German in Italy
Research Centre of Multilingualism
Version française
German in Italy
  1. Introduction
  2. The language in the country
    1. General information on the language community
    2. Geographical and language background
    3. General history and history of the language
    4. Legal status and official policies
  3. The use of the language in various fields
    1. Education
    2. Judicial Authorities
    3. Public Authorities and services
    4. Mass media and Information technology
    5. The Arts
    6. The business world
    7. Family and social use of the language
    8. Transnational exchanges
  4. Conclusion

1. Introduction

There is no dat for this topic.

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2. The language in the country

2.1. General information on the language community

There is no dat for this topic.

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2.2. Geographical and language background

The minority German-speaking community in Italy is concentrated in Trentino/Alto Adige or, more specifically, in South Tyrol, which was annexed by Italy in 1919 and now covers a surface area of 7400 km2. German is spoken in the Provinces of Bolzano and Trentino. In 1991, the area had a total population of 440 508; the population was 414 041 in 1971 and 430 568 in 1981, equivalent to a growth of 3.92% for the decade 1971-1981 and 2.28% for the decade 1981-1991 (ASTAT/Statistical Yearbook 1993, p 73).

German is spoken in the region, alongside Italian and Ladin. Approximately two thirds of the region's population, or a total of about 290 000 people, are German-speakers, whilst there are approximately 116 000 Italian-speakers and 18 000 Ladin-speakers. A further 5500 German-speaking Italians live outside the region. German enjoys a relatively good position, since it is spoken by some 95 million Europeans in neighbouring countries and is an official working language of Community institutions.

The population movements that have affected the region in the past have been closely linked to the employment market and reached a peak between 1952 and 1960, when between 20 000 and 30 000 families left the region as a result of economic recession. The presence of 116 000 Italian-speakers is also explained by the Italian immigration that followed the annexing of South Tyrol by Italy in 1919. The Italian Government conducted an "Italianization" policy between 1923 and 1943, which led, on the one hand, to immigration by Italian-speakers and, on the other, to emigration by German-speakers, particularly between 1933 and 1939 and again as a result of the Option under which German-speaking populations were transferred to Germany between 1939 and 1943. Further emigration took place between 1949 and 1956.

The population is now concentrated chiefly in semi-urban areas (58.4%), with rural areas accounting for just 2% of the population, while small towns account for 17.2% and large towns for 22.4% (Bolzano) (ASTAT, 1992a).

An essentially rural area until the 1930s, South Tyrol first became home to major industry following its annexation by Italy and later developed its "vocation" as a tourist destination. In 1992, services accounted for 61.2% of employment in the area, with industry accounting for 25.3% and agriculture for 13.5% (ASTAT, 1993, p 173). South Tyrol has a very low unemployment rate of 2% in comparison with the national average of 11.5% (ASTAT, 1993, p 173). The health of the region's economy can also be measured by a GDP growth rate of 7.0% which is slightly higher than the average of 6.4% for the country as a whole (ASTAT, 1992, p 234).

There are 287 503 people with German as their first language (ASTAT, 1993), accounting for approximately 68% of the population (ASTAT, Interethnic Relations, 1992). According to a 1991 survey of linguistic groupings, at least 70% of the population speaks German on a daily basis. The number of German-speakers has risen slightly over the past decade, from 66.4% in 1981 to 67.9% in 1991.

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2.3. General history and history of the language

The Romans conquered the region in the year 15 BC, introducing Latin; later, towards the end of the 5th century, the Bavarians, who were moving South, occupied the region and introduced German. Only some of the Latin-speaking population kept their own language: the Ladin of today.

Although, from the linguistic point of view, Alto Adige is German (with the exception of the Ladin-speaking valleys), it was annexed by Italy at the end of the First World War under the 1919 Treaty of Versailles. Following annexation, and particularly during the Fascist period, a policy of Italianization was implemented; this policy, which forced a considerable number of German-speakers to leave the Tyrol (under the Option), went as far as the forced Italianization of placenames and people's names.

The number of expatriates rose following the agreements between Mussolini and Hitler (1939), when many residents of Alto Adige chose to emigrate to Germany. At the end of the Second World War, about 12 000 of them returned to Italy.

Growth of the Italian-speaking population group was not just encouraged by the Italianization policy practised between the Wars, but also by the massive immigration that was a feature of the period following the Second World War. The immigrant population was essentially concentrated in the towns, in the valleys and in the industrial zone of Bolzano. Today, although it is in a minority in the province, the Italian-speaking population has tended to impose the use of Italian because of its poor or non-existent knowledge of German.

The linguistic history of Alto Adige has been powerfully influenced by the geographical position of the region, which is a frontier zone between the Latin and Germanic worlds. In Alto Adige/South Tyrol, people speak a variety of Austro-Bavarian, which is known as Tyrolean. Tyrolean has various subdivisions, the most important of which separates the eastern and western parts of Alto Adige, with the form spoken in the eastern part (the Puster valley) having characteristics that are much closer to those of Germanic dialects. The form spoken in central areas of the region has also preserved some archaic characteristics, whereas that spoken in the more outlying areas has undergone more change.

The major event of recent years has been the introduction of the new Autonomous Statute in 1972 and the close of negotiations on this Statute in 1993. However, the importance that the German language has maintained up to the present day can also be explained by a number of factors linked both to the language itself and to its history: the fact that German is seen as a "language of culture"; the annexation of South Tyrol against the people's will; banning of the use of German during the Fascist period. The past few years have nonetheless been marked by disputes surrounding the declaration of language groupings, the resolution on proportional representation in the public authorities (proporz), the test on bilingualism, use of the language before the courts, German as the second language in nursery schools, enrolment in either German or Italian schools, the choice of placenames and "immersion models" in schools.

Several organizations support use of the German language in the areas of adult education (Katholisches Bildungswerk, Verband der Volkshochschulen Südtirols), culture (Südtiroler Kulturinstitut), occupational organizations (Arbeitskreis Südtiroler Mittelschullehrer, Südtiroler Hochschülerschaft), religion (Katholische Jugend Südtirols) and other areas (Südtiroler Schützenbund). Other organizations have also influenced official policy and helped to step up use of the language in society, including the Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI), an organization with neo-Fascist connections that places great stress on the fact that Italian-speakers are in the minority in the Tyrol and criticizes both the imposition of bilingualism in public life and the proporz.

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2.4. Legal status and official policies

The administrative structure of the Italian State comprises three sub-State levels: the 20 Regions, the 95 Provinces and the 8073 Communes. Of the 20 Regions, three are deemed to be border regions - Trentino/Alto Adige, Valle d'Aosta and Friuli Venezia Giulia - which are covered by a Special Statute, whose purpose is to protect linguistic minorities. Trentino/Alto Adige is the home of the German-speaking minority, where two provinces have a German-speaking population - the Autonomous Provinces of Bolzano and Alto Adige/South Tyrol.

German has no legal status in the central institutions of the Italian State. By contrast, in accordance with Article 99 of the 1948 Trentino/Alto Adige Autonomous Statute, German and Italian are considered to have equal status in the region. Consequently, German is the teaching medium in German-language schools and is also a compulsory subject in Italian-language schools. German/Italian bilingualism is also a feature of the media and business worlds, as well as cultural activities.

The main laws governing the use of German in Alto Adige/South Tyrol are based on the De Gasperi-Gruber Agreement signed in Paris on 5 September 1946. This agreement granted Germans, as opposed to Ladins, in the region the right to be taught their language at all educational levels; it guaranteed parity of the two languages within the public authorities, access to public authority posts for members of both language groups and legislative and administrative autonomy for the region. This agreement served as the basis for the Special Statute of 1948, whereby the Autonomous Province of Bolzano (within the Autonomous Region of Trentino/Alto Adige) was granted the right to promulgate laws in various areas.

Under Article 99 of the Autonomous Statute, German and Italian enjoy equal status in the region. The Statute covers skills in Article 8, education in Article 19, jurisprudence in Article 55, the working world in Article 89 and use of the German and Ladin languages in Articles 99-102.

Following various political tensions concerning methods of application of the Statute (Austria, in particular, protested to the United Nations), 1972 saw the drafting of a new Statute, known as the Paket. This new Statute made provision for broader powers to be conferred on the provincial and regional authorities; it also decreed full parity of German and Italian in the Province, the transfer of some 15 Communes from the Province of Trentino to the Province of Bolzano, recognition of the Ladin community in the Val Gardena and Val Badia, representation of the three groups (Italian, Ladin and German) in local government bodies, the establishment of a rule demanding compulsory bilingualism (Italian/German) for public employees in the German-speaking area and compulsory trilingualism (Italian/German/Ladin) for public employees in the Ladin-speaking area. The Paket gives a particularly important place to the establishment of true bilingualism in schools and throughout the education system, with the creation of bodies (Schools Inspectorate) responsible for coordinating educational activities.

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3. The use of the language in various fields

3.1. Education

The legal framework governing teaching through the medium of German is provided by Article 19 of the Autonomous Statute, as well as by a bilateral agreement with Austria on education. According to Article 19 of the Special Statute for the Autonomous Region of Trentino/Alto Adige, children are entitled to be taught in their mother tongue and each language group has its own education system. In German-language schools, German is the teaching medium and Italian is introduced as the second language from the second year of elementary school; conversely, in Italian-language schools, Italian is the teaching medium and German is introduced as the second language from the second year of elementary school. Finally, schools for Ladin-speaking children are trilingual (Ladin, German, Italian). Teachers are recruited from among native speakers of the teaching medium so that an appropriate level of bilingualism can be ensured. Outside the region, German is rarely taught as a foreign language, although the Italian Government allows it to be taught at all levels.

The Italian Government has taken many measures to ensure that culture and the history of language is taught in German and textbooks are produced either in the region or in Austria.

Three inspection bodies have been set up: Abteiling III der Südtiroler Landesregierung: Öffentlicher Unterricht und Kultur in deutscher Sprache, Schulamt für die deutsche Sprache and Pädagogisches Landesinstitut für die Schule mit deutsche Unterrichtssprache.

In pre-school and primary education, most children, i.e. 20 540 of a total of 25 942 (ASTAT, 1993), are taught in German and the German language seems to be in a stable position.

The same applies in the case of German-language secondary schools, which are attended by 11 486 of the total of 16 883 pupils (ASTAT, 1993) and where virtually all school textbooks for all subjects are available in German. German is also the main teaching medium in technical and vocational schools, where virtually all students are educated in German and where the situation also seems to be stable.

In higher education, there is just one university-level institution in the Tyrol, the Theologisch-Philosophische Hochschule in Brixen, where classes are offered in German and Italian, with courses in Ladin culture and language being offered as subsidiary subjects. The diplomas awarded by this institution are recognized in Austria and Italy. Although it does not have many students, the bilingual university is of symbolic significance from the point of view of language policy.

In the area of adult and continuing education, the Italian Government is taking steps to ensure that all or most training courses for adults are available in German and offers German as a subject within continuing education.

Primary-school teachers are trained in the German language, in the region. Secondary-school teachers are trained in the Italian-speaking or German-speaking areas. Several additional initial training courses are also offered by the Pädagogisches Landesinstitut für die Schule mit deutscher Unterrichtssprache. The Government has also taken some steps to provide teachers with some additional initial training as required by education policies. These are supplemented by regional provisions, because of the division of powers and responsibilities between the State and the provincial authorities.

Of the debates about education that have taken place in recent years, it might be mentioned that since 1972, i.e. since the introduction of the Autonomous Statute, the German-speaking group has become more open to the demands of the Italian-speaking group, except as regards the establishment of a bilingual nursery school and immersion programmes.

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3.2. Judicial authorities

In courts in the region, the language used by the parties is the language of the proceedings. German is always used when the person addressing the court is unable correctly to express himself or herself in the language of the State. When the parties speak different languages and insist on the use of their own language, the proceedings are conducted in both languages, with translation where necessary. Court interpreters are available. The language spoken by judges and barristers has no influence over the choice of language to be used. Few judges, however, can speak German. The defendant's right to use his or her own language is guaranteed. On the other hand, evidence that is not provided in the language chosen at the beginning of the proceedings cannot be accepted. A party to the proceedings may use German without incurring any additional costs. Documents and evidence may be produced in German, if necessary with the help of interpreters and translators, at no extra cost to the person concerned. These criteria apply to all criminal, civil and administrative proceedings.

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3.3. Public authorities and services

Italian is the language of administration in Italy, though all citizens have the right to communicate with the public authorities in their own language. German may be used in dealings between the public and the Italian Government's administrative bodies in the area. German is also the main language used between the public and the regional authorities and councils, as well as local authorities. German is also often used in dealings with the communications and energy services. In brief, the Italian Government recognizes the existence of German and tolerates and even accepts its use. The local authorities see German as a fundamental part of the region's historical heritage and provide significant support for it.

Citizens also have the right to communicate with the regional authorities in their own language. The regional authorities are fully bilingual, as are any important documents. From an administrative point of view, either German or Italian is used and minutes are drawn up in one or the other of these languages. German is used less in the Commune of Bolzano.

The Italian Government has taken steps at various levels to promote German as a language of administration at regional level. Regional and local authorities have taken similar steps.

German/Italian bilingualism is usually de rigueur in public services such as telephone services, health, electricity, postal services and the police. It is also possible, though not as easy, to insist on being spoken to in German at the tax office. Generally speaking, the situation seems to have improved over the past few years, partly as a result of public pressure and complaints from the residents.

As regards placenames and proper names, the national authorities use and accept place names in their correct, traditional German form and all given names and surnames can be used in German.

Signs are drafted in both languages in the offices of municipal councils, on road signs indicating the names of towns and places and on signs for local State schools and public swimming pools, whilst commercial signs tend, in most cases, to be written in one language or the other. Although bilingualism has become the norm in public life in the last 10 to 15 years, a more recent trend is for German to be given precedence over Italian. Lastly, the regional authorities use the Ladin names of Ladin-speaking valleys.

Translation and terminological research work is conducted by the Amt für Sprachangelegenheiten of the regional government of South Tyrol which is primarily concerned with the translation of laws, decrees, the regional government's administrative publications and texts intended for public use. The Terminologiekommission (Presidential Decree 574 of 1988) provides a list of compulsory German terms drawn up by the regional government and the commissioner's office. The European Academy in Bolzano (Europäische Akademie Bozen) also has a department of language and law (Fachbereich I Sprache und Recht), which compares language and legal systems. This academy is also establishing a database of administrative and legal terminology in German and Italian.

The Italian Government, we are told, makes a substantial effort to use German in its administrative services. The same is true of regional government, as regards both oral and written communication and, for example, the recruitment and training of public employees.

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3.4. Mass media and information technology

Use of German in the mass media is legally authorized under Article 8.4 of the Autonomous Statute and its enacting laws, and is also given official encouragement by the provision of financial aid. From the point of view of language, programmes broadcast in German by television and radio stations are readily understood by the entire German-speaking population.

Daily newspapers
In the world of the press, a daily newspaper with a circulation of 40 000 is printed entirely in German (Dolomiten), whilst two other dailies include a section in German, running to three pages and one page respectively (Mattino and Alto Adige/Südtirol). Several newspapers printed in neighbouring German-speaking countries are also available in the region and, like other newspapers produced in Italy, enjoy financial aid.

Some cultural, religious and current affairs periodicals are also produced either entirely or mostly in German; examples are Zelt (circulation of 30 000), Katholisches Sonntagsblatt (25 000), FF (8000), Schlern (2000) and Südtiroler Profil. Unlike daily newspapers, periodicals do not receive any financial aid. It is also possible to buy any of the periodicals produced in German-speaking countries, demand for which has risen sharply as a result of tourism.

In the audiovisual field, one public radio station, ORF 1/2/3, broadcasts all its programmes in German, while RAI Sender Bozen broadcasts approximately 100 hours of programmes in German, between 06.30 and 22.00 on weekdays and 08.00 and 22.00 at the weekend and on public holidays. RAI 1 and RAI 2 do not, however, broadcast any programmes in German. There are also several private radio stations that broadcast programmes in German, Italian or both. The private radio stations have only recently been set up and do not receive any financial aid. There is also one official station (RAS) broadcasting radio programmes from Austria.

In the case of public television stations, RAI 1, RAI 2 and RAI 3 broadcast solely in Italian. RAI Sender Bozen, on the other hand, broadcasts programmes in German between 20.00 and 20.30 every day, between 17.00 and 18.00 on Monday, Tuesday and Saturday and between 20.00 and 23.00 on Monday and Friday. Private television stations, such as RETE 4 and CANALE 5, broadcast in Italian. It is possible, however, to receive German stations via satellite and there is now an official station broadcasting ORF 1, ORF 2, ZDF and SRG programmes.

Finally, in the area of personal and office computing, German can be input via a computer keyboard without any difficulty and can also be reproduced without any problem by printers, though they are sometimes difficult to find. Operating systems, word-processing packages, spell-checkers and spreadsheets are all available in German and can be purchased in the region.

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3.5. The Arts

Literary output in German in the region amounts to 150-200 books a year, consisting mainly of tourist guides and cultural works. There are several folk groups working with traditional Stubenmusik, and these include Kastelruther Spatzen, Sepp Windschnur, Tisner Buam, Südtiroler Spitzbuam and Südtiroler Sängerbund. There have also been high sales of some rock and pop recordings over the last five years.

In the theatre world, there are no professional groups but amateur German-language groups are very much alive and have their own umbrella organisation, the Bund Südtiroler Volksbühnen, which has about 2500 amateurs acting in 170 traditional groups. These groups receive public aid from the regional government of South Tyrol. Film output, however, is non-existent.

A few festivals focusing on German culture are organized, such as the Rittner Sommerspiele, and the Freilichtspiele and Popmusiktreffen that are held in several places; it is usual for these festivals to be bilingual German-Italian. There are also several orchestras and choirs that have been set up by German-speakers, under the auspices of their local church.

Cultural policy is the responsibility of regional government. The private sector, the regional government of South Tyrol and its local authorities offer support for libraries, video libraries, cultural centres, museums, archives, academies, theatres and cinema and literary output. The Italian Government also makes a major contribution towards the facilities needed for these cultural activities.

People generally feel that the Italian Government has done quite a lot to encourage the use of German in cultural activities and events.

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3.6. The business world

The discrimination to which the German-speaking minority had been subject since 1923 was countered by the Proporzbestimmung of 1976 (Articles 15, 61 and 89, and the Durchführungsbestimmung - (Presidential Decree 752 of 26 July). As a result, job vacancies in the public sector are now offered first to German-speakers. The purpose of this rule is to ensure that the number of jobs for the speakers of the various language groups in the public sector reflects the total number of speakers in these groups.

Commercial advertising in the street may be in German or Italian. Advertising in the Italian and German media appears in the corresponding language. The language used for product labels and instructions for use depends on the country of origin. This means that products from German-speaking countries are labelled in German.

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3.7. Family and social use of the language

The language seems to be passed from one generation to another quite effectively, since virtually all parents use German when speaking to their children, and there does not seem to have been any change in this respect since 1950. Courting couples always speak to each other in German. Similarly, 90% of German-speakers marry another German-speaker, though this percentage is lower in bilingual areas. The proportion of mixed marriages is therefore likely to have increased since 1950.

There are no gender-based differences in the use of German, nor is there any difference in the language that parents use when speaking to their sons and daughters. There is no negative connotation attached to being a German-speaker.

Some 60% of German-speakers go to church, all members of the clergy speak German and religious services are celebrated in both German and Italian. Families are free to choose the language to be used for weddings, funerals, etc. The Old Testament, New Testament and prayer books are all available in German.

German seems to be very much alive in Italy, especially as German-speakers are very optimistic about the future of their language as a means of communication and feel that a knowledge of German is extremely useful. People also think that young people speak better German than their parents. Moreover, young people who do not speak German learn it as a compulsory subject at school.

Tyrolean is used by the people of Alto Adige in virtually all areas of social life; the standard form of German is used only in really formal situations (school, church). The bilingualism of the German-speaking population is an obstacle to the spread of bilingualism amongst Italian-speakers in Alto Adige, because the latter are more interested in the standard form of German.

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3.8. Transnational exchanges

There are agreements with Austria in the area of education, as mentioned earlier, and in the business world (Accordino). There is also an agreement in the medical sector, with Innsbruck Hospital. There are also joint regional assemblies with the Austrian Tyrol region.

Several bilateral and multilateral agreements also link Italy with German-speaking countries, although there is little encouragement for German-speakers to forge closer ties.

According to our sources is that the Italian Government is generally applying existing bilateral and multilateral agreements and is doing something to facilitate cross-border contacts.

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4. Conclusion

The status of German in Italy has been consolidated since the 1946 De Gasperi-Gruber Agreement by the 1948 Autonomous Statute and its amended version of 1972, followed by negotiations up to 1993. Use of German differs in urban environments, which are more Italianized, and rural environments. The growth of tourism seems to have promoted the spread of the German language. Similarly, media access is now facilitated by new technologies, as well as by the growing demand brought about by tourism. Since it has a very large number of speakers in Europe and is also one of the official working languages of the European Union, several indicators suggest that, as a minority language in Italy, German is currently in a relatively strong position.

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