The prosody and phonetics of Venetan dialect and regional Italian
- Elinor Payne (University of Oxford): Principal Investigator
- Angelo Dian (University of Melbourne): Research Assistant
The purpose of this research is to conduct a phonetic investigation of dialect in the Veneto, and its relationship to the regional variety of Italian spoken by dialectophones. It focuses primarily on prosody, but with reference to key segmental features.
The basis for the study is the dialect of Gambellara, a town of around 3,500 inhabitants in the province of Vicenza, located between Vicenza (13 miles) and Verona (20 miles). Its location places the dialect on the western edge of the central Venetan dialects, bordering on the area of western Venetan dialects.
We have made high quality recordings of semi-structured dialogue for both dialect and regional Italian, across two generational groups of speakers, and are in the process of conducting a linguistic analysis to identify the intonational ‘tunes’ of a central Venetan dialect.
In addition to describing the intonational system of a rural Venetan dialect, we also hope to gain insight into the type and extent of prosodic transfer between gambellarese and the regionally local variety of Italian, in a diglossic context. By comparing the speech of two different generations of Gambellarese inhabitants, our study will also investigate variation and change, including the hypothesis that, with waning use of dialect, dialect prosody may be becoming more italianised.
The investigation of Venetan prosody is part of a wider research endeavour in the lab to investigate prosodic contact, which includes projects investigating areas of the Eastern Mediterranean that were historically also part of the Venetian Republic's maritime possessions (the Stato da Màr). For more details see: Greek In Contact and Mapping Cypriot.
Research in progress
Relevant publications prior to this project
- White, L, E. Payne & S. Mattys (2009) “Rhythmic and prosodic contrast in Venetan and Sicilian Italian”, in M. Vigario, S. Frota & M Freitas (eds) Interactions in Phonetics and Phonology, Amsterdam: Benjamins, 137-158
- Payne, E. (2005) “Rises and rise-plateau-slumps in Trevigiano”, Cambridge Occ. Papers in Linguistics, 2:173-186
Italy is characterised by extensive diglossia, with regional varieties of Italian (italiano regionale) spoken alongside other Italo-Romance languages. The latter, often referred to somewhat misleadingly as dialects (dialetti) evolved independently from Vulgar Latin, alongside the precursor to contemporary Italian. The regional varieties of Italian are heavily influenced by contact with these dialects, especially with regard to phonology and phonetics.
The Veneto is no exception to this diglossic situation, and while virtually all Venetans also speak Italian, a majority of people first learn dialect in the home as infants, and there is a reported high use of dialect especially in the home and in other informal contexts, especially in rural areas. The close linguistic relationship between dialetto and Italian, and the often heavy dialectalisation of the latter (Berruto, 2005), mean there exists a fluid linguistic continuum, with much code-switching. However, cross-generational changes mean that while many younger speakers may know dialect, they may not be active dialectophones (Cerruti, 2011), especially in urban centres. Thus, both dialect, and the dialect-Italian relationship, appear to be undergoing shift.
In terms of linguistic classification, the dialetti veneti form a separate branch of northern Italian languages, typically being classed as distinct from the gallo-italian dialects of north-west Italy. However, this linguistic boundary is not always clear: while Venetan dialects lack some of the characteristic features of gallo-italian dialects (e.g. vowel rounding and nasalisation), they share others (e.g. clitic subject pronouns, lack of geminates). The dialetti veneti are themselves geographically sub-divided, distinguishing central varieties (Vicenza, Padova, Rovigo), from western (Verona), eastern/coastal (Trieste, Grado, Istria) northern (Treviso, Feltre and Belluno), and the variety of the city of Venice. The dialect of Venice, veneziano, was attested as a written language in the 13th century, and as the language of the Venetian Republic and its overseas colonies, historically held high social prestige.
As well as in the Veneto itself (an administrative region with approximately 5 million inhabitants), venetan dialects are spoken in other parts of north-eastern Italy (Trentino, Friuli and Venezia Giulia), parts of Slovenia and Croatia (notably Istria and Dalmatia), and by some historic diaspora communities in the Americas (notably Brazil, Argentina and Mexico). Historically, varieties of venetan dialect were also spoken throughout other areas formerly under the dominion of the Venetian Republic, such as Albania, Montenegro, parts of Greece (including the Ionian islands and Crete), and Cyprus.
Though there is a rich dialectological literature for Italo-Romance, dialectal prosody has till recent years been relatively neglected, save for impressionistic accounts. Recent studies in the Autosegmental Metrical framework have made important inroads, especially for central and southern varieties (Grice, 1995, for Palermo Italian; Caputo, 1994; D’Imperio, 1995, for Neapolitan Italian; and Grice and Savino, 1997, for Bari Italian), but also in other northern varieties (Gili Favela et al, 2015; Roseano et al, 2015). Prosodic variation is also known to be substantial: among the 13 regional varieties they explored, Gili Favela et al (2015) found strong and very localised divergence, concluding that is not possible to trace homogenous macro-areas for intonation. With some notable exceptions, our scholarly knowledge of Venetan prosody is more limited. Anecdotally, Venetan varieties have been noted as being rhythmically more even and having greater tonal modulation than other northern varieties, with other Italians reportedly mistaking statement utterances for questions (Canepari, 1980). With levels of active dialectophony seemingly on the wane, research in this area is particularly timely.
 STAT Report "Use of Italian language, dialects, and foreign languages" (English version), ISTAT, 2017, retrieved 18 November 2020 ; "L'uso della lingua italiana, dei dialetti e di altre lingue in Italia (Italian version)". ISTAT. 2017.
 E.g. Payne, 2005; Romano & Miotti, 2009; Magistro and Crocco, 2022; Baltazani et al, 2022