Languages in Sardinia
What language do they speak in Sardinia?
Good question, let’s see…
So, Sardinia is an Italian island, and they speak Italian in Italy – simple, right?
Well, as it turns out, things aren’t always so straightforward in Italy.
If you travel to any region of mainland Italy, you’re bound to hear something that sounds a bit different to the ‘standard’ Italian you’ll find written in guidebooks or language dictionaries. This is because almost every region in mainland Italy has its own distinct dialect – originally a ‘vulgar’ form of Latin.
Most regional dialects spoken in Italy are actually languages in their own right, with complex grammar and verb structures. Some have a lot in common with the ‘standard’ Italian, and some don’t – at all! For example, the dialect spoken in Naples, is nothing like the dialect of you’ll hear spoken in Turin.
The reason for this is pretty understandable when you look at history. After all, modern Italian was itself a dialect of vernacular Latin originating in Tuscany – Florence to be more specific.
In 1861 it was this dialect of ‘vulgar Latin’ that was chosen to be the national language of the newly formed Italian Republic. This was in large part thanks to the famous writings of Dante Alighieri, “the father of the Italian language”.
Great, so how does Sardinia fit into this jigsaw of dialects? Well, it doesn’t really!
In case you hadn’t already realised, Sardinia is pretty different from the mainland…
Languages Spoken in Sardinia
Sardinians obviously speak Italian – but not only.
The main local language, inherent to the island of Sardinia, is Sardinian or Su Sardu.
Quite often mistaken in mainland Italy as a dialect, Su Sardu was officially recognised as an official language in 1997. Today, the Sardinian language is one of only 12 recognised languages, distinct from Italian, spoken by Italians in Italy.
Linguists believe that of all the common descendants of Latin – Italian, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Romanian, and Catalan – the Sardinian language most closely resembles ancient Latin.
Of course, like I mentioned before, things aren’t always so straightforward in Italy. The Sardinian language even has its own dialects!
The island of Sardinia has two main dialects, and native speakers of one dialect aren’t necessarily able to understand native speakers of the other.
The two main dialects covering the majority of the island are:
This is mainly spoken in the Campidano region in the southern half of Sardinia. This dialect was greatly influenced by the Spanish during their 400 year conquest of the island.
The Campidanese dialect of Sardinian spoken in the towns around Cagliari, still incorporate a large number of Spanish loanwords today.
This is mainly spoken in the central Barbagia region of Sardinia in the province of Nuoro.
It’s worth noting however, that Nuoro has its own separate ‘sub-dialect’ of Sardinian, with some distinctive features not found anywhere else in Sardinia. This sub-dialect is independent of Logudorese.
Some linguists believe that the wider-spoken Logudorese dialect of Sardinian is the purest form of Sardinian, remaining relatively unchanged during Sardinia’s many conquests by foreign powers.
To the north of Sardinia things are slightly different – although the dialects spoken here do have some connections to Sardinian, they are actually classified as Corso-Sardinian.
As you can possibly guess, Corso-Sardinian is a mix of Corsican (the native language spoken on the French island of Corsica to the north) and Sardinian.
The Corsican language itself is heavily influenced by Tuscan dialects, due to the island’s location close to the coast of Tuscany.
The two main dialects of Corso-Sardinian are:
This is the dialect spoken in the city of Sassari (Sardinia’s second largest city), and the towns of Stintino, Sorso, and Porto Torres.
The Sassarese dialect, although heavily influenced by Sardinian, is closer to Corsican and is rarely understood by speakers of Campidanese or Logudorese Sardinian.
This is the dialect spoken in the historical region of Gallura in the northeast of Sardinia, where you’ll find the town of Olbia.
Strictly speaking, Gallurese is actually a dialect of Corsican, although there are notable influences from the Sardinian language.
Apart from Sardinian, there are two other languages/dialects that are spoken on the island of Sardinia.
The Algherese language is only spoken in the city of Alghero and the surrounding countryside.
The language is derived from Catalan, owing to the Catalan colonisation of the area in the 14th century.
If you’d like to learn a little bit more, why not check out my Beginner’s Guide to Alghero?
As if things weren’t already complicated enough, there’s even a small island just off the coast of Sardinia where they speak a dialect of Ligurian too!
The Ligurian ‘language’ is classified as a Gallo-Italic language, meaning that it takes on parts of French and Italian, and is spoken in the region around the city of Genoa.
Tabarchino is the dialect spoken in Carloforte, on the island of San Pietro, 7km off the Sardinian coast. Given Carloforte’s colourful history, there are even some loanwords from Tunisian Arabic used in day to day speech.
To learn some more, why not check out my Beginner’s Guide to Carloforte?
Sardinia – As a tourist, what do you need to know?
If your head is spinning with languages and dialects, don’t worry, you should get by just fine with English and a few words of Italian.
In most of the island, people tend to speak at least a few words of English, and in the main tourist areas you shouldn’t have a problem being understood.
Here are some Italian basics to get you started…