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With the political reunification of Italy and the degree of travel and relocation that began to take place, the need for a national language became all the more urgent in Italy. The need was met by the literary language, which had evolved as a standardized form of Florentine. Today, because of aggressive education programs, the literary language is used throughout the country for law, business, and education. The dialects are finding themselves relegated to home use, or between close neighbors in urban neighborhoods and villages.
The Italian language is considered to be the most beautiful of the world's languages…and I'd have to agree! Besides being spoken in Italy, it is one of the four official languages of Switzerland, and is also widely spoken in the United States, Canada, Argentina, and Brazil. All told there are about 60 million speakers of Italian.
Northern dialects or the Septentrional are divided into two main groups:
The Gallo-Italic group is the largest of these geographically and encompasses the regions of Liguria, Piedmont, Lombardy, and Emilia-Romagna, as well as parts of Trentino-Alto Adige. It is named for the Gauls which once inhabited this part of Italy, and who, it seems, left traces of their Celtic speech in the modern dialects. The Venetic group is the next largest. Its borders loosely follow the region of Veneto.
The dialects of modern Italian all have their roots in the spoken form of Latin (Vulgar Latin) that was in use throughout the Roman Empire. Vulgar Latin had definitely its own local peculiarities before the fall of the Empire. The political instability that followed Roman rule kept Italy from re-uniting as a nation until the nineteenth century. This long period of fragmentation and also the fact that Classical Latin was preferred as the international language of study allowed the various modes of speech to develop on their own until they could almost be called separate languages. Many dialects are, in fact, unintelligible with each other.
There are two major groups of Italian dialects, excepting the Sardinian group which is considered another language entirely. These two groups are separated by the Spezia-Rimini line, named for the two cities near which it passes; the line runs east-west across the peninsula, for the most part following the border between Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna, then cutting into the Marches. Above the divide lie the Northern (Settentrionale) dialects; below it the Central-Southern (Centro-Meridionale) dialects.
The Central-Meridional dialects consist of four distinct groups.
The Tuscan group occupies an area roughly approximating that of the region of Tuscany.
The Latin-Umbrian-Marchegian dialects are to the south and occupy the northern half of Latium (including Rome), most of Umbria and some of the Marches. These two are also sometimes grouped together as the Central dialects.
The Meridional dialects are directly below with two major types. The Intermediate Meridional dialects occupy the bottom half of the peninsula, including the regions of southern Lazio, Abruzzi, Molise, Campania, Basilicata, and parts of Apulia. The Extreme Meridional dialects occupy the tips of Calabria and Apulia, together with Sicily.
|Sheri Ann Richerson|