An Introduction to Italian Dialectology
Gianrenzo P. Clivio, Marcel Danesi & Sara Maida-Nicol
University of Toronto
The immense linguistic wealth of Italy, reflecting her varied and multicentered history, is represented not only by its literary language -- the medium forged by Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio, and adopted by countless other great writers -- but also by its many regional and local dialects, often so different from common Italian as to constitute in practice separate languages.
The object of this book is to describe and, in as much as possible, account for the linguistic fragmentation of modern Italy, keeping in mind both diatopic and diastratic variation, along with diachrony and synchrony. Numerous maps serve as concrete illustration.
Like any science, dialectology is based on observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena. It does not make blanket statements about what is "good grammar," as do the grammars taught in schools. It is not a normative, or prescriptive, approach to language; it is descriptive. Indeed, it studies not only standard usage, but variation of all kinds, geographical and social, in the use of language. It is concerned with the structure of languages (or dialects), with how language is used in society, how it is learned, and how and why it changes over time.
Some of the Italian dialects form the speech of a single village or small town, others are in use in metropolis such as Milan and Naples, and a very few others still have achieved the status of a regional language, as is the case of Piedmontese. All of them, however, are well worthy of scientific study, from both a diachronic and synchronic standpoint, for each one is a modern and original form of Latin, as it evolved locally, partly under the influence of various external factors, such as substratum and superstratum languages, and complex socio-historical factors. In the North of the Country, there stands out a compact and generally mutually intelligible vast group of dialects, collectively labelled Gallo-Italic, which in many ways are more akin to Gallo-Romance than to Tuscan Italian. The authors demonstrate that Gallo-Italic should be classified separately from Italo-Romance, which begins south of the famous La Spezia-Rimini line, and be granted the status of a separate Romance language, at least in the sense that Franco-Provençal and Rhaeto-Romansch generally are, not to mention the equally highly fragmented Sardinian.
The Tuscan dialects, the basis of the literary language, are conspicuous more by the absence of certain features, e.g. metaphony, than by the presence of any of their own: only their conservative character vis-à-vis Latin makes them strikingly unique. Together with Tuscan go the Corsican dialects and the modern vernacular of the city of Rome (which, in its older phase, was instead akin to the Neapolitan type). South of the Ancona-Rome line, Neapolitan is the best known dialect, the vehicle of an important literature and of immensely popular songs, though it never developed into the regional koine it might have become in the days of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Calabria and Sicily remain linguistically fragmented, though mutual intelligibility among different varieties does not by and large constitute a problem. A technologically trail blazing linguistic atlas of Sicily is now underway, as is a new atlas of Italy as a whole. Other important tools for the study of the Italian dialects are underway.
ISBN 9783895866562 (Hardcover). LINCOM Studies in Romance Linguistics 19. 240pp. 2011.