Italian language: Touring Italy. The Cimbrian Language

Aug 19, 2018 313

Welcome back to our tour of the Italian dialects. Today, we move East and we meet with the Cimbrian language which has Germanic origins and is historically located in the Italian regions of Trentino Alto-Adige and Veneto and is currently protected in the province of Trento. But let’s take a look at why this language was and is spoken here. 

People say that the name and the language itself comes from the ancient population of Cimbrian, which mainly lived in Luserna,  who had been defeated by the Romans in 101 B.C.E in the area where modern Vercelli is found. People believe there is a direct line between the population that today lives in Trentino and north-west Veneto and Ancient Cimbrian. The majority of the population settled on the Altopiano dei sette comuni – the highlands of the seven townships – which helped preserve this language for a long time, in a sort of isolated state. 

The Cimbrian language belongs to a High-Middle German with strong influences of Ancient German, at times with Bavaria inflections due to the great Bavarian immigration flows that characterized the area around the year 1000, and it belongs to the ancient German dialects. The first known document dates back to the year 1055, and the language has its peak at the beginning of 1700, but it starts it long and devastating decline in the same year. It’s incredible how in the 1600s there were more than 20,000 Cimbrian speakers and now we find only 19 people who speak it in Giazza – however we have to add another 24 people who only understand it – Trento only counted 882 speakers in 2001 – today the number has severely dropped – and only Luserna is left with a decent amount of speakers.

Quite ironically, the Cimbrian spoken in Asiago is what is considered standard Cimbrian; however only a handful of people speak it today, and the one spoken in Luserna, the most active city, is the less original, more modern and therefore the most “corrupt.” The one spoken in Luserna has been corrupted heavily by modern German and Austrian German because recently many residents have been migrating to Germany and Austria and then came back with their brand new accent, vocabulary, and talk. However, this phenomenon is mainly limited to the formation of new words that settled in the Cimbrian everyday vocabulary like bèschmaschì from the the German Waschmachine – as you probably guessed, it means “washing machine.”

As other dialects and languages, the Cimbrian language is interesting because it really reflects the culture it comes from and its community: the range of vocabulary regarding wood and timber, its processing, the work in the fields and agriculture, and the weather is wide, indeed due to the traditional professions and the costumes of the Cimbrians.

The Cimbrian language also influenced the way of speaking in the area and birthed a Cimbrian talk that is more of an accent rather than a dialect or a different language – remember, the difference between a dialect and a language rests in the political status – called slambròt, which is a Germanic word that means dirty and soaked bread, which refers to a hybrid between the local language of the area with Cimbrian inflections, like bread that got dirty and soaked with the Cimbrian way of speaking; which, however, is almost completely lost.  Yet, there are still many places and towns that carry the signs of slambròt which is slowly disappearing due to the penetration of many Cimbrian terms into the local dialects.

Today, the Cimbrian population is protected at an international level since 2000, when Italy joined the Council of Europe on the protection of minorities through the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Where the Cimbrian language manages to survive there are a few institutions, museums, magazines to preserve it and keep it alive like the Kulturinstitut Bersntol-Lusèrn in Luserna, the Istituto di Cultura Cimbra "Agostino dal Pozzo" and Museo della Tradizione Cimbra in Roana, Curatorium Cimbricum Veronense in Giazza that offer courses of current Cimbrian, and even a course of Cimbrian culture at the local elementary school in Selva di Progno-Sant'Andrea. It looks like that there are just a few Cimbrians left but those who are left are really fighting for survival.

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