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Dialetto in the context of Italy has two similar but distinct meanings:

  1. different dialects of standard Italian (analogous to RP English vs Mancunian English)
  2. other romance languages of Italy (analogous to Spanish vs Catalan)1

Are there any unambiguous, commonly understood terms for each of these different uses of dialetto?


1. In English, dialect also has this second definition historically - referring to non-prestige/minority languages compared to a prestige one - but it is very rarely used in this context nowadays, and is generally seen as pejorative.

  • Interesting question. Are we sure that it is possibile to unambiguously discern one or the other case for any given dialect/language? The very dictionary article you link to doesn't seem to offer such a distinction, but generally mentions “linguistic systems”. Do you have in mind a criterion based on historical descent? Or mutual intelligibility (or lack thereof)? – DaG Nov 25 '19 at 13:06
  • @DaG sorry if my question was unclear - I meant to ask, are there two different terms/phrases in Italian which unambiguously mean "a dialect of standard Italian" and "a romance language of Italy"? – ukemi Nov 25 '19 at 13:08
  • The question is perfectly clear; it's less clear to me how to distinguish the two objects the terms you are looking for should designate. – DaG Nov 25 '19 at 13:12
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    On second thoughts, @Easymode44, if by “commonly understood and used” we mean, “as used by the man in the street”, I'd probably agree; OP, did you mean this? – DaG Nov 25 '19 at 14:46
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    @Easymode44: Indeed, probably those who mainly stress the difference between dialect and language – in this context – are linguists (or language buffs like us) and people who are personally involved (Sardinians, Friulians and the like). – DaG Nov 25 '19 at 15:01
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If what we are interested in are actually layman's terms for those two – very tricky – concepts, I'd say that, as far as said layman cares, they are just dialetto and lingua respectively.

Most people would call dialetto everything different from Standard Italian as taught in school, others would at least point out that Sardinian and Friulian are actually different lingue, still others would claim the status of lingue for other idioms as well.

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I've usually seen the Romance languages of Italy called either "regional languages" or, in more scientific publications, "Italo-Romance languages" (note however that the second term includes also Standard Italian).

One thing one should note is that the "Italo-Romance languages" is more of a Sprachbund than a linguistic family (indeed the Gallo-Italic languages like Milanese or Piedmontese are arguably more closely related to the other Gallo-Romance languages than to standard Italian). However, the areal features are very strong, and the grouping seems justified.


Usually the "dialects" (that is to say, the variation of Standard Italian influenced by regional features) live under the umbrella term of "italiano regionale" or "regional Italian". This is also however mostly reserved to scientific publications (and relatively few of them, at that).

I doubt there are any unambiguous terms that would be understood by the majority of the population.

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  • I must disagree: in Italian linguistics, as I mentioned in a comment, dialetto is a separate level from italiano regionale, with dialetto regionale in between. I agree that these are academic distinctions. – DaG Nov 25 '19 at 17:09
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    @DaG I fear that this enters into the discussion of what exactly is a "dialetto", which is fraught with diverging opinions even among professional linguists (and ultimately non well-posed). That's also why I used "live under the umbrella term" rather than "are called" :). In this answer I tried to stay as close as possible as the context of the question, which groups many things that Dardano refers to as "dialetti" in Italo-Romance languages (and rightly so in my opinion: they have separate literatures!) – Denis Nardin Nov 25 '19 at 17:13

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