Languages of Italy

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Languages of Italy
Linguistic map of Italy.png
Languages of Italy by groups[1][2][3][4][not in citation given]
Official languages Italian
Regional languages see "legal status"
Minority languages see "legal status"
Main immigrant languages Spanish, English, Albanian, Romanian, Hungarian Romani and Maghrebi Arabic[citation needed]
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
Italian Keyboard layout.svg
Source ebs_243_en.pdf
Languages of Italy and their dialects

There are a variety 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 called "dialects" in the literature, although the term may coexist with other labels such as "minority languages" or "vernaculars."[5] However, the use of the term "dialect" to refer to the languages of Italy may erroneously suggest that the variety of languages spoken in Italy are "dialects" of Standard Italian, which is generally not the case. Rather, Standard Italian is itself a continuation of (or heavily based on) the Florentine Tuscan dialect, and most of the regional languages of Italy evolved or diverged locally from Latin alongside but independently of the dialect that would become known as Standard Italian, long before the fairly recent spread of Standard Italian throughout Italy. Thus, most regional languages in Italy are better classified as separate languages descended independently from Latin, rather than "dialects" of the Standard Italian language.[6][7]

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.[8][not in citation given]

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.[9]

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".[10]

Recognition by the Italian state

Law number 482 of 15 December 1999, recognises the following minority languages: Albanian, Catalan, German, Greek, Slovene, Croatian, French, Franco-Provençal, Friulian, Ladin, Occitan, Sardinian (Legge 15 Dicembre 1999, n. 482, Art. 2, comma 1).[11] The law also makes a distinction between those who are considered minority groups (Albanians, Catalans, Germanic peoples indigenous to Italy, Greeks, Slovenes and Croats)[12] and those who are not (all the others).[11]

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:

  • Statute of the Trentino-South Tyrol, (constitutional law of the northern region of Italy around Trento) – "[...] [la lingua] italiana [...] è la lingua ufficiale dello Stato." (Statuto Speciale per il Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, Art. 99, "[...] [the language] Italian [...] is the official language of the State.")
  • Code for civil procedure – "In tutto il processo è prescritto l'uso della lingua italiana. (Codice di procedura civile, Art. 122, "In all procedures, it is required that the Italian language is used.")
  • Code for criminal procedure – "Gli atti del procedimento penale sono compiuti in lingua italiana." (Codice di procedura penale, Art. 109 [169-3; 63, 201 att.], "The acts of the criminal proceedings are carried out in the Italian language.")
  • Article 1 of law 482/1999 – "La lingua ufficiale della Repubblica è l'italiano." (Legge 482/1999, Art. 1 Comma 1, "The official language of the Republic is Italian.")


Recognition by the regions

  • Aosta Valley: French is co-official (enjoying the same dignity and standing of Italian) in the whole region (Le Statut spécial de la Vallée d'Aoste, Title VIe, Article 38);[14] German is unofficial but recognised in the Lys Valley (Lystal) (Le Statut spécial de la Vallée d'Aoste, Title VIe, Art. 40 - bis).[14]
  • Campania: Neapolitan is "promoted", but not recognised, by the region (Reg. Gen. nn. 159/I 198/I, Art. 1, comma 4).[15]
  • Friuli-Venezia Giulia: Friulian and Slovene are "promoted", but not recognised, by the region (Legge regionale 18 dicembre 2007, n. 29, Art. 1, comma 1);[16] (Legge regionale 16 novembre 2007, n. 26, Art. 16).[17]
  • Piedmont: Piedmontese is unofficial but recognised as the regional language (Consiglio Regionale del Piemonte, Ordine del Giorno n. 1118, Presentato il 30/11/1999);[18][19] the region "promotes", without recognising, the Occitan, Franco-Provençal and Walser languages (Legge regionale 10 aprile 1990, n. 26, Art. 3, comma 1 bis).[20]
  • Sardinia: Sardinian, Sassarese and Gallurese are unofficial but recognised and promoted "enjoying the same dignity and standing of Italian" (Legge regionale 15 ottobre 1997, n. 26) [21] in their respective territories, as well as Catalan in the city of Alghero and Tabarchino in the islands of Sulcis.[21]
  • Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol: German is co-official (enjoying the same dignity and standing of Italian) in the province of South Tyrol (Statuto speciale per il Trentino-Alto Adige, Titolo XI, Articolo 99);[22] Ladin, Cimbrian and Mòcheno are unofficial but recognised in their respective territories (Statuto speciale per il Trentino-Alto Adige, Titolo XI, Articolo 102).[22]
  • Veneto: Venetian is unofficial but recognised (Legge regionale 13 aprile 2007, n. 8, Art. 2, comma 2).[23]

Conservation status

Languages and dialects of Italy

According to the UNESCO's Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger, there are 31 endangered languages in Italy.[24] 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).[25]

The source for the languages' distribution is the Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger[24] 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.[27] 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.[28] Gallurese and Sassarese are considered dialects of Corsican by UNESCO,[24] 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[24] 100,000
Sassarese sdc considered an outlying dialect of Corsican by the UNESCO[24] 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[24] 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[24] 2,200
Mocheno Upper German Bavarian-Austrian mhn considered an outlying dialect of Bavarian by the UNESCO[24] 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:

File:Southern Italy topographic map-blank.png
Southern Italian
of Sicily

Native languages of foreigners

Language[29] 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


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External links