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Venetian language

Venetian or Venetan is a Romance language spoken by over two million people, mostly in the Veneto region of Italy. The language is called vèneto in Venetian, veneto in Italian; the variant spoken in Venice is called venexiàn/venesiàn or veneziano, respectively. Although commonly referred to as an Italian dialect (diałeto, dialetto), even by its speakers, it displays notable structural differences from Italian proper. It belongs to the Northern Italian group within Romance languages.

On March 28, 2007 the Regional Council of Vèneto officially recognized the existence of the Venetian Language (Łéngua Vèneta) by passing with a vast majority the law on the "tutela e valorizzazione della lingua e della cultura veneta" with the vote of both ruling and opposition parties.

Venetan proper can be distinguished from Venetian Italian, the dialect of Italian influenced by local Venetian features that is also spoken in the region. Compare:

  • Venetan: Marco el xe drio rivar ('Marco is arriving')
  • Venetian Italian: Marco (el) sta rivando
  • Standard Italian: Marco sta arrivando

Venetian should also not be confused with Venetic, an apparently unrelated (and extinct) Indo-European language that was spoken in the Veneto region around the 6th century BC.

History

Venetian descends from Vulgar Latin, possibly influenced by the Venetic substratum and by the languages of the Germanic tribes (Visigoths, Ostrogoths and Lombards) that invaded northern Italy in the 5th century. Venetian, as a known written language, is attested in the 13th century.

The language enjoyed substantial prestige in the days of the Venetian Republic, when it attained the status of a lingua franca in the Mediterranean. Notable Venetian-language authors are the playwrights Ruzante (1502–1542) and Carlo Goldoni (1707–1793). Both Ruzante and Goldoni, following the old Italian theater tradition (Commedia dell'Arte), used Venetian in their comedies as the speech of the common folk. They are ranked among the foremost Italian theatrical authors of all time, and Goldoni's plays are still performed today. Other notable works in Venetian are the translations of the Iliad by Casanova (1725–1798) and Francesco Boaretti, and the poems of Biagio Marin (1891–1985). Notable also is a manuscript titled "Dialogue ... on the New star" attributed to Galileo (1564–1642).

However, as a literary language Venetian was overshadowed by the Tuscan "dialect" of Dante, and by the French languages like Provençal and the Oïl languages. After the demise of the Republic, Venetian gradually ceased to be used for administrative purposes; and when Italy was unified, in the 19th century, the Tuscan language was imposed as the basis of the national language of Italy. Since that time Venetian, deprived of any official status, has steadily lost ground to Italian. At present, virtually all its speakers are bilingual, and use Venetian only in informal contexts.

On the other hand, Venetian was spread through the world by the massive emigration from the Veneto region between 1870 and 1905. Those migrants created large Venetian-speaking communities in Argentina, Brazil (see Talian), Mexico, and Romania, where the language is still spoken today. Internal migrations under the Fascist regime also sent many Venetian speakers to other regions of Italy.

Presently, some firms have chosen to use the Venetian language in advertising as a famous beer did some years ago (Xe foresto solo el nome - only the name is foreign). In other cases Italian advertisings are given a "Venetian flavor" by adding a Venetian word: for instance an airline used the verb "xe" (Xe sempre più grande - Is bigger and bigger) into an Italian sentence (the correct Venetian rendering being xe senpre pi grande) to advertise new flights from Venice airport.

Geographic distribution

Venetian is spoken mainly in the Italian regions of Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia and in both Slovenia and Croatia (Istria, and the Kvarner Gulf). Smaller communities are found in the provinces of Lombardy, Trento, Emilia (in Mantova, Rimini, and Forlì), Lazio (Pontine Marshes), and in Romania (Tulcea). It is also spoken in North and South America by the descendants of Italian immigrants. Notable examples of this are the city of Chipilo and Colonia Manuel Gonzalez, Mexico or the Talian dialect spoken in Brazilian states of Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina.

Classification

Venetian descends from Vulgar Latin — like all other Romance languages, including Italian and the other Italian dialects. However, in the traditional classification of Romance languages it is considered part of the Italo-Romance group.
According to Ethnologue, Venetian and Italian belong to different sub-branches of the Italo-Western branch: Venetian is a member of the Gallo-Iberian group, which also includes Catalan, Spanish, Portuguese and French, among others; whereas Italian is a member of the Italo-Dalmatian group. More precisely, Venetian belongs to the Gallo-Romance sub-branch of Gallo-Iberian, which includes French but not Catalan and Spanish. In that classification, therefore, Venetian is more closely related to French, Catalan and Spanish than to Italian.

On the other hand, although French and Venetian are now mutually intelligible only to a small degree (mostly due to major changes in French pronunciation over the last few centuries), Spanish and Venetian are mutually comprehensible to some extent.

Regional variants

The main regional variants and sub-variants of Venetian are

All these variants are mutually intelligible, with a minimum 92% between the most diverging ones (Central and Western). Modern speakers reportedly can still understand to some extent Venetian texts from the 1300s.

Other noteworthy variants are spoken in

Language features

Familial attributes

Like most Romance languages, Venetian has mostly abandoned the Latin case system, in favor of prepositions and a more rigid subject-verb-object sentence structure. It has thus become more analytic, if not quite as much as English. Venetian also has the Romance articles, both definite (derived from the Latin demonstrative ille) and indefinite (derived from the numeral unus).

Venetian also retained the Latin concepts of gender (masculine and feminine) and number (singular and plural). Unlike other Gallo-Iberian languages, which form plurals by adding -s, Venetian forms plurals in a manner similar to standard Italian. Nouns and adjectives can be modified by suffixes that indicate several qualities such as size, endearment, deprecation, etc. Adjectives (usually postfixed) and articles are inflected to agree with the noun in gender and number:

  • el gato graso, the fat (male) cat.
  • ła gata grasa, the fat (female) cat.
  • i gati grasi, the fat (male) cats.
  • łe gate grase, the fat (female) cats.
  • el gatòn graso, the fat big (male) cat.
  • ła gatòna grasa, the fat big (female) cat.
  • un bel gateło, a nice small (male) cat.
  • na beła gateła, a nice small (female) cat.

Some pronouns retain a neuter form reserved for abstract nouns (par questo "for this reason" , de queło "about that fact" n.) different from the masculin (par 'sto qua "for this boy/dog" , de queło là "about that man/book" m.) while in Italian masculine forms also work for the neuter (per questo="for this boy/reason"; di quello="about that man/fact").

Specific attributes

Sound system

Venetian has some sounds not present in Italian, an interdental voiceless fricative [θ] spelled ç or z(h) and similar to English th in thing and thought, to Castilian (not Latin-American) Spanish c(e, i)/z (as in cero, cien, zapato), Modern Greek θ (theta), and Icelandic Thorn þ/Þ and Eth Ð/ð; it occurs, for example, in çena/zhena (supper), which sounds the same as Castilian Spanish cena (same meaning). However this sound, which is present only in some variants of the language (Bellunese, north-Trevisan, some Central Venetian rural areas around Padua, Vicenza and the mouth of the river Po), is considered provincial with most variants using other sounds instead such as [s], [z], and [ʃ]. Some variants also present an interdental voiced fricative written "z" (el pianze=he cries) but this often turns into voiced-S, i.e. [z] (written x: el pianxe) or into dental D (el piande).

In some varieties the intervocalic L turns into a soft "evanescent" L (this alternation is often represented with one spelling ł). The pronunciation of this phoneme varies from an almost e in the region of Venice, to a partially vocalised l further inland, to void in some mountainous areas. Thus, for example, góndoła may sound like góndoea, góndola or góndoa. In the latter variants, the "ł" spelling prevents possible confusion between pairs like scóła/skóła ("school") and scóa/skóła ("broom"). Standard Italian had this type of L in more limited conditions, but changed the spelling to i (bianco, chiamare from earlier blancus, clamare). It does contribute to its mutual intelligibility to Spanish speakers, who hear it as Spanish ll.

Venetian does not have the doubled consonant sounds characteristic of Tuscan and many other Italian dialects: thus Italian fette, palla, penna ("slices", "ball", and "pen") are fete, bała, and pena in Venetian. The masculine singular ending, which is usually -o / -e in Italian, is often voided in Venetian, particularly in the countryside varieties: Italian pieno ("full") is pien, and altare is altar. Also, the masculine article el is often shortened to 'l.

Lexicon

The Venetian lexicon has a large number of original word forms derived from Latin, Greek, and German, such as tosàt ("lad", in Italian ragazzo), técia ("pan", pentola), còtoła ("skirt", sottana), bixo ("grey," bigio), bìsi ("peas", piselli), sgorlàr ("to shake", scuotere), and many more.

Venetian English Italian Venetian word Origin
bèver, trincàr to drink bere bibere (Latin), trinken (German)
becar to be spicy hot piccante from the verb beccare (Italian), literally "to peck"
bisato eel anguilla Latin bestia ("beast"); cf. biscia (a kind of snake)
butàr to throw gettare bautan (Gothic)
cantón corner angolo ?
caréga, trón chair sedia cathedra, thronus (Latin) from (Greek)
cascàr to fall cadere from casus of cadere (Latin) made into a verb
ciapàr to catch, to take chiappare capulare (Latin)
co when (in non-interrogative clauses) quando cum (Latin)
copàr to kill uccidere from Latin and later Italian accoppare, literally "to behead"
croar to crumble crollare ?
doxe (doge) Doge duce dux (Latin), meaning "leader"
fiól son figlio filius, filiolus (Latin)
gòto drinking glass bicchiere from the Latin guttu
insìa exit uscita in + exita (Latin)
magnàr to eat mangiare manducare (Latin)
mare mother madre mater (Latin)
mi I io me (Latin)
mojére, mugere wife, woman moglie mulier (Latin)
morsegàr to bite mordere from morsus of mordere (Latin) made into a verb
mustaci mustaches baffi from Greek muostakion
munìn cat gatto perhaps from "meow" sound
mus donkey asino ?
nòtoła, barbastrìo, signàpoła bat pipistrello "the one of the night", from Italian notte
òcio eye; watch out! occhio occulus (Latin)
oxèło bird uccello avicellus (Latin)
pantegàna rat ratto ?
pirón fork forchetta from inpirar ("to insert")
plàstega plastic plastica plastikos (Greek)
pomo/pón apple mela pomus (Latin)
orécia, récia ear orecchio auriculum (Latin)
sghiràt squirrel scoiattolo ?
sgnape schnapps liquore schnapps (German)
supiar, fis-ciar to whistle fischiare sub + flare (Latin)
tòr su to pick up raccogliere tollere (Latin)
ancuò, 'ncò today oggi hunc + hodie (Latin)
vaca cow mucca vaca (Latin)
vardar to look guardare warten (Gothic)

Redundant subject pronouns

A peculiarity of Venetian grammar is a "semi-analytical" verbal flexion, with a compulsory "clitic subject pronoun" before the verb in many sentences, "echoing" the subject as an ending or a weak pronoun. Independent/emphatic pronouns (e.g. ti), on the contrary, are optional.

  • Italian: (Tu) eri sporco ("You were dirty").
  • Venetian: (Ti) te jèra onto or even Ti te jèri/xeri onto (lit. "(You) you were dirty").
  • Italian: Il cane era sporco ("The dog was dirty").
  • Venetian: El can 'l jèra onto (lit. "The dog he was dirty").
  • Italian: (Tu) ti sei domandato ("You have asked yourself").
  • Venetian: (Ti) te te à/gà/ghè domandà (lit. "(You) you yourself have asked").

The clitic subject pronoun (te, el/ła, i/łe) is used with the 2nd and 3rd person singular, and with the 3rd person plural. This feature may have arisen as a compensation for the fact that the 2nd- and 3rd-person inflections for most verbs, which are still distinct in Italian and many other Romance languages, are identical in Venetian. (The Piedmontese language also has clitic subject pronouns, but the rules are somewhat different.)

The function of clitics is particularly visible in long sentences, which do not always have clear intonational breaks to easily tell apart vocative and imperative in sharp commands from exclamations with "shouted indicative". In Venetian the clitic el marks the indicative verb and its masculine subject, otherwise there is an imperative preceded by a vocative:

  • Venetian: Marco el canta ben, dai! ("Mark (subj.) sings well, you have to admit it!" - exclamation: subject + indicative)
  • Venetian: Marco canta ben, dai! ("Mark (voc.) sing well, come on!" - command: vocative+imperative)
  • Ven.Ital.: Marco canta ben, dai! (both exclamative and imperative)
  • Std.Ital.: Marco canta bene, dai! (both exclamative and imperative)

Indeed, the verbal forms requiring subject clitics can often change or even drop their endings without problems of confusion because the clitic itself provide the necessary information (in Piedmontese and Milanese the clitic is not sufficient to mark the verb and often requires the cooccurence of a specific ending).

The clitics are the same in whole Veneto with two exceptions: te becomes ti in Venice (but is different from emphatic TI!) and becomes tu in some bellunese areas. El becomes Al in bellunese.

2nd singular person present indicative of "magnar"

  • Venetian in Venice: (TI) ti magni (lit." (You) you eat")
  • Venetian in Padua-Vicenza-Rovigo-Verona: (TI) te magni (=lit. "(You) you eat")
  • Venetian in Treviso-Belluno: (TI) te magna (=lit. "(You) you eat")

2nd singular person imperf. indicative of "magnar"

  • Venetian in Venice: (TI) ti magnavi (lit. "(You) you used to eat")
  • Venetian in Pad-Vic-Rov-Ver: (TI) te magnavi (lit. "(You) you used to eat")
  • Venetian in Treviso-Belluno: (TI) te/tu magnava/magnéa(lit. "(You) you used to eat")

2nd singular person present indicative of "sentir"

  • Venetian in Venice-Verona: (TI) te/ti senti (lit. "(You) you hear/you feel")
  • Venetian in Vic-Pad-Rov: (TI) te sinti (lit. "(You) you hear/you feel")
  • Venetian in Treviso: (TI) te sente (lit. "(You) you hear/you feel")
  • Venetian in Belluno: (TI) te/tu sent (lit. "(You) you hear/you feel")

3rd singular person present indicative of "sentir"

  • Venetian Ven-Ver-Vic-Pad-Rov: (EL CAN) el sente (lit. "(The dog) he hears/he feels")
  • Venetian Trev-Bell: (EL CAN) el/al sent (lit. "(The dog) he hears/he feels")

Such variations in last and internal vowels do not block reciprocal comprehension between people in Veneto because what is felt as important to mark the verb is the clitic ("te, el").

Also general Venetian forms exist with no endings:

  • Venetian (in whole Veneto): te vien / ti vien ("you come")
  • Venetian (in whole Veneto): el vien (lit. "he come" as there was no -s)
  • Venetian (in whole Veneto): i vien ("they come")

Note that when the subject is postverbal (motion verbs, unaccusative verbs) the clitic is banned and the past participle of compound forms (if any) is invariably masc.singular, yielding a semi-impersonal form which does not exist in Italian:

Normal form

  • Italian: Mie sorelle sono arrivate ("[as for] My sisters have arrived-f.pl.")
  • Venetian: Mé sorełe łe xe/è rivàe (lit."[as for] My sisters they-cl.f.pl. have arrived-f.pl.")

Impersonal form (only in Venetian)

  • Italian: Sono arrivate le mie sorelle (hey, the news! "my sisters have arrived")
  • Venetian: Xe/Gh'è rivà mé sorełe (lit. "(there) has arrived-m.sg. my sisters") --- no clitic and an invariable m.sg. past participle

In Italian the past participle is always inflected while in the Venetian in the impersonal form it is invariable and the verb has no plural (fem.) clitic, differently from the normal flection.

Interrogative inflection

Venetian also has a special interrogative verbal flexion used for direct questions, which also incorporates a redundant pronoun:

  • Italian: (Tu) eri sporco? ("Were you dirty?").
  • Venetian: (Ti) jèritu onto? or even (Ti) xèrito sporco? (lit. "You were-you dirty?")
  • Italian: Il cane era sporco? ("Was the dog dirty?").
  • Venetian: El can jèreło onto? (lit. "The dog was-he dirty?")
  • or even: Jèreło onto el can ? (lit. "Was-he dirty the dog ?")
  • Italian: (Tu) ti sei domandato? ("Have you asked yourself?").
  • Venetian: (Ti) te àtu/gatu/ghètu/ghèto domandà? (lit. "You to-yourself have-you asked?")

Auxiliary verbs

Reflexive tenses use the auxiliary verb aver ("to have"), as in English, German, and Spanish; instead of essar ("to be"), which would be normal in Italian. The past participle is invariable, unlike Italian:

  • Italian: (Tu) ti sei lavato (lit. "(You) yourself are washed").
  • Venetian: (Ti) te te à/ga/ghè lavà (lit. "(You) you yourself have washed").
  • Italian: (Loro) si sono svegliati (lit. "(They) themselves are awakened").
  • Venetian: (Luri) i se ga/à svejà (lit. "(They) they themselves have awakened").

Continuing action

Another peculiarity of the language is the use of the phrase drìo (a) (literally, "behind to") to indicate continuing action:

  • Italian: Mio padre sta parlando ("My father is speaking").
  • Venetian: Mé pare 'l e drìo parlàr (lit. "My father he is busy speaking").

Indeed the word drio=busy/engaged also appears in other sentences:

  • Venetian: So' drio i mistieri lit. means "I am busy doing the housework" (=I'm doing it)
  • Venetian: Vo drio i mistieri lit. means "I go busy with the housework" (=I'm going to do it)
  • Venetian: Mé pare l'è in leto drio dormir lit. means "My father is in bed, busy sleeping" (=My father is sleeping in bed)

Another progressive form uses the construction "essar là che" (lit. "to be there that"):

  • Venetian: Me pàre 'l è là che 'l parla (lit. "My father he is there that he speaks").

The use of progressive tenses is more pervasive than in Italian; E.g.

  • English: "He wouldn't possibly have been speaking to you".
  • Venetian: No 'l sarìa mìa stat/stà drìo parlarte (lit. "Not-he would possibly have been behind to speak-to-you").

That construction does not occur in Italian: *Non sarebbe mica stato parlandoti is not syntactically valid.

Subordinate clauses

Subordinate clauses have double introduction ("whom that", "when that", "which that", "how that"), as in Old English:

  • Italian: So di chi parli ("(I) know about whom (you) speak").
  • Venetian: So de chi che te parla (lit. "(I) know about whom that you-speak").

Spelling systems

Traditional system

Venetian does not have an official writing system, but it is traditionally written using the Latin alphabet — sometimes with the addition of a couple of letters and/or diacritics for the sounds that do not exist in Italian, such as ç/zh for /θ/ or (recently) ł for the "soft" l. Otherwise, the traditional spelling rules are mostly those of Italian, except that x represents /z/, as in English "zero".

As in Italian, the letter s between vowels usually represents [z], so one must write ss in those contexts to represent a voiceless /s/: basa for /'baza/ ("he/she kisses"), bassa for /'basa/ ("low"). Also, because of the numerous differences in pronunciation relative to Italian, the grave and acute accents are liberally used to mark both stress and vowel quality:

à /a/, á /ɐ/, è /ɛ/, é /e/, ò /ɔ/, ó /o/, ù /u/

Venetian allows the consonant cluster /stʃ/ (not present in Italian), which is usually written s-c or s'c before i or e, and s-ci or s'ci before other vowels. Examples include s-ciarir (Italian schiarire, "to clear up"), s-cèt (schietto, "plain clear"), and s-ciòp (schioppo, "gun"). The hyphen or apostrophe is used because the combination sc(i) is conventionally used for /ʃ/ sound, as in Italian spelling; e.g. scèmo (scemo, "stupid"); whereas sc before a, o and u represents /sk/: scàtoa (scatola, "box"), scóndar (nascondere, "to hide"), scusàr (scusare, "to forgive").

However, the traditional spelling is subject to many historical, regional, and even personal variations. In particular, the letter z has been used to represent different sounds in different written traditions. In Venice and Vicenza, for example, the phonemes /θ/ and /z/ are written z and x, respectively (el pianze = "he cries", el xe = "he is"); whereas other traditions have used ç and z (el piançe and el ze).

Proposed systems

Recently there have been attempts to standardize and simplify the script, e.g. by using x for [z] and a single s for [s]; then one would write baxa for ['baza] ("she kisses") and basa for ['basa] ("low"). However, in spite of their theoretical advantages, these proposals have not been very successful outside of academic circles, because of regional variations in pronunciation and incompatibility with existing literature.

The Venetian speakers of Chipilo use a system based on Spanish orthography, even though it does not contain letters for [j] and [θ]. The American linguist Carolyn McKay proposed a writing system for that variant, based entirely on the Italian alphabet. However, the system was not very popular.

Sample texts

Ruzante returning from war

The following sample, in the old dialect of Padua, comes from a play by Ruzante (Angelo Beolco), titled Parlamento de Ruzante che iera vegnú de campo ("Dialogue of Ruzante who came from the battlefield", 1529). The character, a peasant returning home from the war, is expressing to his friend Menato his relief at being still alive:

     Orbéntena, el no serae mal
star in campo per sto robare,
se 'l no foesse che el se ha pur
de gran paure. Càncaro ala roba!
A' son chialò mi, ala segura,
e squase che no a' no cherzo
esserghe gnan. [...]
Se mi mo' no foesse mi?
E che a foesse stò amazò in campo?
E che a foesse el me spirito?
Lo sarae ben bela.
No, càncaro, spiriti no magna.
     "Really, it would not be that bad
to be in the battlefield looting,
were it not that one gets also
big scares. Damn the loot!
I am right here, in safety,
and almost can't believe
I am. [...]
And if I were not me?
And if I had been killed in battle?
And if I were my ghost?
That would be just great.
No, damn, ghosts don't eat."

Discorso de Perasto

The following sample is taken from the Perasto Speech (Discorso de Perasto), given on August 23, 1797 at Perasto, by Venetian Captain Giuseppe Viscovich, at the last lowering of the flag of the Venetian Republic (nicknamed the "Republic of Saint Mark").

     Par trezentosetantasete ani
le nostre sostanse, el nostro sangue,
le nostre vite le xè sempre stàe
par Ti, S.Marco; e fedelisimi
senpre se gavemo reputà,
Ti co nu, nu co Ti,
e senpre co Ti sul mar
semo stài lustri e virtuosi.
Nisun co Ti ne gà visto scanpar,
nisun co Ti ne gà visto vinti e spaurosi!
     "For three hundred and seventy seven years
our bodies, our blood
our lives have always been
for You, St. Mark; and very faithful
we have always thought ourselves,
You with us, we with You,
And always with You on the sea
we have been illustrious and virtuous.
No one has seen us with You flee,
No one has seen us with You defeated and fearful!"

Francesco Artico

The following is a contemporary text by Francesco Artico. The elderly narrator is recalling the church choir singers of his youth, who, needless to say, sang much better than those of today:

     Sti cantori vèci da na volta,
co i cioéa su le profezie,
in mezo al coro, davanti al restèl,
co'a ose i 'ndéa a cior volta
no so 'ndove e ghe voéa un bèl tóc
prima che i tornésse in qua
e che i rivésse in cao,
màssima se i jèra pareciàdi onti
co mezo litro de quel bon
tant par farse coràjo.
     "These old singers of the past,
when they picked up the Prophecies,
in the middle of the choir, in front of the gate,
with their voice they went off
who knows where, and it was a long time
before they came back
and landed on the ground,
especially if they had been previously "oiled"
with half a liter of the good one [wine]
just to make courage."

English words of Venetian origin

See also

References

External links

General Language:

Grammar:

Dictionaries

Audio

Language and Culture:

  • Raixe Venete — Venetian site in Venetian Language
  • Quatro Ciàcoe — Venetian language magazine
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