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Central Italian

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Central Italian
Native toItaly
RegionUmbria, Lazio (except the southeast), central Marche, small parts of southernmost Tuscany, and northwestern Abruzzo
Native speakers
~3,000,000 (2006)
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Linguasphere51-AAA-ra ... -rba
Central Italian dialects.png
Dialects that maintain a distinction between final /-u/ and /-o/ are outlined in red.

Central Italian (Italian: dialetti mediani) refers to Italo-Romance varieties spoken in the so-called Area Mediana, which covers a swathe of the central Italian peninsula. Area Mediana is also used in a narrower sense to describe the southern part, in which case the northern one may be referred to as the Area Perimediana, a distinction that will be made throughout this article. The two areas are split along a line running approximately from Rome in the southwest to Ancona in the northeast.[1]


In the early Middle Ages, Central Italian extended north into Romagna and covered all of modern-day Lazio, Abruzzo, and Molise. Since then, however, the dialects spoken in those areas have been assimilated into Gallo-Italic and Southern Italo-Romance respectively.[2] In addition, the dialect of Rome has undergone considerable Tuscanization from the fifteenth century onwards, such that it has lost many of its Central Italian features.[3]

Phonological features

Except for the southern fringe, the Area Mediana is characterized by a contrast between the final vowels /-u/ and /-o/ which distinguishes it from both the Area Perimediana and from Southern Italo-Romance.[4] Cf. Spoletine [ˈkreːto, ˈtittu] < Latin crēdō, tēctum 'I believe, roof'. An additional isogloss that runs along the border between the two areas, but often overlaps it in either direction, is that of post-nasal plosive voicing, as in [manˈt̬ellu] 'cloak'. This is a feature that the Area Mediana shares with neighbouring Southern Italo-Romance.[5]

In the Area Mediana are found the following vocalic phenomena:

  • In most areas, stressed mid-vowels are raised by one degree of aperture if the following syllable contains either /u/ or /i/. This is referred to as 'Sabine metaphony'. Compare the following examples from the Ascrean dialect:[6]
    • [meːla, miːlu] 'apples, apple'
    • [ʃpoːsa, ʃpuːsu] 'wife, husband'
    • [wɛcca, weccu] 'old' (f./m.)
    • [nᴐːwa, noːwu] 'new' (f./m.)
  • In a few areas, metaphony results in diphthongization for stressed low-mid vowels, while high-mids undergo normal raising to /i, u/. Compare the following examples from the Nursine dialect:[7]
    • [metto, mitti] 'I put, you put'
    • [soːla, suːlu] 'alone' (f./m.)
    • [bbɛlla, bbjɛjju] 'beautiful' (f./m.)
    • [mᴐrte, mwᴐrti] 'death, dead (pl.)'
  • Southeast of Rome, around Nemi, low-mid vowels undergo metaphonic diphthongization, while high-mids resist raising to /i, u/. This was also the case for Old Romanesco, which had alternations such as /ˈpɛde, ˈpjɛdi/ 'foot, feet'.[8]
  • In some areas with Sabine metaphony, if a word has a stressed mid-vowel, then final /-u/ lowers to /-o/ in a sort of height-based vowel harmony. Compare */ˈbɛllu, ˈfreddu/ > /ˈbeʎʎu, ˈfriddu/ (metaphony) > Tornimpartese /ˈbeʎʎo, ˈfriddu/ 'beautiful, cold'.[9]

Sound-changes that distinguish most or all of Central Italian from Tuscan include the following, many of them shared with Southern Italo-Romance:[10]

  • /nd/ > /nn/, as in Latin vēndere > [ˈwenne] 'to sell'.
  • /mb, nv/ > /mm/, as in Latin plumbum > [ˈpjummu] 'lead'.
  • /ld/ > /ll/, as in Latin cal(i)da > [ˈkalla] 'hot'.
  • Retention of /j/, as in Latin Maium > [ˈmaːju] 'May'.
  • /mj/ > /ɲ(ɲ)/, as in Latin vindēmia > [wenˈneɲɲa] 'grape harvest'.
  • /rj/ > /r/, as in Latin caprārium > [kraˈpaːru] 'goatherd'.

Sound-changes with a limited distribution within the Area Mediana include:[11]

  • /ɡ-/ > /j/ or , as in Latin cattum > [ˈɡattu] > Nursine [ˈjjattu], Reatine [ˈattu] 'cat'.
  • /ɡn/ > /(i̯)n/, as in Latin agnum, ligna > Tagliacozzese /ˈai̯nu, ˈlena/ 'lamb, firewood'.
  • /d, v/ > ∅ word-initially and intervocalically, as in Latin dentem, vaccam, crudum, ovum > /ɛnte akka kruː ou/ in Rieti and L'Aquila.
    • Around Terni, and to its immediate northeast, this deletion only applies in intervocalic position.

In the north of the Area Perimediana, a number of Gallo-Italic features are found:[12]

  • /a/ > /ɛ/ in stressed open syllables, as in /ˈ > /ˈpɛ.ne/ 'bread', around Perugia and areas to its north.[13]
    • In the same area, habitual reduction or deletion of vowels in unstressed internal syllables, as in /ˈtrappole/ > /ˈtrapp(ə)le/ 'traps'.
  • Voicing of intervocalic /t/ to /d/ and degemination of long consonants around Ancona and to its west.[14]
  • In both of the aforementioned areas: lack, or reversal, of the sound-changes /nd/ > /nn/ and /mb, nv/ > /mm/ that are found in the rest of Central Italian.[15]

The following changes to final vowels are found in the Area Perimediana:

  • /-u/ > /-o/, as in Latin musteum > Montelaghese [ˈmoʃʃo], everywhere except for a small 'island' around Pitigliano.[16]
  • /-e/ > /-i/, as in /i ˈkani/ > /e ˈkane/ 'the dogs', in some of the dialects situated along a long arc from Montalto di Castro in the southwest to Fabriano in the northeast.[17]

Morphological features

  • In part of the Area Mediana, below a line running northeast from Rome to Rieti and Norcia, the 3PL ending of non-first conjugation verbs is, unusually, /-u/ (rather than /-o/), which acts as a trigger for metaphony. Cf. Latin vēndunt > Leonessan [ˈvinnu] 'they sell'.[18]
    • In the same area, a series of irregular first-conjugation verbs also show 3PL /-u/ (as opposed to the /-o/ or /-onno/ found elsewhere). Examples include [au, dau, fau, vau] 'they have/give/do/go'.[19]
  • Latin fourth-declension nouns have been retained as such in many cases. Cf. Latin manum, manūs 'hand(s)' > Fabrichese [ˈmaːno] (invariant) and Latin fīcum, fīcūs 'fig(s)' > Canepinese [ˈfiːko] (invariant).[20]
  • Latin neuters of the -um/-a type survive more extensively than in Tuscan. Cf. Latin olīvētum, olīvēta > Roiatese [liˈviːtu, leˈveːta] 'olive-grove(s)'. Even originally non-neuter nouns are sometimes drawn into this class, as in Latin hortum, hortī > Segnese [ˈᴐrto, ˈᴐrta] 'garden(s)'.[21]
    • The plurals, which are grammatically feminine, are replaced by the feminine ending /-e/ in some dialects, leading to outcomes such as Spoletine [ˈlabbru, ˈlabbre] 'lip(s)'. Both plurals may also alternate within the same dialect, as in Treiese [ˈᴐːa~ˈᴐːe] 'eggs'.
    • The Latin neuter plural /-ora/, as in tempora 'times', was extended to several other words in medieval times, but today the phenomenon is limited to areas such as Serrone, where one finds cases like [ˈraːmo, ˈraːmora] 'branch(es)'. In Serviglianese, the final vowel changes to /-e/, as in [ˈfiːko, ˈfiːkore] 'fig(s)'.
  • In several dialects, final syllables beginning with /n/, /l/, or /r/ may be deleted in masculine nouns. In varieties such as Matelicese, this occurs only in the singular, not the plural, leading to outcomes such as */paˈtrone, paˈtroni/ > [paˈtro, paˈtruːni] 'lord, lords'. In varieties such as Serviglianese, this deletion occurs both in the singular and the plural, resulting in [paˈtro, paˈtru], with metaphony-induced vowel distinctions remaining as a marker of number.[22]

Syntactic features

  • Direct objects are often marked by the preposition a if they are animate.[23]

See also


  • Loporcaro, Michele & Paciaroni, Tania. 2016. The dialects of central Italy. In Ledgeway, Adam & Maiden, Martin (eds.), The Oxford guide to the Romance languages, 228–245. Oxford University Press.
  • Vignuzzi, Ugo. 1997. Lazio, Umbria, and the Marche. In Maiden, Martin & Parry, Mair (eds.), The dialects of Italy, 311–320. London: Routledge.


  1. ^ Loporcaro & Paciaroni 2016: 228
  2. ^ Loporcaro & Panciani 2016: 229–230
  3. ^ Vignuzzi 1997: 312, 317; Loporcaro & Panciani 2016: 229, 233
  4. ^ Vignuzzi 1997: 312–313; Loporcaro & Panciani 2016: 228–229, 231–232
  5. ^ Loporcaro & Panciani 2016: 229–230, 232
  6. ^ Vignuzzi 1997: 313; Loporcaro & Panciani 2016: 230
  7. ^ Loporcaro & Panciani 2016: 230
  8. ^ Vignuzzi 1997: 317; Loporcaro & Panciani 2016: 230
  9. ^ Vignuzzi 1997: 314, Loporcaro & Panciani 2016: 232
  10. ^ Vignuzzi 1997: 314–315; Loporcaro & Panciani 2016: 232
  11. ^ Vignuzzi 1997: 315–316, 318
  12. ^ Loporcaro & Panciani 2016: 240–241
  13. ^ Vignuzzi 1997: 318. This citation also covers the following bullet-point.
  14. ^ Loporcaro & Panciani 2016: 229
  15. ^ Loporcaro & Panciani 2016: 229
  16. ^ Loporcaro & Panciani 2016: 229, 240
  17. ^ Vignuzzi 1997: 318; Loporcaro & Panciani 2016: 240
  18. ^ Vignuzzi 1997: 315–316; Loporcaro & Panciani 2016: 231
  19. ^ Vignuzzi 1997: 316–317
  20. ^ Loporcaro & Panciani 2016: 241
  21. ^ Loporcaro & Panciani 2016: 234. This citation applies to the following two bullet-point as well.
  22. ^ Loporcaro & Panciani 2016: 233
  23. ^ Vignuzzi 1997: 315; Loporcaro & Panciani 2016: 237
This page was last edited on 2 July 2022, at 05:26
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