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Italy is an archipelago

Have you ever heard of alloglot communities?

Do you know the twelve recognised language minorities in Italy?

To get the answers and to find out more, follow me on this brief journey into the discovery of the fascinating language communities in Italy.

A multifaceted country

No country is monolithic and Italy is no exception. Different languages are spoken and different communities co-exist, resulting in a wide variety of cultural presences.

The only official language of Italy is Italian [1], however, there are twelve recognised language minorities protected by its constitution. Why? Well, because minority languages are often endangered by a globalising world, where conformism and homogeneity are common terms that apply to linguistics as well.

[1] There are other official languages, but only in certain regions and not shared by the whole country.

Mainland islands

The areas where these languages are spoken are called “alloglot” areas or “language islands”. The word alloglot, from the Greek for different language, refers to a community that speaks a language that differs from the main one used in the surrounding country or area. Italy is scattered with language islands and that’s why we can call it an archipelago! Only from a linguistic point of view, of course.

Want to know more? I hope so, because we are about to take a closer look at some of these language minorities.

island

Same country, different languages

Italy recognises twelve different language and cultural minorities within its territory, namely Albanian, Catalan, Croatian, Germanic, Greek and Slovenian, as well as those speaking Franco-Provençal, French, Friulian, Ladin (not to be confused with Latin), Occitan and Sardinian.

Needless to say, these communities not only speak different languages, but they also have different cultures and traditions. These can vary in terms of how prominent they are and the communities have different levels of integration with their surrounding areas.

Let’s look a little more closely at some of these groups. Of course, feel free to jump right to the one(s) that interests or intrigues you the most, if you prefer!

Albanian

If you follow me on Instagram, where I often post linguistic and cultural facts, you might have already read about this community, which I talked about back in March 2021.

The Italian-Albanian community is deeply rooted in Italy, particularly in Sicily and Calabria, but also in other southern regions. This group is so big because of the large migration from Albania started in the 15th century, when the Ottomans occupied the Balkans. 

The Arbëresh community (that’s their name in their own language) still has its own traditions, religion and language, which is a variation of Albanian, similar to the language spoken in southern Albania. The members of this community also call themselves gjaku i shprishur, “our spread blood”, which references the fact that the Albanian community can be found all over the world.

Albania

Catalan

Catalan represents an alloglot community even in its country of origin, Spain, so it’s interesting to see that there are also minorities using it away from Catalonia.

An ancient form of Catalan is spoken in Italy in the city of Alghero, Sardinia. Its origin here dates back to the 14th century, when the Crown of Aragon replaced the rebelling Sardinian and Genoese populations with people from Catalonia and the Valencian community.

Today, the Catalan of Alghero is both an ancient and a modern language, having undergone the influences of the Sardinian and Italian languages, but not the ones that affected the Catalan of Catalonia.

Catalan

Croatian

It’s interesting to note that there is a Croatian community in Italy, not in the north-eastern side of the country, very close to Croatia, but in the central region of Molise.

Around the 15th century, in fact, groups of inhabitants of the Dalmatian coast started emigrating to Italy to escape the Ottoman invasion, and headed towards this region. Nowadays, there are three small villages in Molise that still maintain their Slavic roots, Acquaviva Collecroce, Montemitro and San Felice di Molise, which until 1927 was called San Felice Slavo (Slavic San Felice).

Croatia

Occitan

Also known as langue d’oc, Occitan finds its origin in France, but it is also spoken in some parts of Italy. You’ll probably be surprised to find out that it is used in areas at the two extremes of the country: the Occitan Valleys in the northern region of Piedmont and the city of Guardia Piemontese in the southern region of Calabria. The name of the latter means Piedmont’s lookout, so it’s easy to see the connection between the two places.

Conclusion

The communities that I mentioned are not the only ones that exist, there also are other groups, for example nomadic ones. If you would like to know more about these or other communities, have any questions in general or if you need Italian language support, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Have I convinced you? Do you now agree that Italy is an archipelago? 😉

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