University of Cambridge > > Cambridge Endangered Languages and Cultures Group > The hidden multilingualism of Italy: issues and challenges

The hidden multilingualism of Italy: issues and challenges

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This talk is co-organized with the Italian Department of the University of Cambridge

The Romance varieties traditionally referred to as “Italian dialects” comprise a number of linguistic systems that are quite different from one another, so much so that the entity “Italian dialects” is not linguistically definable (e.g. Maiden & Parry, 1997), potentially existing only as a socio-political concept. While it is generally accepted that in linguistic terms the so-called “Italian dialects” are Romance languages in a sisterhood relationship with Italian (e.g. Cerruti & Regis, 2014; Coluzzi, 2009), the terminology “dialect” persists, demonstrating a tendency to give precedence to socio-political considerations over linguistic classification, and in keeping with the widespread view that “languages” and “dialects” are social constructs rather than independently identifiable structural entities (e.g. Trudgill, 1974, Chambers & Trudgill, 1980). In this talk I argue that the development of language legislation makes that conclusion no longer tenable. As the protection of linguistic rights hinges on discourse that often employs the concept of regional/ minority language, the recurring assumption is that the entity “language” does exist and that it is somewhat objectively identifiable. In such cases, sociolinguistic criteria cannot provide a useful definition since most regional/minority languages display very low sociolinguistic status due to the very fact that they have been socially subordinate to some other non-regional variety. A purely sociolinguistic view, therefore, creates a paradox whereby the notion of “language” excludes a priori many of the linguistic varieties that legislation is meant to protect.

This talk is part of the Cambridge Endangered Languages and Cultures Group series.

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