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Sardinian language

Sardinian (Sardu) is the main language spoken in the island of Sardinia, Italy, and it is considered the most conservative of all Romance languages.

The particular history of the island, practically isolated from the Continent for thousands of years, and only in recent times allowed to easily communicate with the mainland, made it possible to preserve with a certain vividness the distinct traces of the linguistic invasions or influences. These presumably met the original language of Nuragici people and interacted with it to build the essential structure of Sardinian.

These cultural contacts are commonly identified in: (very concisely, and just for a rough scheme)

  • Mediterranean influences
    • Etruscan
    • Phoenician and Euro-African
    • Protohiberian and Hispano-Caucasican
    • Ligurian
  • Latin
  • Catalan
  • Spanish
  • Italian

The basic origins of Sardinian language (by someone called Paleosardinian) are still obscure and any attempt of ordinary investigation has to stop in front of the lack of documental support, which will appear in written form only in the Middle Ages. The research cannot therefore be only a linguistic investigation, and has to rely on other scientific resources to find confirmation of eventual contacts between Sardinia and other peoples, often finally resulting in a common study, in structural comparison. It has to be underlined that substantial differences distinguish the many theories about the development of Sardinian, so sometimes opposite results are produced.

Many interesting studies have been followed in order to discover the origin of some still secret roots that today could legitimately be defined as endemic. First of all, the root of "Sard", present in many toponyms and distinctive of the ethnical group, has been supposed to come a mysterious people (Shardana, "the people of the sea", in Egyptian inscriptions of 9th-8th c.BC) perhaps of Middle-East or Eastern Mediterranean origins. Prof. Massimo Pittau identifies their eventual provenance in Lydia, basing his theory on the recognition of several notable archaeological and religious analogies with the central regions of Anatolia; others stress also the strange similarity of development of archaic costumes and rites between inner Sardinia and some areas in the Balkans' region (but however this connection cannot be separated, in a study that is made ex post, from the influence of Caucasican and Balcan emigrations that brought peoples to move to the Iberian peninsula).

The work of Pittau is also interesting because in a famous text of 1984 he supposes to have found in the Etruscan language the etymology of many other Latin words, after the comparison with the Nuragic language. A consequence of this study would produce the conclusion that, having evidence of a deep influence of Etruscan culture in Sardinia, the island could have directly received from Etruscan many elements that are instead usually supposed of Latin provenance. He then indicates that Etruscan and Nuragic languages both descended from Lydian language, therefore being both Indo-European languages as a consequence of the alleged provenance of Etruscans/Tirrenii from that land (as in Herodotus), where effectively the capital town was Sardis. He also suggest, on a historical point, that Tirrenii landed on Sardinia, while Etruscans went to current Tuscany; this concept would require to be completed by better proofs, even if the theory has been received with general preliminar attention.

About the contacts of Sardinians with other peoples, mainly referring to the Iberian peninsula, it has been said that Paleosardinian should have found not casual coincidences with the Iberian language[?] and the Sicilian language in the element of the suffix -'ara in proparoxitones (Bertoldi and Terracini proposed it indicated plural forms). The same would happen (accoording to Terracini) for suffixes in -/na/, -/nna/, -/nna/, -/nna/ + /r/ + paragogic[?] vowel (like in the name of Bonnnnaro). Rohlfs, Butler and Craddock add the suffix in -/ini/ (like in the name of Barmini) 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 better proximity to Basque (Wagner, Hubschmid). Suffixes in -i, -i, i, i are instead common to Paleosardinian and northern African languages (Terracini). Pittau underlined that this regards terms originarily ending in accented vowel, with an attached paragogic[?] vowel; notably this suffix resisted to latin in some toponyms, that have a Latin body and a Nuragic desinence. On this point, some toponyms ending in -/i/ and in -/asi/ were supposed of Anatolic influence (Bertoldi). The suffix -AIKO, widely used in Iberia and perhaps of Celtic origins, and the ethnical suffix in -ITANI, -ETANI (like in sardinian Sulcitani) have been noted as other Paleosardinian elements (Terracini, Ribezzo, Wagner, Hubschmid, Faust, and really many others).

It is with Phoenicians that the Nuragic/Sardinian language starts to be shared into two major families (that will finally produce Logudorese and Campidanese), having Phoenicians avoided the areas of Barbagia (center of the island) and Gallura. Logudoro and Gallura will later live different lives and mainly in the Era of the Giudicati (1000-1400) would extend their peculiarities, for what we now know as Sardo logudorese and Gallurese.

Phoenicians arrived probably from Cyprus (Borsig-Lilliu-Fischer, Barreca, Wagner) and immediately organised for a long stay with the notable founding of the town of Nora; the relations with the inner part of the island were extended mainly in 9th century BC (retrievals of religious fetishes), then the Sardinian grain became a vital resource for Chartage[?].

The Roman domination (started in 238 BC) obviously brought on the island the structure of Latin, as it did in all the areas of the Romance languages, but Latin wasn't able to completely substitute the entirety of the elements of this language. Some obscure roots remained unaltered, and in many cases it was Latin to accept the local roots, like Nur (in Nuraghe, as well as in Nugoro and in many other toponyms). Latin culture was however undoubtedly dominant; even the Barbagia, the always rebel inner area, derives its name from the unshaved beards that Sardinians wore: their land officially became Barbaria (this name was attributed to other areas of the Roman empire too, for exactly the same reasons, but it should be remembered that shaving was a Roman habit , not a general use). Cicero, who called Sardinians latrones matrucati (thieves with sheep-wool rough cloaks) to emphasise Roman superiority, helped in spreading this definition.

Other Barbarians were in the northern side of Sardinia, in current Gallura, and Romans had to organise several expeditions to defeat Balari (clearly coming from the Balearic Islands), Ilienses, Galillenses and Giddilotani. The importance of these conquers for the language is strictly connected with the also important construction of the local Roman roads[?]: having conquered the island in its entirety (1st century BC), and having gifted it with "modern" connectivity, Romans were able to allow the founding of towns with imported roman inhabitants. Traces of this migrations were found also in interesting ethnological studies of the 1920s (University of Bologna?) which would have found unaltered some anatomical elements of the original Roman race (red hair, blue eyes, ros skin and strong neck) in some smaller villages in the area of Bitti.

To this time should belong the latest reciprocal influences with Corsica, in a limited area of northern Gallura. On the southern side, instead, other influences seem to report contacts with Semitic and (later) Byzantine languages. In the 1st century AC some relevant groups of Hebrews were deported to Sardinia and this caused some other influences; the Christianisation would have (probably) brought Hebrews to convert following a sort of independent cult of Sant'Antioco (perhaps a way to preserve the ethnicity under a Christian form), still present in Gavoi. The contact with Hebrews, followed by another deportation of Christians, presumedly lasted for a couple of centuries, then it is likely that in 3rd c. AC vulgar Latin started to dominate on the island.

This finally established cultural domination makes the Sardinian language a romance language, or better an archaic neo-Latin language, whose main characteristics are the lack of borrowings from Greek language (specially for abstracts), the archaic kind of phonetic and morphosyntactic phenomena, the eminently rural character of lexicon.

The domination of Vandals (5th century) lasted only for 80 years and the presumed few German influences are not effect of this presence, but indirectly passed through direct Latin-German relationships. After this domination Sardinia passed under the Eastern Roman Empire, and more interesting influences are derived by this culture. The Greek language that was the main reference of Byzantines does not enter however in the structure of Sardinian (still a Neolatin language) if not mainly for formal aspects, like in some ritual or formal formulas that, using latin words, are expressed in the typical Greek construction. In this sense many evidences can be found in the Condaghes, first written documents in Sardinian.

Some toponyms record the acceptance of some Greek words too, like for Jerzu[?], commonly presumed deriving from Greek khrsos (untilled), together with the personal names (Mikhaleis, Konstantine, Basilis).

More to be added: Tuscan, Ligurian, Catalan, Spanish, Piedmontese, Italian influences

Sardinian language is commonly divided into two groups, by different authors called sometimes versions, other times recognised as diasystems:

Sardo Logudorese (northern Sardinia, considered the standard sardinian)
Sardo Campidanese[?] (southern part of Sardinia).

Another generally recognised diasystem is Gallurese, spoken in the northern eastern part of the island.

It has to be recalled that, despite the huge work that has been developed for the study of this language, there isn't a consensus about its classification; Sassarese[?], spoken in Sassari, is not unanimously admitted to a status of diasystem, and effectively this debate reflects a never definitively solved debate in linguistics, about the elements that have to be assumed for a scientific classification of languages.

There are however other languages spoken on Sardinia, among them also Catalan (mainly referred to the area of Alghero, where an Aragonese colony was created ex novo in 1353 - after the battle of Porto Conte) and the Tabarchino[?] with its Ligurian origins, mainly spoken in the minor islands of San Pietro and Sant'Antioco.

Native language of Sardinia is commonly considered as shared among the most archaic Sardo logudorese, Campidanese[?], Gallurese (the latter with minor reciprocal Corsican[?] influence, due to proximity). Sassarese (spoken in the area of Sassari) is commonly reputed a dialect of Logudorese, even if really many influences from Gallurese. Tabarchino and Catalan are considered belonging to ethnical specificities.

However, since many opinions have been advanced even if only at a simple conversative level, it has to be reported that some people suggests that Sassarese and Gallurese would be transictional dialects hardly influenced from Corsican language, expecially in grammar and pronunciation. It is very hard, indeed, to find an eventual confirmation of these theories in the major sources, and in effect these theories could seem, at a first sight, quite innovative of the traditional concepts accepted by related scientists. In a classical vision, like in Blasco Ferrer's studies (which besides objectively include frequent recalls to the other different interpretations by other authors), there is no evidence at all that Corsican language was ever spoken in the island of Sardinia, if not for the obvious exceptions. Nor the history of the two islands, never ruled by the same authority after Romans, would allow to recognise any kind of communication between the respective languages, if not in an opposite sense of historically having many Gallurese people often escaped to Corsica, generally always under a milder political system, or having the Gallura a factual prevalence on the sea, also due to numerical reasons. The age of most intense contact was certainly between the 17th and the 18th centuries, when France was temporarily studying the possibility of buying, or claiming for, or directly invading Sardinia; French action started by an intensification of commerce, that resulted in a contact between the islands, but Corsicans had no reason, at that time, to move to Sardinia, while Sardinians had more potential reasons to move to Corsica. After a while, England understood the potential danger of an eventual unification of the two islands for the overwhelming power that the eventual ruler would have obtained in the Mediterranean Sea, and since then intensively worked to always preserve the two islands separated; it has been said that even the attribution of the kingdom of Sardinia to the Duchy of Savoy obeys to this interest.
The interaction of linguistic claims with current political instances (mainly those claiming for an authonomy or directly an independence of Sardinia and, on the other side, of Corsica), has been instead, and still is now, more evident and suggests perhaps to watch at this exploits with a certain scientific caution.

Sardinian Language has recently been recognised as an official regional language by Sardinian Special Region, therefore it can be used for official purposes (in the island only).

Sardinian has the following consonant phonemes (according to Blasco Ferrer, today perhaps the most relevant expert in Sardinian language):

  • /p/
  • /b/
  • /f/
  • /t/
  • /d/
  • /T/ like English TH in thing, an unvoiced interdental fricative
  • /g'/ like Hungarian gy, a voiced palatal oclusive
  • /k/
  • /g/
  • /m/
  • /n/
  • /n'/ like Spanish , Catalan or Hungarian ny, palatal nasal
  • /l/
  • /L/ retroflex
  • /r/
  • /R/ like Spanish, Catalan or Basque rr, a multiple thrilled vibrant

It is has been said that /T/ like Castilian /T/ developed from /ts/ and is in some modern Sardinian idioms pronounced as /s/ as in South American and Andalusian Castilian.

Sardinian dialects

Like every language, Sardinian has its own dialects. According to the studies by Blasco Ferrer, we can assume that they are grouped by this scheme that includes the theories of other authirs too:

  • Logudorese:
    • Nuorese-bittese: spoken in the area of Nugoro and Bitti (central Sardinia), the territory of this dialect had already been idientified by M.L.Wagner and Spano, while Sanna includes in this area the Gocano (an area on the west of Nugoro and Bitti).
    • Common Logudorese: spoken in the main areas of Planargia, Mrghine, Bonorva, Montacuto, Luras and Olbia, while transictional idioms are spoken in the areas of Bauladu (and Milis, Riola, Santulussurgiu); these territories were indicated by Sanna and partly coincide, for the southern sides, with the theories of Virdis.
    • Septentrional Logudorese: spoken in Anglona, north of Bonorva (an area quite close to Sassari and Sassarese) (Sanna, Campus).
  • Campidanese (mainly following Virdis classification):
    • western campidanese spoken in the area between Cagliari and Oristano;
    • Barbaricino: spoken in southern Barbagia;
    • Ogliastrino: spoken in Ogliastra (south-eastern part of tyrrhenic coast);
    • central Campidanese: spoken in Gerrei, Sarcidano and east of Cagliari;
    • campidanese del Srrabus: spoken in Sarrabus area and partli in Trexenta;
    • Sulcitan: spoken in the area of Sulcis (south west of the island);
    • Southern campidanese: spoken on the southern coasts, bordering with western campidanese and ogliastrino.

Minor regroupments are proposed by some authors, but the one here reported should be the essential classification.

Sardinian language is one of the principal elements of the peculiar sardinian cultural heritage, and a really huge activity is running in current times in order to favour its study and the development of its acknowledgement. The recognition of Sardinian language as a characteristic ethnical element is not however only supported by independentist movements, but involves a wide percentage of local population, with the external support from the many emigrants, from all over the Planet.

Sardinian language in Italy The national anthem of the Kingdom of Sardinia (and Piedmont) was the Hymnu Sardu (aka Cunservet Deus su Re), obviously in Sardinian language, which was partially substituted by the Savoy's March when Italy was unified. When Fascism, during his Autarchy campaign, banned foreign languages (at the point that also personal names and surnames were made more Italian-sounding) the Sardinian Hymn was the sole chance of speaking in a foreign language in Italy without risking prison, because (as a fundamental part of the Royal Family's tradition) it could not be forbidden.

Sardinians took advantage of this possibility to express their opposition to Fascism by singing the Hymnu, so did the King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy too, in several official occasions, when the Crown needed to remember its superior position to Mussolini. To reduce the potentially dangerous propaganda "innocently" whistled and sung in sardinian streets, Mussolini was forced to find urgent remedies: Achille Starace (national secretary of the Fascist party) "genially" imposed the use of Orbace (a Sardinian poor wool) as the national cloth for the uniforms of the Militia, while on a cultural plan Mussolini himself officially recognised in repeated occasions the (effective) value of Sardinian poets and writers, still on the border of the limits of the law. These cautious attentions for the island also included the saning of wide areas of the region (bonifiche) and the implementation of commerce and industry.

The Catholic priests too, friendly to Fascism after the Concordato of 1929, started explaining that Latin (allowed), although very similar, was not Sardinian (the Holy Mass was still in Latin) and practiced a strict obstructionism against the on-the-fly poetry, a genre of popular art expressed in public shows in which two or more poets are assigned a surprise theme and have to develop it at the moment in rhymed quatrains.

In the Italian army, the glorious infantry corps of Brigata Sassari[?] (Sassari's Brigade) is the sole allowed to have a separate hymn in Sardinian language (Dimmonios - ancient local pagan devils), being the brigade composed (the only one in the nation) exclusively by Sardinian soldiers. As a form of respect to Brigata Sassari, whose glory was particularly bright and shiny in the WWI facts, any military important operation in Sardinia is named after the last words of Dimmonios: Fortza Paris (more or less: let's put together our strength).

As mentioned before, the Sardinian Region recently recognised Sardinian language as an official language of the region together with italian. The debate had became quite dramatic in the 1980s, at Alghero's Fertilia international airport, when on loudspeakers an employee was heard (provocatorily) announcing the flights in Italian, in English and in Sardinian (Catalan). The prosecution of the employee (fired and penally condemned) caused the wide diffusion of a nationalist sentiment of Sardinians, with a sometimes violent political dispute that finally brought to the law officialising the language.

It has to be recalled that in Alghero the need of diversifying the cultural position was perhaps even more urgent, since its origins and its history are the distinctive signs of an ethnic enclave always surrounded by a Sardinian[?] culture, in its turn oppressed by an external culture.

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