Politics Magazine

An Overview of the Corsican and Sardinian Languages

Posted on the 18 May 2016 by Calvinthedog

Italian writes:

I’m surprised, I thought Corsican was close to the Tuscan dialect and part of the Central Italian languages, much unlike Sardinian?

This is correct, but in the north of Sardinia are two languages that are Sardinian-Corsican transitional. One is Gallurese, and the other is Sassarese.

Gallurese is close to Corsican and Sassarese and not as close to Logudorese and Campidanese to the south, which are the real pure Sardinian languages. Gallurese has only 81% lexical similarity with Sassarese. Some people say Gallurese and Sassarese are are just Corsican. Indeed, the Encyclopedia of Endangered Languages treats Gallurese as an outlying dialect of Corsican.

However, Gallurese is not even intelligible with itself, so the idea that it is a Corsican dialect seems dubious. For instance, Santa Teresa Gallurese (Teresino) and San Teodoro Gallurese are not intelligible with the rest of Gallurese. San Teodoro is transitional Gallurese-Logudorese, and Teresino is transitional Gallurese-Corsican.

Sassarese is close to Gallurese and Corsican and not as close to Logudorese and Campidanese to the south. Sassarese has to be seen as the same language as Gallurese due to claims that they are mutually intelligible, but such claims may be dubious.

Sassarese has much more Logudorese influence than Gallurese does. Gallurese has only negligible Logudorese influence. So in that sense, Sassarese and Gallurese are quite different.

Sassarese has a number of dialects. Sassarese is sometimes also known as Turritano. But strictly speaking, Turritano is the dialect of Porto Torres (Portotorrese), and Sassarese is the dialect of Sassari. The dialect of Valledoria is called Muddizzesu.

Typologically, Sassarese is a mix between Gallurese, Sardinian and Italian with Italian plurals. Sassarese arose from  a mix of Tuscan, Corsican, Logudorese and Genoese. The base of Sassarese is 12th Century Pisan Tuscan, and it still resembles a Pisan dialect from the 1100’s. It also has a bit of Genoan in it and quite a few Sardinian words.

The Encyclopedia of Endangered Languages treats Sassarese as an outlying Corsican language. This is the same classification they give to Gallurese. However, given that Sassarese-Corsican intelligiblity is not full, it does not make sense to say that Sassarese is a Corsican dialect.

Gallurese has only 81% lexical similarity with Sassarese. The 81% lexical similarity between Gallurese and Sassarese implies that the two varieties probably are not fully mutually intelligible.

Campidanese is not intelligible with Sassarese.

There are some transitional Gallurese-Sassarese dialects, but most of them are better analyzed as Sassarese.

Castellanese is a transitional Sassarese-Gallurese dialect, but it resembles Sassarese more. Castellanese is really a part of Sassarese, even though it is Sassarese-Gallurese transitional. The dialect of Castelsardo is said to be completely different from the Sassarese dialects of Sassari and Stintino. Intelligibility data is not known.

Castellanese is spoken in Sedini (Sedinese), Turgu (Terghese), Santa Maria Coghinas, Lu Bagnu, Valledoria, La Ciaccia and La Muddizza. In Turgu, three dialects are spoken – Nulvese, Osilese and Castellanese. In Valledoria they speak three different dialects – a mixture of Sedinese and Gallurese, a Muddizza dialect close to Sedinese, and Gallurese from the Aggius region (Aggese). Because we cannot split Gallurese and Sassarese due to claims of mutual intelligibility, we cannot split these Gallurese-Sassarese transitional lects either because at the moment, Gallurese and Sassarese are a single language, so a transitional lect between them is a part of that single language.

Corsican itself is probably more than one language.,

Bonifacio is less intelligible to the rest of Corsican than the rest of the dialects. It is dying out and only has 600-800 speakers or so. It is closer to Genoese Ligurian. It is best seen as a separate language.

On Maddalena Island a lect called Islanu, Maddelaninu, or Maddalenino. It is probably not intelligible with the rest of Gallurese, but it may be intelligible with Bonifacio Corsican and Teresino Gallurese.

It closely resembles Bonifacio. These people came from Bonifacio 200-300 years ago. Subsequently a lot of Genoan words went in when it was a Genoan naval base. This may be best seen as a Bonifacio dialect.

Corsican is spoken on the Tuscan island of Capraia (Capraiese). The language is mostly Corsican, but it has many Ligurian words. Intelligibility between Capraia and the rest of Corsican is not known, but it is probably not full, as Standard Corsican speakers say that they cannot Bastia Corsican which is very close to Capraiese. Capraiese probably lacks full intelligibility with Ligurian.

Corsican is indeed intelligible with Italian, but mostly with Tuscan Italian from Livorno and Florence. Tuscans can understand Corsican perfectly. It is said that Standard Italian speakers can understand it well, but actually Standard Italian-Corsican intelligiblity is somewhat marginal and probably below 90%.

This is interesting because Standard Italian is based on Florence Tuscan from the 1500’s, so one would think that Standard Italian speakers could understand Corsican as well as modern day Tuscans. However, Standard Italian has undergone many changes since the 1500’s to the point where Standard Italian speakers, especially from the south of Italy, say that they cannot understand old Tuscan men speaking hard Tuscan Italian at all. Italian speakers to the north of Italy such as Trieste understand even hard Tuscan quite well.

Sometimes Standard Italian and Corsican are just close enough to more or less understand each other – other times, they are just far enough to not be understood. Intelligibility is probably around 80-90% between the Corsican and Standard Italian. Intelligibility between Corsican and Sassarese is good but not total, possibly on the order of 80%. Intelligibility of Gallurese is said to be “not immediate, but not difficult either.” It is not known how to quantify that.

All of the principal Corsican dialects have low lexical similarity with each other. Major Corsican dialects have 79-89% lexical similarity, hence may be separate languages. Dialects are Cismontano Capocorsino,  Oltramontano, Oltramontano Sartenese, Bonifacio, Bastia, and Capraiese (spoken in Capraia). 79-89% is lower than the lexical similarity between languages like French, Italian and Spanish, to give you an idea of how lexical similarity relates to intelligibility.

Indeed, Cismontano speakers cannot understand the Oltramontano Sartenese spoken in Sartene, nor can they understand Bastia. Bastia is close to Capraiese.

Southern Corsican dialects are actually closer to the Gallurese and Sassarese languages than they are to the rest of Corsican.

Sardinian is absolutely at least two languages – Logudorese, Campidanese, and possibly more. Logudorese dialects are not all mutually intelligible, nor are Campidanese dialects. Logudorese and Campidanese are not fully intelligible with each other. Sardinians themselves say that the language changes about every 15 miles in Sardinia, there are many dialects and they can’t understand half of them.

Campidanese is one of the real Sardinian languages. Lexical similarity is only 73% with Logudorese and 66% with Gallurese. There is no way that it could possibly be intelligible with either Logudorese or Gallurese with lexical similarity numbers that low. It is widely used in the south and is very different from the rest of Sardinian. Campidanese has 670,000 speakers. It is spoken by about 69% of the population in the area, but it is understood by 97%. Campidanese is more variable than Gallurese but not as much as Logudorese.

Arborese is often regarded as a fourth split in Sardinian. It is lumped in with Campidanese, but it’s really transitional between Campidanese and Logudorese. It is spoken in Oristano Province, San Vero Milis, Cabras, Milis, Samugheo, Bonarcado. Bonarcado speaks North Arborese, and San Very Milis and Milis speak South Arborese. Milis speaks West Arborese, and Samugheo, Busachi, Neoneli and Fordongianus speak East Arborese. It is spoken in the northeast  of the Campidanese region on the border of Logudorese. Intelligibility between Arborese and either Campidanese or Logudorese is not known.

Barbaricino is another major language-level split in Campidanese. It is spoken in Mandrolisai and Barbagia around the towns of Laconi, Seulo, Samugheo, Sorgono, Meana Sardo, Ortueri, Atzara, Tiana, Aritzo, Belvì, Desulo, Ollolai, Fonni, Orgosolo, Oliena, Ovodda, Mamoiada, Lodine, Gavoi, Olzai,and Tonara. While Barbaricino is similar to Nuorese, it is  very divergent.

Cagliaritano Logudorese speakers cannot understand the Barbaricino dialect spoken in the far north of the Campidanese region near the border to Logudorese. South-Central Barbaricino is probably best seen as a separate language within Campidanese, but it is probably intelligible with Logudorese Barbaricino. Barbaricino, a Campidanese-Logurdorese transitional lect, apparently has dialects that are more Campidanese and dialects that are more Logudorese.

Barbaricino in general does not appear to be intelligible with other Sardinian lects. It  is formally part of Nuorese, even though part of it is Logudorese and part of it is Campidanese. On the other hand, it appears that even the Nuorese spoken in Dorgali is not intelligible with Barbaricino.

There are a number of large language-level major splits in Campidanese. Whether these represent separate languages or divergent dialects is not known.

The following are the large splits in Campidanese:

Ogliastrino is considered by some to be a major language-level split in Campidanese. It is spoken in the east-central part of Sardinia from Tertena to Urzulei and is very archaic.

Sarrabese is spoken in the Sarrabus-Genei region of far southeastern Sardinia around the towns of San Vito, Muravera, Villaputzu and Castiadas.

Sulcitano is spoken in Sulcis around the towns of Iglesias, Carbonia and Sant’Antioco in far Southwest Sardinia on the coast and on the island of Sant’Antioco Island.

Cagliaritano is spoken in the capital of Cagliari and in Quartu Sant’Elena and Sinnai.

Western Campidanese is spoken in the states of Trexenta, Marmilla (Barumini, Tuili, Genoni and Mandas) and Medio Campidano (Gonnosfanadiga, Villacidro, Sanluri and Guspini).

Logudorese is the other major split in Sardinian along with Campidanese. It is very different from the rest of Sardinian. Lexical similarity other Sardinian languages is low – 73% with Campidanese and Sassarese and only 70% with Gallurese. There is no way that Logudorese can be intelligible with those three languages with figures that low. Farmers and housewives over 35 speak only Logudorese and hardly speak any Italian. It is spoken by 330,000 people and understood by 533,000.

Logudorese is very different from place to place. Olbia, Berchidda, Oschiri, Tula, Posada and Siniscola all have huge differences in their dialects. It is more variable than Campidanese and much more variable than Gallurese.

Baroniese is major split in Logudorese. It is similar to Nuorese. Baroniese is spoken in the Baronie region in the area of Orosei, Siniscola, Galtellì, Lode and Done.

Nuorese is often considered to be the third major language-level division of Sardinian – Logudorese, Campidanese and Nuorese, but Nuorese is much closer to Logudorese. It is spoken in the east-central part of Sardinia. Nuorese is said to be almost the same language as Logudorese, and the only differences are some archaic words and differences in pronunciation. Apparently Logudorese speakers from Macomer cannot understand Nuorese. Nuorese appears to be a separate language.

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