (Germanic), Arbëresh (Albanian), the Slavomolisano dialect of Serbo-Croatian (Slavic), and Griko (Hellenic). Other non-indigenous languages are spoken by a substantial percentage of the population due to immigration.[9]

Legal status

Recognition at the European level

Italy is a signatory of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, but is yet to ratify the treaty, and therefore its provisions protecting regional languages do not apply in the country.[10]

The Charter does not, however, establish at what point differences in expression result in a separate language, deeming it an "often controversial issue", and citing the necessity to take into account, other than purely linguistic criteria, also "psychological, sociological and political considerations".[11]

Recognition by the Italian state

Law number 482 of 15 December 1999, recognises the following minority languages as "historical language minorities": Albanian, Catalan, German, Greek, Slovene, Croatian, French, Franco-Provençal, Friulian, Ladin, Occitan, Sardinian (Legge 15 Dicembre 1999, n. 482, Art. 2, comma 1).[12] The law also makes a distinction between those who are considered minority groups (Albanians, Catalans, Germanic peoples indigenous to Italy, Greeks, Slovenes and Croats)[13] and those who are not (all the others).[12]

The original Italian Constitution does not explicitly express that Italian is the official national language. Since the constitution was penned, there have been some laws and articles written on the procedures of criminal cases passed that explicitly state that Italian should be used:


Recognition by the regions

Conservation status

Languages and dialects of Italy
Another map depicting the languages of Italy and their dialects
Percentage of people in Italy having a command of a regional language, according to the Doxa research and Coveri's data (1984)

According to the UNESCO's Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger, there are 31 endangered languages in Italy.[25] The degree of endangerment is classified in different categories ranging from 'safe' (safe languages are not included in the atlas) to 'extinct' (when there are no speakers left).[26]

The source for the languages' distribution is the Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger[25] unless otherwise stated, and refers to Italy exclusively.


Definitely endangered

Severely endangered


All living languages indigenous to Italy are part of the Indo-European language family. The source is the SIL's Ethnologue unless otherwise stated.[28] Language classification can be a controversial issue, when a classification is contested by academic sources, this is reported in the 'notes' column.

They can be divided into Romance languages and non-Romance languages.

Romance languages

Gallo-Rhaetian and Ibero-Romance

Language Family ISO 639-3 Dialects spoken in Italy Notes Speakers
French Gallo-Romance Gallo-Rhaetian Oïl French fra 100,000
Arpitan Gallo-Romance Gallo-Rhaetian Oïl Southeastern frp 70,000
Friulian Gallo-Romance Gallo-Rhaetian Rhaetian fur 300,000
Ladin Gallo-Romance Gallo-Rhaetian Rhaetian lld 31,000
Catalan Ibero-Romance East Iberian cat Algherese 20,000
Occitan Ibero-Romance Oc oci Provençal; Gardiol 100,000

Gallo-Italic languages

Language ISO 639-3 Dialects spoken in Italy Notes Speakers
Emiliano-Romagnolo eml Emilian; Romagnol (Forlivese); Emilian and Romagnol have been assigned two different ISO 639-3 codes (egl and rgn, respectively). 1,000,000
Ligurian lij Tabarchino; Mentonasc; Intemelio; Brigasc 500,000
Lombard lmo Western Lombard (see Western dialects of Lombard language); Eastern Lombard; Gallo-Italic of Sicily 3,600,000
Piedmontese pms 1,600,000
Venetian vec Triestine Usually not considered as being Gallo-Italic 3,800,000

Italo-Dalmatian languages

Not included is Corsican, which is mainly spoken on the French island of Corsica. Istriot is only spoken in Croatia. Judeo-Italian is moribund.

Language ISO 639-3 Dialects spoken in Italy Notes Speakers
Italian ita Tuscan; Central Italian National language 60,000,000
South Italian (Neapolitan) nap Abruzzese; Northern Calabrian (Cosentino); Bari dialect 5,700,000
Sicilian scn Salentino; Southern Calabrian; Cilentan 4,700,000

Sardinian language

Sardinian is a distinct language with significant phonological differences among its dialects. Ethnologue, not without controversy, even considers Sardinian as four independent languages, which would be then included in a hypothetical subgroup named Southern Romance, along with Corsican.[29] Gallurese and Sassarese are considered dialects of Corsican by UNESCO,[25] rather than being Sardinian varieties.

Language ISO 639-3 Dialects spoken in Italy Notes Speakers
Campidanese Sardinian sro southern dialect of Sardinian proper 500,000
Logudorese Sardinian src central dialect of Sardinian proper 500,000
Gallurese sdn considered an outlying dialect of Corsican by the UNESCO[25] 100,000
Sassarese sdc considered an outlying dialect of Corsican by the UNESCO[25] 100,000

Non-Romance languages

Albanian, Slavic, Greek and Romani languages

Language Family ISO 639-3 Dialects spoken in Italy Notes Speakers
Arbëresh Albanian Tosk aae considered an outlying dialect of Albanian by the UNESCO[25] 100,000
Serbo-Croatian Slavic South Western hbs Molise Croatian 1,000
Slovene Slavic South Western slv Gai Valley dialect; Resian; Torre Valley dialect; Natisone Valley dialect; Brda dialect; Karst dialect; Inner Carniolan dialect; Istrian dialect 100,000
Italiot Greek Hellenic (Greek) Attic ell Griko (Salento); Calabrian Greek 20,000
Romani Indo-Iranian Indo-Aryan Central Zone Romani rom

High German languages

Language Family ISO 639-3 Dialects spoken in Italy Notes Speakers
German Middle German East Middle German deu Tyrolean dialects Austrian German is the usual standard variety 315,000
Cimbrian Upper German Bavarian-Austrian cim sometimes considered a dialect of Bavarian, also considered an outlying dialect of Bavarian by the UNESCO[25] 2,200
Mocheno Upper German Bavarian-Austrian mhn considered an outlying dialect of Bavarian by the UNESCO[25] 1,000
Walser Upper German Alemannic wae 3,400

Geographic distribution

Northern Italy

The Northern Italian languages are conventionally defined as those Romance languages spoken north of the La Spezia–Rimini Line, which runs through the northern Apennine Mountains just to the north of Tuscany; however, the dialects of Occitan and Franco-Provençal spoken in the extreme northwest of Italy (e.g. the Valdôtain in the Aosta Valley) are generally excluded. The classification of these languages is difficult and not agreed-upon, due both to the variations among the languages and to the fact that they share isoglosses of various sorts with both the Italo-Romance languages to the south and the Gallo-Romance languages to the northwest.

One common classification divides these languages into four groups:

Any such classification runs into the basic problem that there is a dialect continuum throughout northern Italy, with a continuous transition of spoken dialects between e.g. Venetian and Ladin, or Venetian and Emilio-Romagnolo (usually considered Gallo-Italian).

All of these languages are considered innovative relative to the Romance languages as a whole, with some of the Gallo-Italian languages having phonological changes nearly as extreme as standard French (usually considered the most innovative of the Romance languages). This distinguishes them significantly from standard Italian, which is extremely conservative in its phonology (and notably conservative in its morphology).

Southern Italy and islands

Approximate distribution of the regional languages of Sardinia and Southern Italy according to the UNESCO's Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger:

Native languages of foreigners

Language[30] Population
Romanian 798,364
Arabic 476,721
Albanian 380,361
Spanish 255,459
Italian 162,148
Chinese 159,597
Russian 126,849
Ukrainian 119,883
French 116,287
Serbo-Croatian 93,289
Others 950,269

Standardised written forms

The following regional languages of Italy have a standardised written form. This may be widely accepted or used alongside more traditional written forms:

See also


  1. Tagliavini, Carlo (1962). Le origini delle lingue neolatine: introduzione alla filologia romanza. R. Patròn.
  2. "La variazione diatopica". Archived from the original on February 2012.
  3. Archived 7 November 2005 at the Wayback Machine.
  4. AIS, Sprach-und Sachatlas Italiens und der Südschweiz, Zofingen 1928-1940
  5. Lingue di minoranza e scuola, Carta Generale. Ministero della Pubblica Istruzione
  6. Loporcaro 2009; Marcato 2007; Posner 1996; Rapetti 2000:1–2.
  7. Maiden, Dr. Martin; Parry, Mair (March 7, 2006). The Dialects of Italy. Routledge. p. 2.
  8. Repetti, Lori (2000). Phonological Theory and the Dialects of Italy. John Benjamins Publishing. Retrieved 3 November 2015.
  9. "Legge 482". Retrieved 2015-10-17.
  10. "Chart of signatures and ratifications of Treaty 148". Council of Europe. Archived from the original on 17 October 2015. Retrieved 17 October 2015.
  11. What is a regional or minority language?, Council of Europe, retrieved 2015-10-17
  12. 1 2 Norme in materia di tutela delle minoranze linguistiche storiche, Italian parliament, retrieved 2015-10-17
  13. Archived 16 May 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
  14. "Legge 482". Archived from the original on 9 October 2015. Retrieved 2015-10-17.
  15. 1 2 Statut spécial de la Vallée d'Aoste, Title VIe, Region Vallée d'Aoste, retrieved 2015-10-17
  16. Reg. Gen. nn. 159/I 198/I, Norme per lo Studio, la Tutela, la Valorizzazione della Lingua. Napoletana, dei Dialetti e delle Tradizioni Popolari in. Campania (PDF), Consiglio Regionale della Campania, retrieved 2015-10-17
  17. Norme per la tutela, valorizzazione e promozione della lingua friulana, Regione Autonoma Friuli Venezia Giulia, retrieved 2015-10-17
  18. Norme regionali per la tutela della minoranza linguistica slovena, Regione Autonoma Friuli Venezia Giulia, retrieved 2015-10-17
  19. Ordine del Giorno n. 1118, Presentato il 30/11/1999, Consiglio Regionale del Piemonte, retrieved 2015-10-17
  20. Ordine del Giorno n. 1118, Presentato il 30/11/1999 (PDF), Gioventura Piemontèisa, retrieved 2015-10-17
  21. Legge regionale 10 aprile 1990, n. 26. (PDF), Regione Piemonte, retrieved 2015-10-17
  22. 1 2 Legge Regionale 15 ottobre 1997, n. 26, Regione Sardegna, 1997, retrieved 2015-10-17
  23. 1 2 Statuto speciale per il Trentino-Alto Adige (PDF),, retrieved 2015-10-17
  24. Legge regionale 13 aprile 2007, n. 8, Consiglio Regionale del Veneto, retrieved 2015-10-17
  25. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Interactive Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, UNESCO's Endangered Languages Programme, retrieved 2015-10-17
  26. Degrees of endangerment, UNESCO's Endangered Languages Programme, retrieved 2015-10-17
  27. "Endangered languages in Europe: report". Retrieved 2015-10-17.
  28. Languages of Italy, SIL, retrieved 2015-10-17
  29. "Ethnologue report for Southern Romance". Retrieved 2015-10-17.
  30. "Linguistic diversity among foreign citizens in Italy". Statistics of Italy. 25 July 2014. Retrieved 1 April 2015.
  31. Grafîa ofiçiâ, Académia Ligùstica do Brénno, retrieved 2015-10-17
  32. Limba sarda comuna, Sardegna Cultura, retrieved 2015-10-17
  33. Grafie dal O.L.F., Friû, retrieved 2015-10-17
  34. PUBLICAZIOIGN DEL ISTITUTO LADIN, Istituto Ladin de la Dolomites, retrieved 2015-10-17


External links

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