Italian is the official language not only of Italy, but also of other countries such as the Vatican City, San Marino, the Swiss canton of Ticino, and some areas of Slovenia and Croatia. But what are the differences between the Italian spoken in Italy and the variants present in these territories? In this article, we will discover the main differences and similarities between the Italian spoken in Italy and its international variants.
Italian in Italy: a mosaic of dialects and linguistic influences
Italian, despite being the official language of Italy, coexists with a great variety of dialects and regional languages that enrich the linguistic panorama of the country. In Italy there are over 30 main dialect groups which are divided into hundreds of subgroups and local variants. This linguistic richness derives from the history of Italy, which has seen the coexistence and meeting of different cultures and populations over the centuries.
Some of the main dialect groups present in Italy are Lombard, Piedmontese, Venetian, Friulian, Tuscan, Romagna, Sardinian, Sicilian and Neapolitan. These dialects differ from each other in vocabulary, grammar, phonetics and pronunciation, sometimes becoming difficult to understand between speakers of different groups.
The various Italian regions have had, throughout history, different dominations and cultural influences, which are reflected in linguistic diversity. For example, Sardinian, spoken in Sardinia, has been influenced by Latin, Catalan and Spanish, while Sicilian, spoken in Sicily and part of Calabria, shows traces of Greek, Arabic and Norman.
Standardized Italian is based on the literary Tuscan of the Renaissance, but has been influenced by these other regional languages over time. Despite the presence of this linguistic mosaic, standard Italian remains the common language that unites the country and is used in the media, public administration and literature.
Italian in the Vatican City and San Marino
The Italian spoken in Vatican City, although almost identical to standard Italian, has some specific terms and expressions linked to the Catholic religion and the activities of the Holy See. These linguistic peculiarities reflect the importance of the Vatican as the spiritual and administrative heart of the Catholic Church.
For example, terms such as “Roman curia” (the set of bodies and institutions that assist the Pope in the governance of the Church), “conclave” (the closed-door meeting of cardinals to elect a new Pope) and “sede vacante” (the period between the death or resignation of a Pope and the election of his successor) are typical expressions of the Vatican context.
Likewise, expressions such as “holy mass” (the Eucharistic celebration), “sacrament” (a religious rite conferring divine grace) and “canonization” (the process by which the Church declares a person holy) are terms closely linked to Catholic religious practice and the ecclesiastical hierarchy present in the Vatican. Speaking of hierarchies, specific ecclesiastical titles also fall into the same category, such as “His Holiness” for the Pope, “His Eminence” for cardinals and “His Excellency” for bishops and archbishops.
Italian in the Canton of Ticino and in Slovenia and Croatia
The canton of Ticino, Switzerland, and some areas of Slovenia and Croatia have Italian-speaking communities who speak regional varieties of Italian. These variants may present lexical, phonetic and syntactic differences compared to standard Italian. In the Canton of Ticino, for example, Italian is influenced by the Ticino dialect, which has some common characteristics with Lombard.
In Slovenia, Italian is spoken mainly in coastal areas, such as the city of Koper (Koper in Slovenian) and Piran (Piran in Slovenian), where the Italian presence has deep historical roots. Italian is recognized as the official language in bilingual areas of Slovenia, and both Italian and Slovenian are taught in schools in these areas. The Italian spoken in Slovenia has influences from the Venetian dialect, in particular from Trieste, and may include loanwords from Slovenian.
Even in Croatia, Italian is spoken in some coastal areas, such as Istria and the cities of Fiume (Rijeka in Croatian) and Zadar (Zadar in Croatian), where the Italian population has been present for centuries. Italian in Croatia is influenced by Venetian dialects, particularly Istrian Venetian, and may have loanwords from Croatian. The presence of Italian in Croatia is a reflection of the shared history between Italy and Croatia, particularly during the period of the Republic of Venice and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, when these areas were under the rule of foreign powers that favored the use of Italian as a language of communication and administration.
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