Colorful Language Pt. II – exploring Italian dialects


Urbino from the stairs

Urbino from the stairs

Gim a magnè! (Jeem ah mahn-Yay)

If you find yourself in Urbino, Italy, you might hear a phrase like this when it’s time for dinner. But wait, you’ve studied Italian and you know “let’s eat!” translates to “andiamo a mangiare.” So what are the Urbinate trying to tell you? They’re still saying “let’s eat” but they’re saying it in Urbino’s own dialect.

One of the most fascinating parts of my time in Italy was learning about the country’s rich linguistic history. Since the political entity we call Italy is only about 150 years old, and because the cities within the country nurtured their own unique cultures for centuries before that, Italian dialects are many and varied. In the information age, dialects are under more pressure to normalize; linguistic misunderstandings are inevitably inefficient when you can broadcast one language across an entire nation. Nevertheless, even young college students were proud of their dialect, and it seemed like everyone I met wanted to teach me a bit of Napolitano ( dialect from Naples), Urbinate (Urbino), Finalese (Finale Ligure), etc.


distribution of Italian dialects

When I first heard my Italian friends and classmates talking about their own dialects and the differences among them, I thought they might be more like the accents you would find in New York or Texas. I was fascinated by how diverse and refined the dialects actually are! Remember that Italy only became a country in 1864, and the country’s political landscape had been in a state of flux since the Romans claimed their seven hills. So, a dialect in northwestern Italy would have traces of French (and French dialects!) while one in Naples has bits of German and Spanish, carryovers from the days when these countries sat in the iron throne.  What that means is the language (Italian) of a fairly new political body (Italy) represents a fraction of a town like Urbino’s rich cultural traditions. Listen to Italian dialects here!

Crescia sfolgiata

Crescia sfolgiata

Urbino isn’t too far from our very own QC Voices blogger, Adrianna, in Florence. It’s  on the other side of the Apennine mountains running down the center of the Italian “boot” in a region known as Le Marche (the Marches), while Firenze (Florence) is in Toscana (Tuscany). Crescia sfogliata (a fluffy pita made with eggs and lard) and unsalted bread are some of the local flavors, along with a relatively wide availability of tartufi (truffles) in the form of truffle oil that can be added to pizza and pasta sauce for a very unique, if slightly pungent flavor.

Urbino is home to Raphael, one of the four Renaissance ninja turtles, and the street in town that bears his name is steeper than any I’ve ever seen in the US. At least trekking all the way up takes you to the Fortezza marking the highest point in Urbino and giving you a spectacular view of the city… especially when the construction cranes are out of sight! te’l digh! (Urbinate for “I tell you what!”)

In Italian, various dialects create solidarity among speakers and this form seems to claim a more authentic voice. Without the external pressure of normalization, the dialect might actually be more descriptive, so that it conveys more while saying less. Perhaps any place where communication requires creativity acts as a hotbed for the evolution of language as it is confronted with new obstacles in need of expression.

15 thoughts on “Colorful Language Pt. II – exploring Italian dialects

  1. No sabía que te gustaran las moqujeas..allí casi no se consumen, verdad? A mí me encantan y en mi país también las comen. Gracias por compartir la receta, esta muy facil. Deliciosas. Saludos..

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