Italian Language/Dialects

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Question
Maria - can you tell me what is thought to be the oldest regional dialect and why are there so many? Grazie, Michele

Answer
Hello,

first of all it would be quite debatable  to assert that one of the Italian dialects is the oldest one, simply because all these dialects  developed almost contemporaneously from a gradual change of vulgar Latin (“sermo vulgaris”or “sermo cotidianus”  in Latin), i.e. Latin spoken by the illiterate, like soldiers, merchants, peasants, slave, in short, ordinary people, whereas  classical Latin (“sermo urbanus” in Latin) was  spoken by the literary circles and the learned.

Such a gradual change from vulgar Latin, which was quite different from classical Latin, began to happen from  about  the 1st. and 2nd. century  AD, when different social groups that lived in Italy started speaking a kind of  medley of “sermo cotidianus” and “sermo urbanus”: hence vulgar Latin which was also  carried just by the soldiers, merchants  and colonists throughout the Roman Empire and became source of the modern Romance languages, i.e. Italian,  French,  Portuguese, Romanian and Spanish.

Moreover the vulgar Latin, just because of its popular origin, included words that belonged to other languages such as Celtic (northern Italy), Etruscan (Central Italy), Oscan and Greek (southern Italy) spoken in certain regions of Italy before Latin became the primary language used by most the people, during the Roman conquest.

This is just the reason why in Italy  we have so many dialects, that can be classified as the Gallo/Celtic -Italic dialects (spoken in Northern Italy), Central Italic dialects (spoken in Central Italy) and Southern Italic  dialects (spoken in Southern Italy, Sicily and Sardinia).

All these dialects differ  in sound, grammar, syntax and vocabulary  from the standard Italian, which is nothing but the Florentine dialect that became the common language of Italians, thanks to  the great Tuscan authors  Dante Alighieri, Francesco Petrarca and Giovanni Boccaccio, who first - in the 13th-14th century - used their Tuscan  vernacular in some of their works such as e.g. “La Divina Commedia”, “Il Canzoniere” and “Il Decamerone”.

Lastly, I have to tell you that nowadays  the Italian dialects are not so common as once were, when everyone spoke in the dialect of their region.

Today in fact many people do not know  the vernacular of the region they dwell in or the region they come from, for we speak always standard Italian, especially from the mid-1950’s, while before only the learned people spoke Italian.

To sum up,I have to tell you that:

1)no dialect can be considered the oldest regional dialect in Italy since all the dialects developed almost contemporaneously from a gradual change of vulgar Latin.

2)we have so many dialects because Latin Language, from which our dialects derive, was imposed on pre-existing languages such as Celtic, Etruscan, Oscan and Greek with wich it got mixed up: hence the different vernaculars of our regions.

Hope this quick look at this matter can be helpful to you.

Best regards,

Maria  

Italian Language

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Maria

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Italian is my mother tongue and I'll be glad to answer any questions concerning Italian Language.

Experience

Over 25 years teaching experience.

Education/Credentials
I received my Ph.D.in Classics (summa cum laude) from Genova University (Italy).

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