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August 2005



Kids Europe News - The Many Languages of Italy

Beyond Italian

Huh? The Languages of Italy? That's silly, in Italy they speak Italian.

But not just Italian. I arrived at this topic as I was putting a new product on the Kids Europe website, a traditional game of Naples called Tombola and as I described it, I realized that I couldn't write "Neapolitan dialect." Neapolitan is most definitely not just a dialect of Italian. You can be fluent in Italian and not understand Neapolitan. The first Italian I learned as a child was Neapolitan and when I brought it to Rome ten years later, I had to do some quick studying to make myself understood!

Click on this map to view the language groups in Italy .

Pat Byrne

They Don't Speak Only Italian in Italy ?

Right! Althouth almost everybody in Italy speaks Italian, the languages spoken by native Italians also include Albanian, Bavarian, Catalan, Cimbrian, Corsican, Croatian, Emiliano- Romagnolo, Franco-Provencal, French, Friulian, German, Greek, Italkian, Ladin, Ligurian, Lombard, Mocheno, Napoletano-Calabrese, Piemontese, Provencal, Romani, Sardinian, Sicilian, Slovenian, Venetian, and Walser.

Admittedly, some of these languages have tiny populations, but they are living monuments to the past. Just like you may see an Etruscan tomb from the second century BC, 2200 years ago, or a Roman temple from 1900 years ago, in Italy today you can find, people who speak a language that hearkens back to ancient times. Doesn't it give you the shivers? Okay, so this is not an everyday interest. But if you are a kid who is interested in cultivating your own interests and don't need to be part of the pack, feel free to explore linguistics. It is really fascinating.

For example, in the 8th century BC, about 2800 years ago, Greeks colonized the "foot" of the boot of Italy . And, even today, there are people in Calabria in Italy who speak a Greek language called Griko, an echo of those ancient times. Map of the languages of the Italian peninsula in the 6th century BC.

These pockets of ancient languages that have survived are remarkable; languages can change and even disappear quickly. Consider words that your parents use that are not used by you and your friends. Often one country conquers another physically (or economically) and the winner's language dominates the culture. In fact, in Italy , the language of a tribe called the Latins ended up dominating the Italian peninsula. Latin was the language of the Romans who pushed out the Greeks and conquered the Etruscans and just about everybody else around.

After the fall of the Roman empire in 475AD, Italy broke up into many small, separate kingdoms. In each of these areas, Latin that was mixed with the local pre- Roman language evolved into the various languages of Italy . These small kingdoms stayed relatively separate until 1860 when they were united by King Victor Emmanuel. Map of the many kingdoms within Italy. So it is only then that a national language was declared and people across Italy started learning a single language.

The languages of Italy survive spoken within families and among the people of a local region. There are also pockets of languages where borders have moved to encompass what used to be a different country. In any case, it is interesting to explore the interaction of history and language.

Dozens of Dialects

As a tourist, finding people who are actively speaking one of the small languages of Italy could be a challenge, but if you keep your ears open in different areas of Italy , you will be able to notice some of the different dialects.

A dialect is a version of a language that is distinct but that can be understood by most of the speakers of that language. (English tends to have regional accents rather than dialects.)

Here are some differences that you may be able to hear:

  • In Florence and Tuscany , the hard "c" sound becomes a raspy "h" so the word "casa," house, sounds like hasa. This is thought to be an attribute of the Etruscan language carried forward for 2000 years.
  • In Rome , the gl as in "voglio," want, becomes a "y" sound like the -ll- in million, said voh yo
  • In Naples , an initial "p" as in "piove," rain, becomes "ch," a hard c, so it is spoken "chiove." key oh vay.

Tombola Napolitana

Italian Bingo

Back to Tombola that inspired thoughts of languages and dialects. I ordered these for Kids Europe because this is a fun game for families that are interested in Italy , a chance to enjoy a joyful aspect of the Italian culture. There is a big board with all the numbers, a bag full of number tokens that the caller draws from, and then dozens of cards in which the numbers are distributed randomly. The players can "buy" the cards to fund prizes.

Tombola is easy to play but has some unique aspects, too. It is played in rounds, in which the winner is the first person to cover two numbers in a row, then three and so on until the final round when it is the first person to cover all the numbers on a card. The two links below provide the instructions.

The most interesting aspect, I think, are the cartoon- like drawings and goofy Neapolitan names for the numbers. Each number has a name. #1 is Italia because Italia is #1, of course. #13 is Saint Anthony because his feast day is June 13th. But what about #67 'O purpo int'a chitarra, the squid in the guitar?

Note please: Some of the drawings show appreciation for the female figure, as is consistent with Italian culture.

At Home in Rome

Family Apartment in the Heart of the Eternal City

We really like the Il Flaminio apartment in Rome . The location couldn't be better, right outside Piazza del Popolo, ten minutes walk to the Spanish Steps, and not much farther to the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon. My favorite shopping street in Rome , Cola di Rienzo is just across the river Tiber . It is very central and very comfortable. It will sleep a family of up to six people with various bed combinations. It is also well furnished with amenities including recently installed WiFi internet access. The photos could be better (and I'll be taking new ones this fall), but trust me, you will love staying in this apartment.

It fills right up, so if you are planning a trip to Rome over Thanksgiving, Christmas or in 2006, it isn't too soon to get your reservations in for this very nice and reasonably priced apartment at 2005 prices.

Traveling Families Check In

I have so enjoyed hearing back from families who have traveled with the Italy Discovery Journal this summer. I have wonderful comments from so many and some really great photos.

Here is a family that sounds a lot like mine, the original inspiration for the Italy Discovery Journal: "We recently returned from a week in Rome with our 8, 6, and 4 year olds. We had a fabulous time thanks in no small part to your journal. We carried the journals everywhere we went and were able to do things we never would have dreamed of without them. For example, we were willing to risk a tour of the colosseum because the kids could write, read, and draw during the tour when they got bored (as opposed to whining loudly and distracting us and everyone else like they usually do on tours)."

Photo and comment are from two different families.

Take Kids Europe products with you on your travels. And, please, send us your comments and photos!

Learning Italian

Easy and Rewarding

Learning Italian is very rewarding. It is a relatively straightforward language with consistent pronunciation and a grammar that is much easier to master than that of English. Furthermore, you can put your Italian to good use when traveling in Italy .

I collected a number of ideas for families to learn Italian in this newsletter called Italian for Kids.




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