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The Many (MANY) Dialects of Italy

One of the first times I heard Calabrese was when I was at the naca procession in Davoli for Easter.

I heard a man mutter something, and it sounded like he had a mouth full of marbles. I paid it no mind...until a large pine tree rushed by me and he switched to Italian: "Miss, please move!"

Ah, Italian dialects.

Your Italian Lessons Can Only Take You So Far

While it's challenging enough to adjust to different Italian accents throughout the country, if you move here, you'll likely also have to battle understanding the local dialect.

Good luck.

Because Italy only became a country in 1861, each region had its own language before that. People in Florence could scarcely understand those in Venice, though Dante had done his darndest centuries before to establish a common language when he wrote the ever-popular Inferno.

Add to this the fact that so much of Italy consists of remote mountain towns, and you can start to understand why, up until 1951, only 20% of Italians spoke ITALIAN Italian. The rest relied on dialects.

Today, those dialects are alive and kicking. In fact, there are dozens and dozens of dialects throughout the country. Over the centuries, parts of Italy were occupied by Greeks, Spanish, name the conqueror and they've probably been in Italy at some point. Each of these people left behind a piece of their language, and today you'll hear hyper-local dialects everywhere you go. There are villages that speak an ancient Greek dialect, as well as Albanian here in Calabria.

In fact, there isn't even one Calabrian dialect. The way people speak in Francesco's town, Davoli, is different from the dialect spoken in Tropea, an hour and a half away.

Can You Learn the Dialects of Italy?

Excellent question! In fact, I am hoping to learn Calabrese, but it's challenging. Locals switch rapidly from Calabrese to Italian, so I can't have a full immersion experience. Nor are there textbooks!

Give me ten years and maybe I'll be able to say a few things in the local dialect!

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