Venetian is a Romance language spoken by over two million people in and around Venice. Although commonly refered to as an Italian dialect (even by its speakers), it does not descend from the Italian language. The language is called (dialeto) Veneto or Venessian in Venetian.
Venetian should not be confused with Venetic, an apparently unrelated (and extinct) Indo-European language that was spoken in the Veneto region around the 6th century BC.
Venetian descends from Latin, like all other Romance languages (including Italian and the other so-called Italian dialects). However, Venetian and Italian branch off from each other after Italo-Western; whereas Venetian and Spanish branch off after Gallo-Iberian, and Venetian and French don't branch off until after Gallo-Romance. Therefore Venetian is genetically closer to French and Spanish than to Italian.
Although French and Venetian are mutually intelligibile only to a small degree (mostly due to major changes in French pronunciation over time), Spanish and Venetian are mutually comprehensible to some extent — certainly more so than Spanish and Italian.
Venetian is spoken in the Italian regions of Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia and in both Slovenian and Croatian Istria.
The language enjoyed substantial prestige in the days of the Venetian Republic. The plays of Carlo Goldoni are still performed today, and his characters — including Harlequin, Columbine, and Pierrot — have become part of the world's folklore. However, as a literary language Venetian was overshadowed by the Tuscan "dialect" of Dante, which eventually became the national language of Italy. Due to its non-official status, Venetian has steadily lost ground to Italian; at present, virtually all its speakers are bilingual and use Venetian only in informal contexts.
Like all Romance languages, Venetian has mostly abandoned the Latin case system, in favor of prepositions and a more rigid SVO sentence structure It has thus become more analytic, if not quite as much as English. Venetian also has the Romance articles, both definite (derived from the Latin demonstrative illo) and indefinite (derived from the numeral uno).
Venetian also retained the Latin concepts of gender (masculine and feminine) and number (singular and plural). Nouns and adjectives can be modified by suffixes that indicate several qualities such as size, endearment, deprecation, etc. Adjectives (usually postfixed) and articles are inflected to agree with the noun in gender and number:
- El gaton gras, "the fat big (male) cat".
- La gatona grassa, "the fat big (female) cat".
- I gatoni grassi, "the fat big (male) cats".
- Le gatone grasse, "the fat big (female) cats".
- un bel gatel, "a nice small (male) cat".
- na bea gatea, "a nice small (female) cat".
Venetian has only one sound not present in Italian, an interdental fricative [θ] spelled ç and similar to English th in thing and thought, to Castilian (not Latin-American) Spanish c(e,i)/z (as in cero, cien, zapato), and to Greek θ (theta); it occurs, for example, in çena ("supper"), which sounds the same as Castilian Spanish cena (same meaning). However this sound, which is present only in some variants of the language (Central Venetian, around Padua, Vicenza and the mouth of the river Po), is considered "provincial" and is therefore being replaced by other sounds like [s], [z], [sh]. Some linguists also distinguish a "normal L" from a "soft L" (spelled ł, its pronunciation has a dialectal range from an almost e in the region of Venice, to a partially vowelized l in the inland, to being lost in some mountaneous areas; thus góndoła may sound like góndoea, góndola or góndoa; this spelling prevents possible confusion between pairs like skóła "school" and skóa "broom").
Venetian does not have the "doubled consonant" sounds characteristic of Tuscan and many other Italian "dialects": thus Italian fette, palla, penna ("slices", "ball", and "pen") are fete, bala, and pena in Venetian. The masculine singular ending, which is usually -o in Italian, is often voided in Venetian, particularly in the countryside varieties: Italian pieno ("full") is pien, and altare is altar. Also, the masculine article el is often shortened to 'l.
The Venetian lexicon has a large number of original word forms, such as tosàt ("lad", in Italian ragazzo), técia ("pan", pentola), pirón ("fork", forchetta), caréga ("chair", sedia), còtoa ("skirt", sottana), bìsi ("peas", piselli), sgorlàr ("to shake", scuotere), and many more.
A peculiarity of Venetian grammar is the use of a redundant pronoun in some sentences, "echoing" the subject:
- Italian: tu eri sporco ("you were dirty").
- Venetian: ti te jèra sporc (lit. "you you were dirty").
- Italian: il cane era sporco ("the dog was dirty").
- Venetian: el can 'l jèra sporc ("the dog he was dirty").
- Italian: tu ti sei domandato ("you have asked yourself").
- Venetian: ti te te a domandà (lit. "you you yourself have asked").
This feature may have arisen as a compensation for the fact that the 2nd- and 3rd-person inflections for most verbs, which are still distinct in Italian and many other Romance languages, are identical in Venetian.
Another peculiarity of the language is the use of the phrase drìo a, literally "behind to", to indicate continuing action:
- Italian: mio padre stava parlando ("my father was speaking").
Venetian: me pàre 'l jèra drìo a parlàr (lit. "my father he was behind to speak").
Venetian does not have an official writing system, but it is commonly written using the Latin alphabet — sometimes with the addition of a couple of letters and/or diacritics for the sounds that do not exist in Italian, such as "ç" for [θ]. Otherwise, the spelling rules are mostly those of Italian, except that "x" traditionally sounds similar to the "z" in English "zero".
Recently there have been attempts to standardize the script, but these have not been very successful because of regional variations in pronunciation and incompatibility with existing literature.
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