Italophony in the Mediterranean

The Italian-speaking area refers to all countries and people who speak Italian as a mother tongue or official language or as a second language. The Italian language made its debut in the thirteenth century up to the present day with remarkable evolutions. How far was it? The natural linguistic boundaries were in Nice until 1860, since then French territory: in the French Riviera one could hear above all Italian speaking, then the Parisian politics no longer allowed Italian speakers to have newspapers in Italian. And yet Giuseppe Garibaldi was born in Nice in 1807! Let’s move on to Switzerland: far from the Mediterranean, the Italian speakers in the Canton of Valais are, according to the last census, 3.8% of the population. How many of them are autochthonous? Less than half; their presence is rooted in the migratory flows of the 50s of the last century. The situation is different for the Canton Ticino and for the Canton of Graubünden which has been full of native Italians for at least six hundred years. Around the lakes of Lugano and Maggiore, there are over three hundred thousand people and Italian is the official language since 1803; as well as to the east in the neighboring Canton of Graubünden, where the population is almost two hundred thousand inhabitants, our idiom is official in cohabitation with the German and Romansh. Only 12% of Italian speakers are present and almost all of them are in the Valposchiavo. Leaving the Swiss land, we head to the Istrian coast, today a small part of Slovenia and all the rest of Croatia. Until 1947 the cities on the coast were mostly Italian, namely the dialect “veneto de mar”, better known as the Istroveneto. The Italian language, therefore, has always been hegemonic in this land, especially on the coast where the censuses of 1900, 1910 and 1921 confirmed that the Italian dialect reigned over the seaside towns of the Istrian peninsula. The same fate for the islands of Quarnaro and Quarnarolo where the fishermen of these aricipelagos were almost always all Italian-speaking, because they are accustomed to sailing by sea as traditionally learned from the Serenissima. Speaking instead of the city of Rijeka, today’s Croatian city, capital of European culture in 2020, we must highlight that the majority has always spoken Italian since the time before the annexation to the kingdom of Italy took place in 1924. City always multicultural – where they lived together Italians, Croats, Slovenes, Hungarians, Germans, Rumanians – Rijeka today has one hundred and thirty thousand residents but unfortunately, due to the notorious dramatic events of the Titina era, only 2% have expressly declared themselves Italian speakers. Continuing south on our journey along the shores of the Mediterranean, we find the region of Dalmatia where, up until a hundred years ago, the Italian language had an important administrative and political role. In Dalmatia, a land of sublime figures such as Niccolò Tommaseo, Antonio Bajamonti and Pope John IV, Italian-speaking speakers suffered two important exoduses: one in 1921 and the other in 1947, but they always tried to defend their Italian character. Further south we do not forget the Albanian coastal population that speaks and understands Italian very well. Sailing and leaving the Adriatic Sea, we arrive to the south of the island of Malta, linguistically distant from us but not too much, and close to our peninsula for much more. Here the number of Italian speakers declared as such in the last census is eight thousand speakers, or 2% of the census population, but the understanding of our language rises to 83%, also highlighting that until 1934 the Italian language was co-official. Finally we arrived on the island of Corsica, where the Italian language was abolished by law in 1859 by the French administration. The Corsican language is to be considered one of the most pure dialects of Italy: to date, of the more than three hundred thousand inhabitants of the region, only a small part is able to speak correctly the Corsican, which is divided into pumontincu  and cismontincu, or two variants of the same idiom.

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