Sunday, 14 December 2008

The Venetian 'Dialetto'

For my inaugural post, I'm afraid I'm going to confuse you all a little. Though I represent the Art History portion of this blog, I'm going to begin with some musings on linguistics. Sorry for the confusion. But this was simply too interesting to pass up.

An article from The Times Online discusses the Venetian 'dialect,' Veneto. Do check it out- it's fascinating. So, naturally, I wanted to discuss it a little.

First, background: the language known as Italian is actually one of many 'dialects' from the Italian peninsula. It was originally the Tuscan language, spoken by those in and around Florence – namely Petrarch and Dante. With the move for unification, however, those in charge of such things began to push for an 'Italian' language, and decided upon an amalgamation of Tuscan and highlights of the other Italian languages. Why Tuscan? Why, to preserve Petrarch and Dante's language, of course.

Most curiously, it was the twentieth century and the joys of television that unified Italy under a single language. I find such a clear effect on a language fascinating. If not for television, Italy would probably still not have a unified language. As it is, it is still not unusual to have Italian grandparents who don't speak 'Italian,' but some vaguely familiar variant. As an American, the Italian grandmother I met could not understand a word I said, partly due to the differing 'dialect,' and partly from my accent. She grew up outside Tuscany, and thus grew up speaking another language altogether.

Traces of these varying 'dialects' (I keep using quotes because they are actually different languages) remain in traces here and there: the inability of northern Italians to understand those from Sicily or southern Italy, or the ability of Venetians to speak and be utterly incomprehensible. We're not talking accents here, like a southern American accent, or a rural Canadian accent. These are completely different languages, sharing only a common ancestor (Latin, of course).

Back to the article. The Venetian language seems to have remained the vernacular in Venice, with both the wealthiest and the poorest citizens still able to speak it, untainted by Italian. Children who are taught Italian in school still learn Veneto from their elders and from their playmates. As someone who is pained by the many languages dying every year, this positively warms my heart. (Vellum is not the only linguistic aficionado on this blog)

Also fascinating is the list of English words derived from Veneto. Even 'ciao' is descended from the Veneto 'vostro schiavo.'

Those of you who know Italian should by now be wondering how similar the two languages are. My first impression was that reading Veneto was like reading medieval Italian: basically the same, with enough letters dropped off to be confusing, and thus much easier to comprehend when spoken aloud.

But then I looked a bit deeper.

There remains the 'Venetian dialect' of Italian, which is very closely related to Italian, except with those dropped letters. Wikipedia offers us 'Marco sta rivando' vs 'Marco sta arrivando' for comparison. But in Veneto, it becomes 'Marco el se drio rivar.' I can make sense of half of that sentence, but the 'se drio' throws me. Clearly, Veneto is not a dialect of Italian. It is more closely related to Spanish and French than to Italian, and from a brief encounter with the alphabet, I'll suggest it has more than a couple of ties to eastern European languages like Hungarian, as well.

The article, sadly, does not address many of these differences, but check out the Wikipedia article for a more detailed explanation and some lovely links.

(Kudos to Cranky Professor for the original link.)

Hope that's given you something to think about.


1 comment:

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