Part of the population is native bilinguals of Italian and a regional language. Dialects or foreign languages are used by some 60 per cent of Italians and spoken exclusively by around 15 per cent of the population.
Linguistic minorities in Italy
Italy is home to a number of linguistic minorities, some of which have been granted special privileges in autonomous or semi-autonomous regions, and their language given equal status with Italian. These include French (Valle d’Aosta), German (Alto Adige) and Slovene (Friuli-Venezia Giulia), which are all official languages taught in state schools in these regions.
Albanian-speaking colonies are concentrated mainly in Sicily and Calabria, but are also found in Molise, Abruzzo, Campania, Puglia and Basilicata, some of whom speak a dialect of Albanian known as Arbëresh.
There are Catalan-speaking groups in the town of Alghero in the north-west of Sardinia, dating from the island’s capture by the crown of Aragon in 1354. Greek dialects are spoken in some parts of Calabria and Puglia. There are also gypsies who speak the Sinti dialect in the north and the Rom dialect in the centre and south of the country.
The main Italian dialects are Sardo (circa 1,350,000 speakers), Friulano (circa 700,000 speakers) and Ladin (circa 40,000 speakers). Sardo, spoken in Sardinia, is virtually another language entirely, similar to Catalan and dating back to Spanish rule. Variations in dialect can be particularly strong and include Ligurian (which employs a mixture of Italian, Catalan and French), Neopolitan and Sicilian.
Standard Italian is the language taught in schools and used in the media, although it’s often mixed with dialects. However, standard Italian has been in widespread use only since the unification of Italy in the 1860s and Italians were slow to adopt the language of the new nation-state, identifying much more strongly with their regional dialects.