Sardinian language

Sardinian language
Sardinian or Sard (sardu, limba sarda or lìngua sarda ) is a Romance language spoken by the Sardinians on the Western Mediterranean island of Sardinia.

Many Romance linguists consider it the language that is closest to Latin among all its genealogical descendants. However, it has also incorporated elements of a Pre-Latin (mostly Paleo-Sardinian and, to a much lesser degree, Punic) substratum, as well as a Byzantine Greek, Catalan, Spanish and Italian superstratum. These elements originate in the political history of Sardinia, whose indigenous society experienced for centuries competition and at times conflict with a series of colonizing newcomers: before the Middle Ages, it was for a time a Byzantine possession; then, after a significant period of self-rule with the Judicates, it came during the late Middle Ages into the Iberian sphere of influence; and finally, from the early 18th century onward, under the Savoyard and contemporary Italian one.

The original character of the Sardinian language among the Romance idioms has long been known among linguists. After a long strife for the acknowledgement of the island's cultural patrimony, in 1997, Sardinian, along with the other languages spoken therein, managed to be recognized by regional law in Sardinia without challenge by the central government, and in 1999, Sardinian and eleven other "historical linguistic minorities", i.e. locally indigenous, and not foreign-grown, minority languages of Italy (minoranze linguistiche storiche, as defined by the legislator) were similarly recognized as such by national law (specifically, Law No. 482/1999). Among these, Sardinian is notable as having, in terms of absolute numbers, the largest community of speakers.

Although the Sardinian-speaking community can be said to share "a high level of linguistic awareness", policies eventually fostering language loss and assimilation have considerably affected Sardinian, whose actual speakers have become noticeably reduced in numbers over the last century; The Sardinian adult population would today no longer be able to carry on a single conversation in the ethnic language, as it is used exclusively by 0.6 percent of the total, and less than 15 percent of the new generations were reported to have been passed down some residual Sardinian in a deteriorated form described by linguist Roberto Bolognesi as "an ungrammatical slang". In fact, for the predominantly monolingual younger generations Sardinian appears to be "little more than the language of their grandparents".

The rather fragile and precarious state in which the Sardinian language now finds itself, where its use has been discouraged and consequently reduced even within the family sphere, is illustrated by the Euromosaic report, in which Sardinian "is in 43rd place in the ranking of the 50 languages taken into consideration and of which were analysed (a) use in the family, (b) cultural reproduction, (c) use in the community, (d) prestige, (e) use in institutions, (f) use in education".

As the Sardinians have almost completely assimilated into the Italian national mores, including in terms of onomastics, and therefore now only happen to keep but a scant and fragmentary knowledge of their native and once first spoken language, limited in both scope and frequency of use, Sardinian has been classified by UNESCO as "definitely endangered".

As the long- to even medium-term future of the Sardinian language looks far from secure in the present circumstances, Martin Harris concluded in 2003 that, assuming the continuation of present trends to language death, it was possible that there would not be a Sardinian language of which to speak in the future, being referred to by linguists as the mere substratum of the now-prevailing idiom, i.e. Italian articulated in its own Sardinian-influenced variety, which may come to wholly supplant the islanders' once living native tongue.

"Now the question arises as to whether Sardinian is to be considered a dialect or a language. Politically speaking, of course, it is one of the many dialects of Italy, just like the Serbo-Croatian and the Albanian that are spoken in various Calabrian and Sicilian villages. The question, however, takes on a different nature when considered from a linguistic perspective. Sardinian cannot be said to be closely related to any dialect of mainland Italy; it is an archaic Romance tongue with its own distinctive characteristics, which can be seen in its rather unique vocabulary as well as its morphology and syntax, which differ radically from those of the Italian dialects." As an insular language par excellence, Sardinian is considered the most conservative Romance language, as well as one of the most highly individual within the family; its substratum (Paleo-Sardinian or Nuragic) has also been researched. A 1949 study by the Italian-American linguist Mario Pei, analyzing the degree of difference from a language's parent (Latin, in the case of Romance languages) by comparing phonology, inflection, syntax, vocabulary, and intonation, indicated the following percentages (the higher the percentage, the greater the distance from Latin): Sardinian 8%, Italian 12%, Spanish 20%, Romanian 23.5%, Occitan 25%, Portuguese 31%, and French 44%. The significant degree to which the Sardinian language has retained its Latin base was also noted by the French geographer Maurice Le Lannou during a research project on the island in 1941. Although the lexical base is mostly of Latin origin, Sardinian nonetheless retains a number of traces of the linguistic substratum prior to the Roman conquest of the island: several words and especially toponyms stem from Paleo-Sardinian and, to a lesser extent, Phoenician-Punic. These etyma might refer to an early Mediterranean substratum, which reveal close relations with Basque.

In addition to the aforementioned substratum, linguists such as Max Leopold Wagner and Benvenuto Aronne Terracini trace much of the distinctive Latin character of Sardinia to the languoids once spoken by the Christian and Jewish Berbers in North Africa, known as African Romance. Indeed, Sardinian was perceived as rather similar to African Latin when the latter was still in use, giving credit to the theory that vulgar Latin in both Africa and Sardinia displayed a significant wealth of parallelisms. J. N. Adams is of the opinion that similarities in many words, such as acina (grape), pala (shoulderblade) and spanu(s) ("reddish-brown"), prove that there might have been a fair amount of vocabulary shared between Sardinia and Africa. According to Wagner, it is notable that Sardinian is the only Romance language whose name for the Milky Way ((b)ía de sa báza, (b)ía de sa bálla, "the Way of Straw") also recurs in the Berber languages.

To most Italians Sardinian is unintelligible, reminding them of Spanish, because of the way in which the language is acoustically articulated; characterized as it is by a sharply outlined physiognomy which is displayed from the earliest sources available, it is in fact considered a distinct linguistic group among the Romance languages.
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