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Lesson Transcript


Michael: How do Italian dialects differ from standard Italian?
Ofelia: And will I be able to communicate with the locals using standard Italian?
Michael: At ItalianPod101.com, we hear these questions often. In the following situation, Sasha Lee and Giuseppe Mancini are watching a famous detective drama on television and the main character uses a word that doesn't sound like Italian. Sasha asks,
"What does arbulo mean?"
Sasha Lee: Cosa significa arbulo?
Sasha Lee: Cosa significa arbulo?
Giuseppe Mancini: Significa albero in Siciliano.
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Sasha Lee: Cosa significa arbulo?
Michael: "What does arbulo mean?"
Giuseppe Mancini: Significa albero in Siciliano.
Michael: "It means ‘tree' in Sicilian."

Lesson focus

Michael: The Italian language, or
Ofelia: la lingua italiana
Michael: has a lot of dialects or
Ofelia: dialetti.
Michael: Italy is the European country with the greatest number of dialects, although the exact number isn't well documented. It is, however, possible to put them in smaller groups. For simplicity, we'll break them into three main regional groups. First, we have the northern dialects, or
Ofelia: dialetti settentrionali.
Michael: The northern dialects are the ones spoken in regions, such as
Ofelia: Piemonte, Lombardia,
Michael: and
Ofelia: Veneto
Michael: There are not too many common features, as each group has a wide number of subgroups. But in general, we can say that in the northern dialects, sounds and syllables tend to be contracted. For example, double consonants tend to be pronounced as single consonants.
Michael: The second group is the central dialects, or
Ofelia: dialetti mediani.
Michael: This group includes the Tuscan dialect or
Ofelia: dialetto toscano,
Michael: which is the closest dialect to standard Italian. This group also includes the dialect spoken in Rome, or
Ofelia: romanesco.
Michael: The third group includes all the regions that extend south of Rome and is referred to as the southern dialects, or
Ofelia: dialetti meridionali.
Michael: This group includes large subgroups, such as Sicilian,
Ofelia: siciliano,
Michael: and "Neapolitan,"
Ofelia: napoletano.
Michael: In general, in the southern dialects, sounds are not contracted. For example, double consonants are pronounced as such.
Michael: Grouping the dialects into these three groups involves extreme simplification. In reality, each dialect represents a complete and independent system with its own phonology and morphology.
Michael: Let's consider the Sicilian word we heard in the dialogue.
Ofelia: Arbulo.
Michael: What is the standard Italian word for "tree"?
Ofelia: Albero.
Michael: And now, what does the same word sound like when spoken in a northern dialect?
Ofelia: Èlber.
Michael: As you might notice, these words sound almost like they come from totally different languages. Actually, Italian dialects are sometimes considered separate languages and some of them are also protected. Great efforts have been made to try to save them from extinction, because, as time goes by, fewer people use them.
Michael: Does the variety of dialects mean you won't be able to communicate as freely as an Italian learner? Not at all. Standard Italian is the universal tool used to communicate in Italy. Dialects and sub-dialects are most commonly used only among the elderly and in the countryside. And if you happen to not understand a certain word, don't worry — even two native speakers from different regions of Italy might face this same problem.


Michael: Now you know all about Italian dialects. Do you want to know more about Italian? Be sure to download the lesson notes for this lesson at ItalianPod101.com — and move onto the next lesson!