According to the July Harper’s Index, Italian was spoken by only 2.5% of the people living in Italy at the time of that country’s unification (1861). What language(s) did the rest speak?
It may be more correct to say that before Italian unification, there was great variance in the Italian language. Perhaps the language that we call “Italian” in its current form was only spoken by 2.5% of the people, but Genovese and Neopolitan and Venetian and Sicilian were, even by 1861, mutually intelligible. So, for that matter, are many Italian dialects with many Spanish dialects. That is not to say that someone from Genoa and someone from Naples could perfectly understand each other, but with patience they could both speak their native dialect and understand the other. For a modern equivalent think of someone from the Scottish Higlands conversing with someone from Mississippi. They are both speaking English, but it takes great difficulty for them to understand each other. It is, however, not impossible.
Jason R Remy
“And it could be safely said that at that moment, in the whole of India, no one, absolutely no one, was f^(king a goat.”
– John Irving A Son of the Circus (1994)
I’m from Texas, and on my vacation to Scotland, I found the Scots much more easily understandable than the people from Boston or upstate New York who were on our tour bus.
I saw on some “inside the movies” show somewhere that the Deep South plantation-owner accent is surprisingly close to an English accent but with very slight vowel changes. They had an Englishman speaking just like a rich white Georgian, and explained with spoken examples how they had him change his accent. They went on to say that the more country accents were derived more from the Scottish and Irish accents, since those emigrants were more likely to have ended up in the backwoods or something like that.
At any rate, it was very surprising to me to hear Scots say things the same way as people back home, even though the Scots had very thick accents.
Perhaps 2.5% spoke Italian and the other 97.5% were listening?
It only hurts when I laugh.
Here’s a list of all the main languages spoken in Italy, excluding Standard Italian, and including the Islands of Sardinia, Corsica, and Sicily:
ITALIAN SIGN LANGUAGE
As you can see, there are many more languages in Italy than Standard Italian (Which would probably be the dialect spoken in Rome).
Actually, I fancy the standard dialect may be that of Florence. It is definitely so with the literary language, due to the enormous influence of Dante.
For what it’s worth, as a semipro opera singer, I have a fairish understanding of standard Italian, but the Sicilian dialect spoken in most of the pizza parlors in my area of New Jersey might as well be Chinese.
John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams
As far as I know, Italian minority languages (e.g. Sicilian, Piedmontese, Neapolitan) and Spanish and Catalan dialects are not mutually comphrensible, though a Spanish-speaker can make himself understood partially in Italy and vice versa, especially with the help of gestures, a pen and paper, and a sympathetic listener. It is true that Spanish, Catalan, and Italian are a lot more similar to one another than English is to any other language.
Here’s a strange feeling. If you only speak English, you just assume that all other languages are impenetrable code. After I learned Spanish, though, I found that I could quarter-understand Portuguese and Italian and ten-percent-understand French. I thought this was really weird until I was assured by Spaniards that, no, they were used to it.
Lawrence: It’s still interesting to me how much Italian i can understand, even though i’m still learning Spanish. A lot of words from Italian are close enough to Spanish that i can make them out.Portuguese is a little easier though, but it’s still quite interesting to me.
“Let me show you something
that you’ve never seen before
like a light im gonna shine on you
forever is a word i dont often get to say
but if you say it loud enough i’ll say it too”
That ten percent of French and quarter of Italian mentioned by Lawrence isn’t too surprising, and reading almost any European language works nearly as well, even for monolingual English speakers.
Since French, Spanish and Italian (among others) are all derived from Latin, they’re all pretty similar. The languages of northern Europe mostly have Germanic roots.
And of course English is half Latin, half German, and half everything else.
Bob the Random Expert
“If we don’t have the answer, we’ll make one up.”