French is recognized by its constitution as the official language in the country. The government primarily communicates in French, as well as the 88% of the population who speaks it as their first language. Over the years, France has worked hard to promote the French language, and it even established the regulating body of the Académie Française in 1635 to protect and promote it. However, its relationship to its own regional languages is more complex as there are many regional languages that have been spoken inside France for at least as long, or even longer than French, and yet they still remain largely unrecognized. France is a signatory of an European Treaty adopted in 1992 whose goal is to protect and promote historical regional and minority languages in Europe, however it has still not ratified it. Therefore, most of those who speak minority languages also speak French, given that the regional and minority languages are given no to very limited legal recognition.

From French Dominance to Lingering Heritage: The Complex World of Regional and Minority Languages

Apart from French, other commonly spoken languages are English, Spanish, German, Italian, Arabic and Portuguese. Several languages spoken in different regions of France had their origin from the Germanic, Celtic and Gallo-Romance dialects, such as Breton, Corsican, Occitan, Gascon, Auvergnat and Norma. Breton is spoken by approximately 200,000 people, most of them residing in Brittany, where the language originated. For 300 years it was used by the French upper classes, after which it lost its prevalence to French and Latin. Today, it can only be heard in some regions in Lower Brittany. Corsican is otherwise known as lingua corsa, and it was an official language of Corsica until the mid-19th century. It was influenced by Tuscan, Italian and French, and has developed into several dialects which vary through Corsica and Northern Sardinia. It is currently spoken by less than 200,000 people, and it is being taught in schools and popularized by local media. Occitan is spoken in southern France, northern Spain and Italy’s Occitan Valley. These different dialects may resemble each other, however the differences between them can be significant. Gascon has about 250,000 speakers and is mostly spoken in the southwest of France. Due to the geographical proximity to Spain, it has some ties to the Basque language. Auvergnat is spoken in the historical province of Auvernhat in the south of France. A recent study revealed that over 80% of the residents understood the local dialect, and its popularity is rising, especially among the younger generation. Norma is mainly spoken in Normandy by about 100,000 people.

Other minority languages in France include Gallo, Basque, Languedocien, as well as Polish, Turkish, Dutch, Romanian, Chinese, Catalan, Croatian and Galician. Many of these languages are native – such as Gallo, Languedocien and Galician – and are actually thought to be nearing extinction.

Italian is the most commonly spoken language in Italy, as well as its official language. Although not listed by the constitution as the official language, several courts have made legal decisions identifying the language as such. Italy has a multicultural population of over 60 million residents who speak many different languages, ranging from minority languages to regional dialects. Italian, as aforementioned, is the most widely spoken and the official language of the country, spoken by around 85 million people all over the world. Italian also serves as one of the working languages of the Council of Europe.

The Rich Roots of Italian: From Tuscan Dialect to a Romance Language

The Italian language is considered a Romance language and is closely related to Latin, more so than any other Romance language. Italian has its roots in the Tuscan dialect of the Italo-Dalmatian subgroup, which is part of the Indo-European language family. The Tuscan dialect was used by writers and the upper class of the Florentine society during the 1100s, such as the famous author Dante Alighieri, who is often credited for standardizing the language.

Apart from Italian, a number of minority languages are spoken in Italy, such as French, Greek, German, Albanian, Sardinian, Croatian, Occitan, Slovene, Friulian, Catalan, Ladin, and Franco-Provencal. Out of these languages, Sardinian belongs to its own group within the Romance languages, with around 1 million people speaking Sardinian, most of which live on the island of Sardinia. Sardinian has been influenced by Catalan, Spanish, Italian, Byzantine Greek, and pre-Latin languages, and is considered to be an indigenous language and very closely related to Latin. Sardinian is further divided into two varieties: Logudorese and Campidanese. As per UNESCO, both varieties are considered endangered, as Italian gains more prominence.

Other languages are spoken in Italy, 31 of which UNESCO considers to have varying degrees of vulnerability: Griko, Gardiol, Vastese, Toitschu, and Molise Croatian, to name a few.

Minority Languages in Italy: Preserving Griko, Gardiol, Vastese, Toitschu, and Molise Croatian

Griko is the language of the Griko people, who are believed to have descended from the Southern Italy’s Ancient Greek communities. This language belongs to the Hellenic language group and has between 40,000 and 50,000 second language speakers. Gardiol is spoken in the twon of Guardia Piemontese in the Calabria region, and is considered to be a dialect of the Occitan language. Vastese is considered to be a separate language and not a dialect of Italian, and is only spoken by the inhabitants of the town of Vasto, with the majority of the native speakers being between the ages of 80 and 90. Toitschu, also known as Walser German, is spoken throughout Italy’s Piedmont and Aosta Valley regions and is considered to be a dialect of Alemmanic. However, it is not mutually intelligible with Standard German or Swiss. Molise Croatian is a dialect of Serbo-Croatian, spoken by the Italian Croats in the Campobasso province. It has less than 1,000 native speakers.