Sardinian (sardu, limba / lingua sarda) is a Romance language spoken on three-quarters of the island of Sardinia (Italy).
It is considered by many scholars to be the most conservative of the Romance languages and is even noted for a Paleosardiniansubstratum: for instance, a study by the Italian-American linguist Mario Pei in 1949, which analyzed the differentiation degree of languages in comparison to their inheritance language (in the case of Romance languages to Latin comparing phonology, inflection,discourse, syntax, vocabulary, and intonation) revealed the following percentages (the higher the percentage, the greater the distance from Latin):
Since 1997, the languages of the island, including Sardinian, have been protected and recognised by regional and Italian laws. Several written standards, the last of which being the Limba Sarda Comuna (Common Sardinian Language), have been created in an attempt to unify the two main varieties of the language.
The history of the island of Sardinia, relatively isolated from the European continent up into modern times, led to the development of a distinct Romance language, which even now preserves traces of the indigenous pre-Roman language of the island. The language is of Latin origin like all Romance languages, yet the following substratal influences are possible:
Adstratal influences include:
The early origins of the Sardinian language (sometimes called Paleo-Sardinian) are still obscure, due mostly to the lack of documents, as Sardinian appeared as a written form only in the Middle Ages. There are substantial differences between the many theories about the development of Sardinian.
Many studies have attempted to discover the origin of some obscure roots that today could legitimately be defined as indigenous, pre-Romance roots. First of all, the root of sard, present in many toponyms and distinctive of the ethnic group, is supposed to have come from the Sherden, one of the so-called Peoples of the Sea.
Massimo Pittau claimed in 1984 to have found in the Etruscan language the etymology of many other Latin words, after comparison with the Nuragic language. If true, one could conclude that there would have been a strong connection between the ancient Sardinian culture and the Etruscan one, having evidence of many Etruscan elements that are instead usually considered to be of Latin origin. In fact, Pittau indicates that both the Etruscan and Nuragic languages are descended from the Lydian language, both therefore being Indo-European languages, as a consequence of the alleged provenance of Etruscans/Tyrrhenians from that land (as in Herodotus), where effectively the capital town was Sardis. Pittau also suggests, as a historical point, that the Tirrenii landed in Sardinia, whereas the Etruscans landed in modern-day Tuscany. However, it should be noted that Massimo Pittau’s views are not representative of most Etruscologists.
It has been said that Paleosardinian should be expected to have notable similarities with the Iberic languages and the Siculianlanguage: the suffix -’ara, for example, in proparoxytones (Bertoldi and Terracini proposed it indicated plural forms). The same would happen (according to Terracini) for suffixes in -/àna/, -/ànna/, -/énna/, -/ònna/ + /r/ + paragogic vowel (as in the toponym Bonnànnaro). Rohlfs, Butler and Craddock add the suffix -/ini/ (as in the toponym Barùmini) as a peculiar element of Paleosardinian. At the same time, suffixes in /a, e, o, u/ + -rr- seem to find a correspondence in northern Africa (Terracini), in Iberia (Blasco Ferrer), in southern Italy and in Gascony (Rohlfs), with some closer relation to Basque (Wagner, Hubschmid). However, these early links proposing a link to a precursor of modern Basque have been called into question by some Basque linguists. Suffixes in -/ài/, -/éi/, -/òi/, and -/ùi/ are common to Paleosardinian and northern African languages (Terracini). Pittau underlined that this concerns terms originally ending in an accented vowel, with an attached paragogic vowel; the suffix resisted Latinization in some toponyms, which show a Latin body and a Nuragic desinence. On this point, some toponyms ending in -/ài/ and in -/asài/ were thought to show Anatolic influence (Bertoldi). The suffix -/aiko/, widely used in Iberia, and perhaps of Celtic origins, as well as the ethnical suffix in -/itanos/ and -/etanos/ (as in the Sardinian Sulcitanos) have been noted as other Paleosardinian elements (viz Terracini, Ribezzo, Wagner, Hubschmid, Faust, et al.).
Linguists like Blasco Ferrer (2009, 2010) or Morvan (2009) have recently attempted to revive the theory of a Basque connection by linking modern surface forms such as Sardinian ospile ”fresh natural cover for cattle” and Basque ozpil ”id.”, Sardinian arrotzeri ”vagabond” and Basque arrotz ”stranger”, Sardinian arru ”stone, stony” and Basque arri“stone”, Gallurese (South Corsican and North Sardinian) zerru ”pig” and Basque zerri ”id.”. Of interest, and in support to this theory, genetic data on the distribution of HLA antigens have suggested a common origin for Basque and Sardinian people.
The Roman domination, beginning in 238 BC, brought Latin to Sardinia, but this language was not able to completely supplant the Pre-Roman Sardinian language. Some obscure roots remained unaltered, and in many cases it was Latin that was made to accept the local roots, such as nur (in nuraghe, as well as Nùgoro and many other toponyms). Roman culture, on the other hand, became largely dominant; Barbagia derives its name from the Greek word Ό βάρβαρος-ου, which means “stuttering”, due to the fact that its people could not speak Latin well. Cicero, who called Sardinian rebels latrones matrucati (“thieves with rough sheep-wool cloaks”) to emphasise Roman superiority, helped to spread this conception.
Modern Sardinian, as it is known today, was the first language to split off from the others that were still developing from Latin, possibly as early as the first century BC.
During this time period, there was a reciprocal influence between Corsica and a limited area of northern Sardinia. On the southern side, though, the evidence favors contacts withSemitic and (later) Byzantine languages. In the 1st century AD, some relevant groups of Hebrews were deported to Sardinia, bringing various influences; the Christianization of the island would probably have brought Hebrews to convert to a sort of independent cult of Sant’Antioco (perhaps a way to preserve some aspects of their ethnicity under a Christian form), still present in Gavoi. This contact with Hebrews, followed by another deportation of Christians, presumedly lasted for a couple of centuries, and makes it likely that by the 3rd century AD, Vulgar Latin began to dominate the island.
This eventual Latin cultural domination thus makes Sardinian a Romance language, or more precisely an archaic neo-Latin language, whose main characteristics are archaic phonetic and morphosyntactic phenomena.
After this domination, Sardinia passed under the control of the Eastern Roman Empire, and more influences are derived from this culture. The Greek language that was the main reference of Byzantines did not, however, enter into the structure of Sardinian (still a Romance language) except for in some ritual or formal formulas that are expressed in Latin using Greek structure. Much evidence for this can be found in the condaghes, the first written documents in Sardinian.
Some toponyms show Greek influence as well, such as Jerzu, commonly presumed to derive from the Greek khérsos (untilled), together with the personal names Mikhaleis, Konstantine, and Basilis.
Giudicati (Judicados) period
Sardinian had once been the official and national language of the Giudicati, Byzantine districts that became independent due to the Arab expansion in the Mediterranean, which obstructed all the connections between the island and Byzantium. Sardinian obviously had a greater number of archaisms and Latinisms than the current language does, not to mention the usage of word letters reflecting the origin of the copyists (the majority of whom were Catalan, Genoese and Tuscan) which are now fallen into disuse. Dante Alighieristated in De Vulgari Eloquentia (1303–1305) that he would expel Sardinians from his work, claiming that they were not Italians but had been just aping them and, as a consequence, they never had any Vulgar language of their own (after all, they still say domus nova and dominus meus).
This assertion is dismissed, given that Sardinian, on the contrary, evolved on its own to the point of becoming totally unintelligible to the all but the islanders. Proof of that is an exclamation, serving as a popular joke and dating back to the 12th century, that the provençal troubadour Raimbaut de Vaqueiras reports in one of his works, and says: No t’intend plui d’un Toesco / o Sardo o Barbarì (lit. “I don’t understand you more than a German / or Sardinian or Berber”).
The literature in this period is mostly made up by legal documents; here is a list of some of them having been considered worth mentioning, even though it should be noted, before going any further, that it is far from exhaustive: it may seem to you that literature is virtually nonexistent, while there has always been an abundance of poems, for instance (the same is valid for all the other periods which follow this one).
The first document in which some elements of the language make their appearance, dates back to 1063: it is an act of donation to the abbey of Montecassino signed by Barisone I of Torres.
Other worth mentioning documents are the Carta Volgare (1070/1080) in old Campidanese, the “Logudorese Privilege” (1080), the “Donation of Torchitorio” (1089) still kept in the archives of Marseille, the second Marsellaise Chart, written in old Campidanese (1190–1206), and another act between the bishop of Civita Bernardo and Benedetto, who was in charge of the Opera del Duomo located in Pisa (1173).
The Republic medieval statutes of Sassari, which are written in old Logudorese, are another example of linguistic documentation.
Finally, it is to be noted the Carta de Logu of the Kingdom of Arborea (1355–1376), which would remain in force until 1827.
The enfeoffment of Sardinia by Pope Boniface VIII in 1297, without his realizing the presence of independent states within it, led to the founding of the Kingdom of Sardinia, to the end of the independence of the island and to a long period of war, which ended only with the decisive Catalan victory at Sanluri in 1409 and the renunciation of the rights of succession signed by William III of Narbonne; since then, any anti-Catalan uprising, such as the rebellion which occurred in Alghero in 1353 and that in Macomer in 1478, had been systematically neutralized. During this period, Aragonese government carried out an assimilation policy that’s been almost total in the cities, since both the small bourgeoisie(all of which was of Catalan ancestry) and the clergy choose Catalan as their primary language, thus relegating Sardinian to a secondary position. It is reported by the lawyer Sigismondo Arquer (author of the Sardiniae brevis historia et descriptio) that, while Catalan was a language spoken in the cities, Sardinian would still prevail in the rural areas: that is, most of the Kingdom.
In spite of Sardinian still being the most widely spoken language, little is given to know about it due to the scarcity of written documentation: all we have, however, may well explain the contaminated linguistic forms produced by Catalan, which are still visible even today.
Antòni Canu (1400–1476) – Sa Vitta et sa Morte, et Passione de sanctu Gavinu, Brothu et Ianuariu (15th century, publication dated back to 1557):
Rimas Spirituales, a work by Hieronimu Araolla, had been determined to “glorify and enrich Sardinian, our language” (magnificare et arrichire sa limba nostra sarda) just in the same way as Spanish, French and Italian poets had already done for their own languages (see la Deffense et illustration de la langue françoyse, il Dialogo delle lingue): the question of the Sardinian language situation had been posed for the first time ever, and many other authors after him would analyze it in a number of ways.
Antonio Lo Frasso, a poet who had born in Alghero (a city that he would later remember dearly) but spent all life in Barcelona, is likely to be considered the first intellectual we have testimony of to write lyric poems in Sardinian:
In 1624, with the reorganization of the monarchy led by the Count-Duke of Olivares, Sardinia finally exits from the Aragonese sphere of influence of and fully enters into the Spanish one. Spanish, unlike Catalan which was adopted to a certain extent by all the bourgeoise, had been perceived as somewhat of an elitist language. Sardinian has been known as the spontaneous linguistic code of Sardinian people, and because of that respected and even learnt by Spanish colonists. The sociolinguistic situation of the language consists of a proficiency, both active and passive, of Catalan and Spanish in the cities, with the latter replacing the first, and a proficiency of Sardinian in all of the villages, as reported by many people such as the Spanish ambassador Martin Carillo (author of the ironic remark about Sardinians: pocos, locos y mal unidos), the anonymous work of Llibre dels feyts d’armes de Catalunya («parlen la llengua catalana molt polidament, axì com fos a Catalunya»), and Baldassarre Pinyes, dean of the Jesuit college located in Sassari, who had been writing in Rome: «per ciò che concerne la lingua sarda, sappia vostra paternità che essa non è parlata in questa città, né in Alghero, né a Cagliari: la parlano solo nelle ville». As for written documentation of Sardinian, we mostly have notary deeds, which are heavily affected by Spanish and Italian contamination forms, and religious works, such as Sa Dottrina et Declarassione pius abundante e Sa Breve Suma de sa Doctrina in duas maneras.
Here is an act, dating back to 1620 and still kept in the archives of Bosa.
In the meanwhile, the priest Ioan Matheu Garipa, writing his work “Legendariu de Santas Virgines, et Martires de Iesu Christu” highlights the nobility of Sardinian, by claiming it is the closest living language to classical Latin:
Piedmontese period and Kingdom of Italy
The outcome of the war of Spanish succession resulted in the island becoming property of Austria, whose sovereignty was later confirmed by the treaties of Utrecht and Rastatt(1713–1714). However, the situation was not supposed to last long; in 1717, a Spanish fleet reoccupied Cagliari and in the following year Sardinia was again ceded to Victor Amadeus II of Savoy in exchange for Sicily.
During the Savoyard period, a number of essays written by intellectuals, such as philologist Matteo Madau and professor and senator Giovanni Spano explicitly posed the Sardinian language question, attempting to find a unified orthography by choosing the Logudorese variety, just like Florentine would later become the basis for what became the official language of Italy; however, the Piedmontese government chose to impose Italian by law in the island on July 1760, and to carry out an island-wide assimilation project, in order to bind Sardinia more firmly to the Italian mainland; since then, the usage of Tuscan has been spreading to the detriment of Sardinian, triggering a process that could eventually lead to language death.
For instance, Carlo Baudi di Vesme (Cuneo 1809 – Turin 1877) explicitly proposed a complete ban of the language in order to turn the islanders into “civilized” Italians, while at the same time there had been a certain effort by Piedmontese cartographers to replace the original Sardinian place names with Italian ones; whilst some of them remained untouched, the majority of names was roughly adapted from the original meaning to a totally different one: one of the most prominent examples, amongst the others, is the small island of Mal di Ventre, whose current Italian name, meaning “tummy ache”, is actually an adaptation of the Sardinian word Malu ‘Entu, which stands for “bad wind” instead (in fact, the island is continuously exposed to North Westerly winds).
In spite of such assimilation policies, the anthem of the Piedmontese Kingdom of Sardinia was the Hymnu Sardu (or Cunservet Deus su Re), the lyrics of which are in Sardinian; it was partially substituted by the Savoy’s March when the Italian peninsula was unified.
During the general mobilization in preparation for entering World War I, the Italian Army compelled all Sardinians to join the battle as Italian subjects and raised the Sassari Infantry Brigade on 1 March 1915, at Tempio Pausania and Sinnai. Unlike all other Italian infantry brigades, the Sassari one was recruited locally on Sardinia; even most officers hailed from the island. It is actually the sole Italian unit to have a hymn in a regional language: Dimonios, written by Captain Luciano Sechi. This name comes from the attribute Rote Teufel (German for Red Devils, and Dimonios stands for English Devils) given to Sardinian soldiers by Austro-Hungarian enemies during World War I, because of their white and red flashes and their worth in war.
During the Fascist period, especially the Autarchy campaign, non-Italian languages were banned. The restrictions, in spite of being only formal, got to the point where even personal names and surnames were made to sound more “Italian-sounding“. During this period, the Sardinian Hymn of the Piedmontese Kingdom was a chance to speak in a regional language in Italy without any penalty, because, as a fundamental part of the Royal Family’s tradition, it could not be forbidden. Catholic priests practiced a strict obstructionism against mutos, a form of improvised sung poetry where two or more poets are assigned a surprise theme and have to develop it on the spur of the moment in rhymed quatrains.
The assimilation policies would follow up even after World War II, when the dismantlement of Sardinian culture, labelled as a symbol of backwardness to look down upon, has been presented as the only way to development. Many historical sites and several objects related to Sardinian daily activities have been heavily italianized by giving them a different name in Italian (thus replacing the Sardinian one) and sistematically removing any connection with the island.
In the last decade, the Sardinian language has been legally recognized (with Albanian, Catalan,German, Greek, Slovene, Croatian, French, Franco-Provençal, Friulian, Ladin, and Occitan) by the Law 482-1999, yet its actual acknowledgement in the present-day life is hard. For example, in many Italian libraries and universities, the books about Sardinian language are still grouped under the labels Linguistica italiana (Italian linguistics), Dialetti italiani (Italian dialects) or Dialettologia italiana (Italian dialectology), despite its academic and legal recognition as a whole different language. Some people still regard the language as a mere Italian dialect (sometimes even at institutional level, in spite of the laws which already exist), as was the custom for all minority and regional languages throughout Italy (even though the majority of scholars abroad stated it should have been considered to be an autonomous group pertaining to the Romantic branch), mainly for either ideological reasons or remnant of old customs still persisting. In either case, Sardinian has been bearing a stigma because of that, since when the language was first labelled as a sign of poverty and backwardness: possibly as a psychological legacy of the above-mentioned stigma, when people have been taught to view their native language as shameful and were beaten and humiliated in several manners for using it in public (especially in school), there is still a certain tendency for the islanders not to utter a word in Sardinian but in the private sphere (often having an erroneous view of their ability to speak the language, either over- or underestimating it), with the sole exception to this sort of unwritten rule being some villages located in the central part of the island. Outside these language oasis, many people have long abandoned Sardinian in favour of being monolingual in only Italian.
Despite the cultural and political campaigns launched in order to put Sardinian on an equal footing with Italian, and any emotive value linked to Sardinian identity, the sociolinguistic situation in Sardinia due to several reasons, mainly political and socioeconomic (the gradual depopulation of the island’s interior and the on-going rural exodus towards more urbanized and industrialized areas, the language eradication policy such as the forced use of Italian presented as a prerequisite to get jobs and as one of the keys to social advancement, in addition to the official exclusion, humiliation at school and rejection Sardinian speakers experienced, the immigration of people coming from theItalian peninsula over the time, the barriers to communication between the dialectal varieties, the heated debate over the official standardization etc.) has resulted in a constant regression, though it is not homogeneous throughout the island; many Sardinians (especially those born in the towns, far more populated than the villages) are raised in families in which bilingual parents spoke to them predominantly Italian, rendering the children monolingual and with little proficiency in Sardinian. Nowadays, Sardinian is a language living in an unstable status of diglossia and code-switching, being put under heavy pressure by Italian; UNESCO classifies the language as definitely endangered as “many children learn the language, but some of them cease to use it throughout the school years”; there is a serious decline of language ability from one generation to the next (some reports showed only 13 percent of children speak Sardinian fluently and habitually, most of them living in Goceano, Barbagia and Baronìa, which continue to be the main strongholds of the language.). It can be said that, with the exception of the subregions listed above, the rest of the island is by now largely italianized; since younger generations generally have only a limited knowledge of Sardinian, there is a shame in not having a good command in it: they can often understand their grandparents, but are embarrassed they can’t speak the language in return, so they tend to favour Italian over Sardinian as a way to articulate themselves comfortably. Furthermore, Italian continues to be predominant in almost every field of public and social life (in spite of bilingual education laws, the use of Sardinian in schools is still strongly discouraged, for instance).Some linguists, taking into account the situation of some Logudorese villages in which the number of native-speaking children under school age is virtually non-existent, assert that it is currently occurring a linguistic suicide that, at this rate, shall lead to the total extinction of the language in more or less than a dozen years, when the older generation along with the elderly people, who are the vast majority of the population living in the island, will pass away.
While Sardinian has gone from being the prevalent language in the island to one in decline, a mixed dialect between Italian and Sardinian, which is considered by linguists aregional variety of the former and is often sarcastically referred to by the Sardinian-speaking community still remained as italiànu porcheddìnu (“piggy Italian”), has developed and it is being increasingly used to the expense of the indigenous language.
A bill of Monti’s government would have further lowered the level of protection of the language, which is already quite low, implementing a distinction between the languages protected by international agreements (German, Slovenian, French and Ladin) and those related to communities that do not have a foreign state behind them. This project, which never came into existence (Italy hasn’t ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages yet), has nonetheless caused some reaction from some parts of the intellectual and political world of the island. Recently, a number of cases of people wanting to give the exit exam, or part of it, speaking in Sardinian burst onto the social and political scene.
In response to the Italian government ordering bilingual signs be taken down in 2013, a group of Sardinians launched a virtual campaign on Google Maps to replace the Italian place names with the original ones. This sort of linguistic coup lasted around a month, before Google decided to modify all town names, back to Italian.
Whether all the measures to save the language will succeed remains to be seen.
All dialects of Sardinian feature archaic phonetic features when compared to other Romance languages. The degree of archaism varies, with Nuorese (central northeast part of the island) considered the most conservative, though in some cases it has innovated. Evidence from medieval documents indicates that the medieval language spoken over the entirety of Sardinia and Corsica was similar to modern Nuorese; all of the remaining areas are thought to have innovated as the result of heavy external influence from centuries of colonization by Italian and Spanish speakers.
The examples listed below are from the northwestern Logudorese dialect:
Sardinian also features numerous phonetic innovations, including the following:
While the latter two features were acquired during the Spanish domination, the others reveal deeper relations between ancient Sardinia and the Iberian world. Note that retroflex d,l and r are found not only in southern Italy and Tuscany but also in Asturias. They were probably involved in the palatalization process of the Latin clusters -ll-, pl-, cl- (-ll- > Cast.and Cat. -ll- [ʎ], Gasc. -th [c]; cl- > Old Port. ch- [tʃ], Ital. chi- [kj]).
Sardinian has the following phonemes (according to Blasco Ferrer):
The five vowels /a/ /e/ /i/ /o/ /u/ (without length differentiation).
The following three series of plosives or corresponding approximants:
In Cagliari and neighbouring dialects the soft [d] is assimilated to the rhotic flap [ɾ] : digitus > didu = diru ’finger’.
Some permutations of l and r can be observed, in that in most dialects preconsonant l (e.g. lt, lc, etc.) becomes r : L. “altum” > artu, marralzu = marrarzu ’rock’.
In palatal context, Latin l changed into [dz], [ts], [ldz], [ll] or [dʒ] rather than the [ʎ] of Italian: achizare (It. accigliare), *volia > bòlla = bòlza = bòza ’wish’ (It. vòglia), folia > fogia =folla = foza ’leaf’ (It. foglia), filia > filla = fidza = fiza ’daughter’ (It. figlia).
The main distinctive features of Sardinian are:
Sardinia has historically had a small population separated across several isolated cantons. Over time the island’s language has formed into two literary and social groups, the northern (named su logudoresu) and the southern (named su campidanesu). The two differ mostly in phonetics, which does not hamper intelligibility among the speakers. There are some other differences between the two, and many dialectal differences within each. These models have created a small but very interesting body of literature.
Sardinian can be divided into the two following macro-varieties groups:
Published - August 2014
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