Sardinian dialect: the Romance language closest to Latin
Does the Sardinian dialect derive from Italian or another language? A short story to discover extraordinary linguistic and cultural babel.
Sardinia, a land surrounded by one of the most beautiful seas in the world and immersed in the Mediterranean climate, has a cultural heritage of extraordinary value, including the Sardinian dialect.
The history of the Sardinian dialect is complex and articulated because the geographical isolation of ancient Ichnusa has allowed typical elements of the Greek and Latin languages to be preserved, later influenced by a Catalan-Spanish and Piedmontese dominion.
Although the lexical origin is mainly Latin, the island’s dialect still retains several linguistic substratum of ancient Sardinian. There are proto-Sardinian etymons and, to a lesser extent, also Phoenician-punic in different words, especially place-names. In medieval, modern and contemporary times, the Sardinian language received influences of the Greek-Byzantine, Ligurian, Tuscan vulgar, Catalan, Castilian and Italian.
In the essay “The Sardinian language. History, spirit and form” by Max Leopold Wagner, German ethnologist and linguist considered the leading scholar of Sardinian linguistics, we can better understand the evolution of the linguistic vicissitudes of the island.
In the chapter “General characteristic of Sardinian”, the author describes the Sardinian language and its relationship with other languages of the Mediterranean basin and with the Italian dialects, he also answers the question: is Sardinian a dialect or a language? According to Wagner, Sardinian “is, politically, one of the many dialects of Italy, as is also, for example, the Serbo-Croatian or the Albanian spoken in various villages of Calabria and Sicily”, however, the scholar adds: “From a linguistic point of view the question takes on another aspect (…) it must be considered a language because Sardinian cannot be confused with any other language, and as such it is now considered by all linguists, in the same way as the Romansh rhetoric, Although it cannot boast political independence, it grants this qualification”.
Sardinian was recognized by the Regional Law No. 26 on the 15th of October 1997 as the language of the Autonomous Region of Sardinia after Italian. According to Law No.482 of the 15th of December 1999, concerning “Norms on the protection of historical linguistic minorities”, the Italian State recognizes the Sardinian language status with its own syntactic and grammatical structures and autonomous phonic and semantic expressions, different from all other Neo-Latin languages.
Sardinian dialect: the linguistic varieties from North to South of the island
Sardinian is a language belonging to the Romance group of Indo-European languages. It is considered autonomous by the dialectal systems of Italic, Gallic and Hispanic areas and is classified as a separate language in the Neo-Latin panorama.
The Sardinian dialect is divided into two large groups: the Logudorese-Nuorese, used in central-northern Sardinia by about 400,000 inhabitants, and the Campidanese, typical of the central-southern area of the island and spoken by about 900,000 inhabitants.
Although the two varieties have similar morphology, lexicon and fundamentally homogeneous syntax, there are some phonetic and lexical differences which, however, do not represent an obstacle for mutual comprehensibility.
Among the main characteristics that differentiate the two dialects, there is the plural definite article (is for both genders in campidanese, sos / sas in logudorese) and the treatment of the Latin etymological vowels E and O, which remain such in the centre-variety and have changed to I and U in the central-southern ones. Also, there are numerous “transitional dialects” or Mesanía, such as the Arborense, the southern Barbaricino and the Ogliastrino, which show the characteristics of both varieties.
There are two other languages used in the far north of the island called Sardinian-Corsican, which scholars consider spoken Sardinian, being part of the Italian language system of type còrso/ Tuscan. These are the Gallurese and Turritano or Sassarese that have precise peculiarities:
- Gallurese: considered a variety of the Corsican-South, is spoken in the north-eastern part of Sardinia and is known by linguists as Corsican-Gallura. The language dates back to the time of the great migratory flows that hit Gallura from the second half of the fourteenth century or, according to others, from the sixteenth century;
- Turritano or Sassarese: dates back to the XII-XIII century and is used in Sassari, Porto Torres, Sorso, Castelsardo and surroundings. It retains the grammar and the basic structure of Corso-Toscano but is influenced in lexicon and phonetics by the Sardinian Logudorese and by Ligurian, Catalan and Spanish.
From the data collected in the report “Limba Sarda comuna. A sociolinguistic research”, a survey commissioned by the Region of Sardinia and carried out by the University of Cagliari, we know that:
- 68.4% of Sardinians say they know and speak some variety of the Sardinian language. A percentage that in municipalities below 4000 inhabitants rises to 85.5% while in those above 100 thousand inhabitants drops to 57.9%;
- 29% of the sample examined states that they have only passive competence, while only 2.7% of the total say they do not speak it and do not understand it;
- 37,8% is entirely or partially, in favour of the introduction of a single written form for the publication of documents of the Region of Sardinia;
- 57.3% said they were “totally in favour” of introducing a local language to school, alongside Italian, and 78.6% considered the school a context in which to use the local language so that it continues to live and develop;
- 89.9% of Sardinians say they “very much agree” with the statement that the local language “must be promoted and supported because it is part of our identity”.