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Languages of Italy

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Languages of Italy

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, English, Albanian, Romanian, Hungarian Romani and Maghrebi Arabic
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 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 from Italian, are often called "dialects" in the literature, although the term may coexist with other labels such as "minority languages" or "vernaculars."[5] 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.[6]


  • Legal status 1
    • Recognition at the European level 1.1
    • Recognition by the Italian state 1.2
    • Recognition by the regions 1.3
  • Conservation status 2
    • Vulnerable 2.1
    • Definitely endangered 2.2
    • Severely endangered 2.3
  • Classification 3
    • Romance languages 3.1
      • Gallo-Rhaetian and Ibero-Romance 3.1.1
      • Gallo-Italic languages 3.1.2
      • Italo-Dalmatian languages 3.1.3
      • Sardinian language 3.1.4
    • Non-Romance languages 3.2
      • Albanian, Slavic, Greek and Romani languages 3.2.1
      • High German languages 3.2.2
  • Geographic distribution 4
    • Northern Italy 4.1
    • Southern Italy and islands 4.2
  • Native languages of foreigners 5
  • Standardised written forms 6
  • See also 7
  • Notes 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

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.[7]

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".[8]

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).[9] The law also makes a distinction between those who are considered minority groups (Albanians, Catalans, Germanic peoples indigenous to Italy, Greeks, Slovenes and Croats)[10] and those who are not (all the others).[9]

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);[12] German is unofficial but recognised in the Lys Valley (Lystal) (Le Statut spécial de la Vallée d'Aoste, Title VIe, Art. 40 - bis).[12]
  • Campania: Neapolitan is "promoted", but not recognised, by the region (Reg. Gen. nn. 159/I 198/I, Art. 1, comma 4).[13]
  • 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);[14] (Legge regionale 16 novembre 2007, n. 26, Art. 16).[15]
  • Piedmont: Piedmontese is unofficial but recognised as the regional language (Consiglio Regionale del Piemonte, Ordine del Giorno n. 1118, Presentato il 30/11/1999);[16][17] the region "promotes", without recognising, the Occitan, Franco-Provençal and Walser languages (Legge regionale 10 aprile 1990, n. 26, Art. 3, comma 1 bis).[18]
  • 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) [19] in their respective territories, as well as Catalan in the city of Alghero and Tabarchino in the islands of Sulcis.[19]
  • 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);[20] Ladin, Cimbrian and Mòcheno are unofficial but recognised in their respective territories (Statuto speciale per il Trentino-Alto Adige, Titolo XI, Articolo 102).[20]
  • Veneto: Venetian is unofficial but recognised (Legge regionale 13 aprile 2007, n. 8, Art. 2, comma 2).[21]

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.[22] 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).[23]

The source for the languages' distribution is the Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger[22] 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.[25] 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

Gallo-Italic languages

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.

Sardinian language


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.[26] Gallurese and Sassarese are considered dialects of Corsican by UNESCO,[22] rather than being Sardinian varieties.

Non-Romance languages

Albanian, Slavic, Greek and Romani languages

High German languages

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[27] 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. ^ [3]
  4. ^ AIS, Sprach-und Sachatlas Italiens und der Südschweiz, Zofingen 1928-1940
  5. ^ Loporcaro 2009; Marcato 2007; Posner 1996; Rapetti 2000:1–2.
  6. ^ "Legge 482". Retrieved 2015-10-17. 
  7. ^ "Chart of signatures and ratifications of Treaty 148". Council of Europe. Archived from the original on 17 October 2015. Retrieved 17 October 2015. 
  8. ^ What is a regional or minority language?, Council of Europe, retrieved 2015-10-17 
  9. ^ a b Norme in materia di tutela delle minoranze linguistiche storiche, Italian parliament, retrieved 2015-10-17 
  10. ^ [4]
  11. ^ "Legge 482". Retrieved 2015-10-17. 
  12. ^ a b Statut spécial de la Vallée d'Aoste, Title VIe, Region Vallée d'Aoste, retrieved 2015-10-17 
  13. ^ 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 
  14. ^ Norme per la tutela, valorizzazione e promozione della lingua friulana, Regione Autonoma Friuli Venezia Giulia, retrieved 2015-10-17 
  15. ^ Norme regionali per la tutela della minoranza linguistica slovena, Regione Autonoma Friuli Venezia Giulia, retrieved 2015-10-17 
  16. ^ Ordine del Giorno n. 1118, Presentato il 30/11/1999, Consiglio Regionale del Piemonte, retrieved 2015-10-17 
  17. ^ Ordine del Giorno n. 1118, Presentato il 30/11/1999 (PDF), Gioventura Piemontèisa, retrieved 2015-10-17 
  18. ^ Legge regionale 10 aprile 1990, n. 26. (PDF), Regione Piemonte, retrieved 2015-10-17 
  19. ^ a b Legge Regionale 15 ottobre 1997, n. 26, Regione Sardegna, 1997, retrieved 2015-10-17 
  20. ^ a b Statuto speciale per il Trentino-Alto Adige (PDF),, retrieved 2015-10-17 
  21. ^ Legge regionale 13 aprile 2007, n. 8, Consiglio Regionale del Veneto, retrieved 2015-10-17 
  22. ^ a b c d e f g h Interactive Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, UNESCO's Endangered Languages Programme, retrieved 2015-10-17 
  23. ^ Degrees of endangerment, UNESCO's Endangered Languages Programme, retrieved 2015-10-17 
  24. ^ "Endangered languages in Europe: report". Retrieved 2015-10-17. 
  25. ^ Languages of Italy, SIL, retrieved 2015-10-17 
  26. ^ "Ethnologue report for Southern Romance". Retrieved 2015-10-17. 
  27. ^ "Linguistic diversity among foreign citizens in Italy". Statistics of Italy. 25 July 2014. Retrieved 1 April 2015. 
  28. ^ Grafîa ofiçiâ, Académia Ligùstica do Brénno, retrieved 2015-10-17 
  29. ^ Limba sarda comuna, Sardegna Cultura, retrieved 2015-10-17 
  30. ^ Grafie dal O.L.F., Friû, retrieved 2015-10-17 
  31. ^ PUBLICAZIOIGN DEL ISTITUTO LADIN, Istituto Ladin de la Dolomites, retrieved 2015-10-17 


  • Loporcaro, M. (2009). Profilo linguistico dei dialetti italiani (in Italian). Bari: Laterza. 
  • Marcato, Carla (2007). Dialetto, dialetti e italiano (in Italian). Bologna: Il Mulino. 
  • Posner, Rebecca (1996). The romance languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 
  • Rapetti, Lori, ed. (2000). Phonological theory and the dialects of Italy. Amsterdam Studies in the Theory and History of Linguistic Science, Series IV Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 212. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing. 

External links

  • An interactive map of languages and dialects in Italy
  • Ethnologue - Languages of Italy
  • Rivista Etnie, linguistica
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