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Lombard language


Lombard language

Lombard/Lumbaart (WL), Lombard (EL)
Native to Italy, Switzerland
Region Italy:[1][2][3]
Canton Ticino
Native speakers
2.3 million  (2007)[4]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 lmo
Glottolog lomb1257[5]
Linguasphere 51-AAA-oc & 51-AAA-od

Lombard is a member of the Cisalpine or Gallo-Italic group within the Romance languages. It is spoken natively in Northern Italy (most of Lombardy and some areas of neighbouring regions, notably the eastern side of Piedmont) and Southern Switzerland (Ticino and Graubünden).

The two main varieties (Western Lombard dialect and Eastern Lombard dialect) show differences and are often, but not always, mutually comprehensible.


  • Present situation 1
    • Status 1.1
    • Speakers 1.2
    • Position on the Romance language tree 1.3
    • Varieties 1.4
    • Literature 1.5
  • Usage 2
    • In Switzerland 2.1
    • In Italy 2.2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • Bibliography 5
  • External links 6

Present situation


Lombard is considered a minority language, structurally separated from Italian, by the Ethnologue reference catalogue and by the UNESCO Red Book on Endangered Languages. However, Italy and Switzerland do not recognize Lombard speakers as a linguistic minority. This official line is the same as for most other minority languages in Italy,[6] which are officially considered Italian dialects in spite of the fact that they belong to different sub-groups of the Romance language family, and in their historical development are in no way derivative of Italian [7](this fact being obscured to some extent by the use of Italian orthography to write these languages, and by influence from Italian).


Lombard in Europe

Historically, the vast majority of Lombards spoke only Lombard.[8] With the rise of Standard Italian throughout Italy and Switzerland, one is not likely to find wholly monolingual Lombard speakers that cannot understand Italian (though a small minority may yet be uncomfortable speaking it). Surveys in Italy find that all Lombard speakers also speak Italian, and their command of each of the two languages varies according to their geographical position as well as their socio-economic situation, the most reliable predictor being the speakers' age.[9]

Position on the Romance language tree

Romansh, Friulian, Ladin, Arpetan and Occitan are closer relatives of Lombard in many aspects than Italian.[10]


The varieties of the Italian cities of Milan, Varese, Como, Lecco, Lodi, Monza, Pavia and Mantua belong to the Western subgroup, while the ones of Bergamo, Brescia and Crema are Eastern.

All the varieties spoken in the Swiss areas (both in canton Ticino and canton Graubünden) are Western, while both Western and Eastern varieties are found in the Italian areas.

The varieties of the alpine valleys of Valchiavenna and Valtellina (province of Sondrio) and upper-Valcamonica (province of Brescia), together with the four Lombard valleys of Swiss canton Graubünden, although showing some peculiarities of their own and some traits in common with Eastern Lombard, should be considered as Western . Also, dialects from the Piedmontese provinces of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola and Novara, the Valsesia valley (province of Vercelli), and the city of Tortona are closer to Western Lombard than to Piedmontese.


(See Western Lombard literature ). The Lombard variety with the oldest literary tradition (dating back to the thirteenth century) is that of Milan, where nowadays Milanese, the native Lombard variety of the area, has almost completely been superseded by Italian due to the heavy influx of immigrants from other parts of Italy (Puglia, Sicily, Campania, etc.) during the fast industrialization after World War II. Ticinese is a comprehensive denomination for the Lombard varieties spoken in Swiss Canton Ticino (Tessin), while the Ticinese koiné is the Western Lombard koiné used by speakers of local dialects (particularly those diverging from the koiné itself) when communicating with speakers of other Lombard dialects of Ticino, Grigioni, or Italian Lombardy. This koiné is not very unlike Milanese and the varieties of the neighbouring provinces on the Italian side of the border.

There is extant literature in other varieties of Lombard, for example La masséra da bé, a theatrical work in early Eastern Lombard, written by Galeazzo dagli Orzi (1492 - ?) presumably in 1554.[11]


Standard Italian is widely used in Lombard-speaking areas. However, the status of Lombard is quite different between the Swiss and Italian areas. This justifies the view that nowadays the Swiss areas have become the real stronghold of Lombard.

In Switzerland

The LSI, published in 2004
In the Swiss areas, the local Lombard varieties are generally better preserved and more vital than in Italy. No negative feelings are associated with the use of Lombard in everyday life, even when interacting with complete strangers. Some radio and television programmes in Lombard, particularly comedies, are occasionally broadcast by the Swiss Italian-speaking broadcasting company. Moreover, it is not uncommon for people from the street to answer in Lombard in spontaneous interviews. Even some television ads in Lombard have been reported. The major research institution working on Lombard dialects is located in Bellinzona, Switzerland (CDE - Centro di dialettologia e di etnografia, a governmental (cantonal) institution); there is no comparable institution in Italy. In December 2004, the CDE released a dictionary in five volumes covering all the Lombard varieties spoken in the Swiss areas.[12]

In Italy

Today, in most urban areas of Italian Lombardy, people below forty years old speak almost exclusively Italian in their daily lives, because of schooling and television broadcasts in Italian. However, in Periferic Lombardy (Valtellina, Lake Como, Bergamo, Brescia, Lodi) Lombard language is still vital.

This is due to a number of historical and social reasons: its usage has been historically discouraged by Italian politicians, probably as it was regarded as an obstacle to the attempt to create a 'national identity', because speaking a non-standard variety is a sign of poor schooling or low social status. Presently the political party most supportive of Lombard (and of the varieties of Northern Italy in general) is the Northern League(in the past, on the other hand, the leftist parties were the ones giving support to local varieties); for this reason, speaking a dialect of certain non-Italian minority languages might be politically controversial in Italy.

A certain revival of the use of Lombard has been observed in the last decade, when the use of Lombard has become a way to express one's local identity and to distance oneself from Roman-oriented mainstream Italian culture; the popularity of modern artists singing their lyrics in some Lombard variety (in Italian "rock dialettale", the most well-known of such artists being Davide Van de Sfroos) is also a relatively new but growing phenomenon involving both the Swiss and Italian areas.

See also


  1. ^ a b Minahan, James (2000). One Europe, many nations: a historical dictionary of European national groups. Westport. 
  2. ^ a b Moseley, Christopher (2007). Encyclopedia of the world's endangered languages. New York. 
  3. ^ a b Coluzzi, Paolo (2007). Minority language planning and micronationalism in Italy. Berne. 
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Lombard". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  6. ^ Coluzzi, P. (2004). Regional and Minority Languages in Italy. 'Marcator Working Papers', 14.
  7. ^ von Wartburg, W. (1950). “Die Ausgliederung der Romanische Sprachräume", Bern, Francke.
  8. ^ De Mauro, T. (1970) Storia linguistica dell'Italia unita (Second Edition), Laterza, Berkeley.
  9. ^ 2006 report by the Italian institute for national statistics.(ISTAT).
  10. ^ Claudi Meneghin Rebuilding the Rhaeto-Cisalpine written language: Guidelines and criteria. Part I: ORS-Orthography, p.37 and references therein. Available at the URL
  11. ^ See Valentina Grohovaz, Produzione e circolazione del libro a Brescia tra Quattro e Cinquecento: atti della seconda Giornata di studi "Libri e lettori a Brescia tra Medioevo ed età moderna" : Brescia, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, 4 marzo 2004, published by "Vita e Pensiero" in 2006, ISBN 88-343-1332-1, ISBN 978-88-343-1332-9. Preview in Google Books:
  12. ^ LSI, CDE, 2004


  • Bernard Comrie, Stephen Matthews, Maria Polinsky (eds.), The Atlas of languages: the origin and development of languages throughout the world. New York 2003, Facts On File. p. 40.
  • Brevini, Franco - Lo stile lombardo: la tradizione letteraria da Bonvesin da la Riva a Franco Loi / Franco Brevini - Pantarei, Lugan - 1984 (Lombard style: literary tradition from Bonvesin da la Riva to Franco Loi )
  • Glauco Sanga: La lingua Lombarda, in Koiné in Italia, dalle origini al 500 (Koinés in Italy, from the origin to 1500), Lubrina publisher, Bèrghem.
  • Claudio Beretta: Letteratura dialettale milanese. Itinerario antologico-critico dalle origini ai nostri giorni - Hoepli, 2003.
  • G. Hull: the linguistic unity of northern Italy and Rhaetia, PhD thesis, University of Sidney West, 1982
  • Jørgen G. Bosoni: «Una proposta di grafia unificata per le varietà linguistiche lombarde: regole per la trascrizione», in Bollettino della Società Storica dell’Alta Valtellina 6/2003, p. 195-298 (Società Storica Alta Valtellina: Bormio, 2003). A comprehensive description of a unified set of writing rules for all the Lombard varieties of Switzerland and Italy, with IPA transcriptions and examples.
  • Tamburelli, M. (2013). Uncovering the ‘hidden’multilingualism of Europe: an Italian case study. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, (ahead-of-print), 1-19.
  • NED Editori: I quatter Vangeli de Mattee, March, Luca E Gioann - 2002.
  • Stephen A. Wurm: Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger of Disappearing. Paris 2001, UNESCO Publishing, p. 29.
  • Studi di lingua e letteratura lombarda offerti a Maurizio Vitale, (Studies in Lombard language and literature) Pisa: Giardini, 1983
  • A cura di Pierluigi Beltrami, Bruno Ferrari, Luciano Tibiletti, Giorgio D'Ilario: Canzoniere Lombardo - Varesina Grafica Editrice, 1970.

External links

  • Learn Lombard online
  • Learn Lombard Italian site
  • Centro di dialettologia e di etnografia del Cantone Ticino.
  • Repubblica e Cantone Ticino Documenti orali della Svizzera italiana. (Italian)
  • Istituto di dialettologia e di etnografia valtellinese e valchiavennasca.
  • LSI - Lessico dialettale della Svizzera italiana.
  • RTSI: Acquarelli popolari, some video and audio documents (interviews, recordings, etc. of writers from Ticino) in Ticinese varieties (please notice that the metalanguage of this site is Italian, and that some of the interviews are in Italian rather than in Ticinese Lombard).
  • UNESCO Red Book on Endangered Languages: Europe. Potentially endangered languages, where Lombard is classified as a potentially endangered language.
  • VSI - Vocabolario dei dialetti della Svizzera italiana.
  • in_lombard website dedicated to the Lombard language (in English)
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