Italian Dialects

Published 10th November 2011
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A dialect is a regional variation of a language distinguished by pronunciation, grammar or vocabulary. This can be influenced by location, historical background, and possibly from differing cultures. This is especially true of Italy where, until 1871, it was a fractured peninsular split between different, and constantly shifting, nations.

The first appearance of a national vernacular in Italy appeared with the publication of La Divina Commedia by Dante Alighieri. Standard Italian came into its own however, with the advent of popular television in the 50s. Since then the local dialects have been somewhat in decline.

I spent my year abroad in a small town called Urbino in the north west of Italy and travelled extensively throughout my stay. I couldn’t help but notice that the further south I headed, the stronger the local accents and dialects become; the city where I found this the most noticeable was Naples (la lingua Napoletana was officially recognised as a language in 2008 by the regional government of Campania)

How different are the regional dialects to the standard Italian language? Here are some proverbs from different areas all over Italy written first in the dialect, then in standard Italian. (I have translated each one into English, although some of the cultural contexts may not carry over…if you have any questions don’t hesitate to comment at the bottom of this page!)

Sa pioeva la smana ad pasion, pioeva tut la stagion– Busseto, Emilia Romagna Se piove nella settimana di Passione, pioverà tutta la stagione – Standard Italian If it rains during Holy Week, it’ll rain all season/summer.
Nadel al sul e Pasqua stiss – Busseto, Emilia Romagna Natale con il sole, Pasqua nuvolosa – Standard Italian Sunny Christmas, Cloudy Easter
I chiu bass sun chiu intelligent’ – Puglia I più bassi sono più intelligent – Standard Italian The shortest are the most intelligent
Quanno so’ troppi galli a cantà ‘n sé fa mae ghjorno. – Umbria Quando sono troppi galli a cantare non si fa mai giorno. When too many cockerels sing, day will never break.
Quannu u patri duna o figghio rire upatri e rire u fighhiu; quannu u fighhiu duna o patri chiangi u patri e chiangi u fighiu. – Sicily Quando il padre dà al figlio ride il padre e ride il figlio; quando figlio dà al padre piange il figlio e piange il padre. When a father gives to his son, the son laughs and the father laughs; when the son gives to the father, the son cries and the father cries.

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