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Curiosities from the languages of Italy

Posted: Sun 04 Jun 2017, 14:08
by Porphyrogenitos
I recently got The Dialects of Italy by Martin Maiden and Mair Perry, and wow, I knew that Italy had quite a few regional languages straddling multiple branches of Romance, but after acquainting myself with the book, I have to say: Italy truly is a treasure-trove of linguistic diversity, at least relative to other Romance-speaking areas. So I'll be sharing some interesting things I've found in Maiden and Perry's work that may serve as inspiration for conlangers or simply shed light on interesting developments within Romance.

To start off with, some interesting or unusual sound changes:

Palatalization

Fortition of /j/ after labials: ᴘʟᴀɴᴜ(ᴍ) > [pʎaŋ] > [pjãŋ] > [ptʃãŋ], Germanic *ʙʟᴀɴᴋ > [bjaŋk] > [bdʒaŋk] (Highland Lombard)

Labials assimilate to /k/ before /j/ or /ʎ/: [pl] > [pʎ] > [pj] > [kj] (Neapolitan)

Postconsonantal /r/ > /j/, e.g. ғʀᴀᴛʀᴇ(ᴍ) > /’fjati/ (Outer Trapanese)

Nasals

/n/ > /ŋ/ not only word-finally, but also syllable-finally, including before non-velar consonants - e.g. [ʒɛŋt], and even intervocalically, passing through a stage of /ŋn/ (Piedmontese)

Nasalized offglides /j̃ w̃/ fortited to /ŋ/, e.g. ᴘᴏɴᴛᴇ(ᴍ) > /põw̃t/ > /paŋt/ and ᴜɪɴᴜ(ᴍ) > /vẽj̃/ > /veŋ/ (Emilian)

Insertion of a homorganic consonant after a final nasal, e.g. [sa’lamp] “salame”, [omp] “man” (Friulian)

Length

All consonants except /ŋ/ lengthened after stressed short vowels - e.g. /mel/ > [ melː] but /meːl/ > [meːl] - including the first element of consonant clusters: ʙᴜsᴛᴜ(ᴍ) > [bosːt] (Bolognese)

Lengthening of all cases of word-initial /r/ (Calabrian)

Word-initial /b/ > /bb/ vs. > /v/ everywhere else (Northeastern Sicilian)

Re: Curiosities from the languages of Italy

Posted: Sun 04 Jun 2017, 15:19
by qwed117
There's lots of craziness in Italy's langauges. Take Sardinian, a completely unique branch of Romance that doesn't follow any of the same vowel shifts, has a retroflexion plosive and nasal, for example. It also has changes similar to Italian in the southern variety, Campidanese, and similar to Spanish in the northern variety, Logudorese.
Also notable is Neapolitan which is extremely different from Standard Italian. It has geminate consonants, most notably, in the initial consonants.

Italy also has Slovenian, Serbo-Croatian Albanian and Greek dialects in its area. Because of nationalism they're all termed "Italian dialects" though.

Re: Curiosities from the languages of Italy

Posted: Sun 04 Jun 2017, 19:06
by Ithisa
Not surprising that the Urheimat of Romance languages have the most interesting diversity of them :)

Re: Curiosities from the languages of Italy

Posted: Sun 04 Jun 2017, 20:04
by Porphyrogenitos
A few more:

Epenthesis

Epenthesis of /v/ or /g/ into an empty onset position: ʙʟᴀᴅᴀ(ᴍ) > /ˈbjeva/, ᴜᴜᴀ(ᴍ) > /ˈyga/ (Piacentino of Travo)

Addition of [jjə] to final stressed vowels and monosyllables: [saˈpere] > [saˈpe] > [saˈpejjə] “to know”, [me] > [ˈmejjə] (Abruzzese and Molisan)

Fortition

Initial /j/ > /k/, e.g. [je] > [ke] as in [ˈkeu] “I” (Melendugno Salentino)

Voiced stops devoice and merge with voiceless stops in all positions, including intervocalically and word-initially, except for initial geminates: [maˈtɔnna] “Madonna”, [ˈtetʃi ˈliri] “ten lire” but [ku dˈdetʃi ˈliri] “with ten lire” (Salentino)

Re: Curiosities from the languages of Italy

Posted: Sun 04 Jun 2017, 20:15
by Adarain
Want a crazy sound change from a Romance language just a bit outside of Italy (similar but more restricted forms of the sound change occur in related languages in Northern Italy)? I present you the Surmeiran Verschärfung (fortition):

Diphthongal offglides /j w ə̯/ become velar stops before a following consonant: credere → krejr → [krekr] “to believe”, lupu → luəf → [lukf] “wolf”

Re: Curiosities from the languages of Italy

Posted: Sun 04 Jun 2017, 22:51
by Porphyrogenitos
Wow, that is pretty wild!

Okay, so you know how the Romance languages are often divided into primary branches based on how they resolved the Proto-Romance vowels? E.g. as shown here:

Image

Well, it turns out Sicilian and some related Calabrian dialects have done something slightly different. They've merged Proto-Romance /i ɪ e/ into /i/ and, likewise, /u ʊ o/ into /u/. The authors state that this was potentially due to influence from Byzantine Greek, which underwent an analogous vowel development. This vowel system is shown in the chart below:

Image

The authors also describe a particular Corsican vowel system, in an intermediate area between the north and central areas (with Western Romance vowel outcomes) and the far south (with Southern Romance vowel outcomes). They call it the "Taravo Vowel System". Uniquely, it preserves the distinction between short and long /i u/ and merged short and long /e o/.

If we treat vowel outcomes as the gold standard for dividing Romance into subfamilies, Calabro-Sicilian could still be Western Romance, since its vowel system contains no contrasts that Western Romance did not preserve, i.e. it could have evolved from Western Romance. But the Taravo system couldn't have evolved from either Western Romance or Southern Romance. So technically speaking, by this standard, it could be its own indepdent branch of the Romance languages! Central Romance, anyone?

Also, fun fact: There are certain dialectal zones in Calabria that have Eastern Romance (i.e Romanian) vowel outcomes. There is also an area that has Southern Romance vowel outcomes (the Area Lausberg), but the authors say that some scholars argue that these supposed pockets of what appears to be "Southern Romance" are actually descended from regular Western Romance seven-vowel systems, as shown by metaphonic evidence.

Re: Curiosities from the languages of Italy

Posted: Sun 04 Jun 2017, 23:50
by qwed117
Porphyrogenitos wrote:Wow, that is pretty wild!

Okay, so you know how the Romance languages are often divided into primary branches based on how they resolved the Proto-Romance vowels? E.g. as shown here:

Image

Well, it turns out Sicilian and some related Calabrian dialects have done something slightly different. They've merged Proto-Romance /i ɪ e/ into /i/ and, likewise, /u ʊ o/ into /u/. The authors state that this was potentially due to influence from Byzantine Greek, which underwent an analogous vowel development. This vowel system is shown in the chart below:

Image

The authors also describe a particular Corsican vowel system, in an intermediate area between the north and central areas (with Western Romance vowel outcomes) and the far south (with Southern Romance vowel outcomes). They call it the "Taravo Vowel System". Uniquely, it preserves the distinction between short and long /i u/ and merged short and long /e o/.

If we treat vowel outcomes as the gold standard for dividing Romance into subfamilies, Calabro-Sicilian could still be Western Romance, since its vowel system contains no contrasts that Western Romance did not preserve, i.e. it could have evolved from Western Romance. But the Taravo system couldn't have evolved from either Western Romance or Southern Romance. So technically speaking, by this standard, it could be its own indepdent branch of the Romance languages! Central Romance, anyone?

Also, fun fact: There are certain dialectal zones in Calabria that have Eastern Romance (i.e Romanian) vowel outcomes. There is also an area that has Southern Romance vowel outcomes (the Area Lausberg), but the authors say that some scholars argue that these supposed pockets of what appears to be "Southern Romance" are actually descended from regular Western Romance seven-vowel systems, as shown by metaphonic evidence.
I think I'll go with the scholars who describe it as originating in the Western Romance seven-vowel system. I'd also be wary of describing the Taravo system as neither West nor South. Since Old Corsican is believed to have been a Southern language, I would put my money on the two systems having fused together, and that words came from both systems rather than a unique system.

Re: Curiosities from the languages of Italy

Posted: Tue 13 Jun 2017, 08:00
by Alessio
I'm sorry I read this topic only now! I'm a native speaker of a Gallo-Italic language called Emiliano-Romagnolo, specifically of the Vignolese variety of the Modenese dialect (lots of subdivisions, eh?). Some months ago I made some lessons about it, you can look for "Tgnàmm bôta" in the Teach & Share section.
If I have time later today or tomorrow I'll post something here as well. Thanks for bringing up this topic! I feel that there is too little emphasis on just how many languages there are in Italy and how important they are to us.

EDIT: I'll keep editing this post whenever I have time to add some things.
First and foremost, Emiliano-Romagnolo has crazy ablaut, especially when a syllable changes from stressed to unstressed. Take the fully open /a/ in <màtter> /'mater/, to put, which becomes a fully closed /i/ in 1pl <mitàmm> /mi'tam/. Compare Italian <mettere>, which has a /e/.
Second, my dialect shows dyphthongization of unstressed /i u/ (possibly from previous /i o/ - again, I'm not an expert in etymology) into /æi ɒʊ/ in stressed syllables, particularly before nasals (which make the dyphthong nasal as well). Compare positive-degree adjective <boun> /bɒ̃ʊ̃(n)/, from Latin <bonum>, and its superlative <bunéssm> /bu'nesm̩/, where that same syllable is unstressed.
Third, geminates act weirdly. They disappear in each and every word where they're present in Italian, but appear in other contexts, for euphony between two words (especially when the negative particle "an" encounters a vowel, as in "an" + "ò" -> "an n'ò", I don't have) or where a vowel separating two similar consonants has been lost (as in number 60 /ssã(n)ta/, Italian <sessanta>). In both contexts I'd say they aren't really perceived as geminates, but rather as two separate consonants from separate syllables. When this happens at the beginning of a word, a euphonic /e~ə/ is normally inserted after a consonant.
A final note: you might have noticed I spell some words with two of the same consonant even when there's no geminate. This is some kind of common use after short vowels in Emiliano-Romagnolo, and common use is all I have, since there is no official writing system.

Re: Curiosities from the languages of Italy

Posted: Sat 28 Oct 2017, 05:24
by Porphyrogenitos
Here's a big one I just found out about: A certain variety of central Calabria has four (!) grammatical genders:

- Masculine
- Feminine
- A neuter inherited from Latin, cognate with the Romanian neuter and the small class of "gender-changing plurals" in Italian - nouns in this class behave like masculines in the singular and feminines in the plural]
- A second, innovative neuter that is essentially the "opposite" of the inherited neuter - nouns in this class behave like feminines in the singular and masculines in the plural

From the paper:
Diachronic ‘alignment’ of gender and noun desinence is not a novel phenomenon in Romance (see for example the notion of ‘conguaglio’ in Migliorini 1957). Sporadic cases of so-called ‘metaplasms’ from Latin, that is changes of inflection determined by gender, and changes of gender determined by inflection, have often been noted and commented upon in the literature on Romance languages [...]

[...]

In Bocchiglierese in fact the direction of alignment plays a fundamental role because, at a systemic level, plural and singular number values display asymmetry in the direction of change. While in the plural gender is adjusted to fit the ending biuniquely [...], in the singular the ending tends to be adjusted to fit gender biuniquely [...]

[...]

This unique co-occurrence of systemic alignment and systemic asymmetry in the direction of alignment in Bocchiglierese, I claim, brings about a peculiar type of genus alternans ‘alternating gender’ which had gone largely unnoticed for modern Romance, that is an alternating pattern involving feminine agreement in the singular and masculine agreement in the plural, as illustrated in (6). Thus, a pattern which is the mirror image of that considered ‘typical for a genus alternans' illustrated in (7) with Bocchiglierese data and in (8) with a classic Romanian example.

Re: Curiosities from the languages of Italy

Posted: Sat 28 Oct 2017, 15:40
by Dormouse559
Ugh, we don't deserve Romance languages. [:'(] [<3] They - particularly the little ones - get so weird sometimes. Never would have thought to have the singulars and plurals interact with gender differently.

Re: Curiosities from the languages of Italy

Posted: Mon 30 Oct 2017, 21:33
by Xonen
Dormouse559 wrote:Ugh, we don't deserve Romance languages. [:'(] [<3] They - particularly the little ones - get so weird sometimes.
Romance languages, weird? You need to study more Salishan. [:P]

That being said, there is a lot of really interesting stuff in this thread. One great thing about Romance is how well it's been documented over both the area and the time span it covers; a lot of potential for finding all sorts of neatness.

Re: Curiosities from the languages of Italy

Posted: Mon 30 Oct 2017, 23:13
by Dormouse559
Xonen wrote:Romance languages, weird? You need to study more Salishan. [:P]

That being said, there is a lot of really interesting stuff in this thread. One great thing about Romance is how well it's been documented over both the area and the time span it covers; a lot of potential for finding all sorts of neatness.
Can't I gush every now and then? [xP] I know in the grand scheme of things, Romance is quite tame. But little details like what Porphyrogenitos found just do something to me.

Re: Curiosities from the languages of Italy

Posted: Tue 31 Oct 2017, 22:19
by qwed117
Dormouse559 wrote:
Xonen wrote:Romance languages, weird? You need to study more Salishan. [:P]

That being said, there is a lot of really interesting stuff in this thread. One great thing about Romance is how well it's been documented over both the area and the time span it covers; a lot of potential for finding all sorts of neatness.
Can't I gush every now and then? [xP] I know in the grand scheme of things, Romance is quite tame. But little details like what Porphyrogenitos found just do something to me.
Romance is good for diachronic stuff. malitia > shrubs is pretty 10/10

Re: Curiosities from the languages of Italy

Posted: Mon 13 Nov 2017, 14:28
by Alessio
I have to add that Italian itself has a handful of nouns that behave like masculine in the singular and feminine in the plural; this is the case for most nouns that were neuter in Latin, possibly because of the neuter plural ending -a which is identical to the feminine singular ending (at least in the 1st-2nd declensions).
Most of these nouns, if not all, refer to body parts; take, for example, il braccio - le braccia, il dito - le dita, il ginocchio - le ginocchia (Latin: digitum - digita, bracchium - bracchia, genu - genua; English: finger(s), arm(s), knee(s)). However, these nouns have a masculine plural as well (bracci - diti - ginocchi), used only when talking about a group of body parts that share their characteristic rather than just being the same body part. So you will say hai delle dita lunghe (you have long fingers), but hai i diti indici lunghi (your index fingers are long), since they share being index fingers, not only being fingers. This plural is used so rarely that it's perceived as erroneous by most speakers (Italy's functional analphabetism rate doesn't help), who were taught at school that saying diti is wrong, full stop.

Oh and BTW, since I changed my signature recently and it's in Emilian, I'll translate it here for you:
«Remember, we've all been young and a bit stupid, but if you stay stupid it doesn't mean that you stay young, too...»