I knew there were local and regional dialects in Italy. I knew that my Mom spoke a dialect from Naples area and my Dad spoke a different dialect--from Molfetta. Mom said when Dad was speaking, it was like listening to a foreign language.
Before I Voyaged to Italy I read a book called Pan' e Pomodor that talked about life in Puglia where my Dad was from. It was interesting to learn how local some dialects really were... words and expressions totally changed often from one village to another or from one hilltop to another. But when I stumbled across this map of the dialects in Italy I was dumbfounded.
Some even say there are literally thousands of local dialects, not merely hundreds. There are several reasons for this phenomena: Italy didn't become one country until the late 1800s; there was nothing in the original Italian Constitution that specified one national language; many areas of Italy are extremely rural in rough terrain which causes a village to evolve separately from others; Italy has been conquered by many different peoples throughout history--Germans, Turks, French and more; many of the dialects are based on "Vulgar Latin", evolving over many centuries into their own dialect lineages; there are even areas of Italy that speak Griko, a form of the Greek language and villages that speak mixed dialects of Albanian and Croatian. As an example, the small island region of Sardinia has no less than six dialects in use today.
Dialects are used by a majority of Italians and spoken as a primary language by 15% of the population. The strange fact is that many Italians speak their local or regional dialect at home, but speak the Italiano language when outside their home area. For instance, I read in Pan' e Pomodor that parents teach their children never to speak dialect outside of their village, especially when trying to find work in Rome or Milan, because they will be looked down upon. It's a shame because the various dialects and regional differences is exactly what makes Italy such an interesting, rich country. I remember when taking the train from Bari to Rome the conductor made announcements in three languages: English, Italian and Dialetto.
So if you're Voyaging in a remote part of Italy and find it difficult to get the locals to understand you--even when speaking your best Italiano, be patient and remember they might only speak their dialect. Enjoy their uniqueness and speak a more universal language... a smile.
If you enjoyed this post, please pass it around to your online friends. Ciao!