Friulian in Italy
Research Centre of Multilingualism
Version française
Friulian 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.

[Top of page]

2. The language in the country

2.1. General information on the language community

There is no dat for this topic.

[Top of page]

2.2. Geographical and language background

The Friulian-speaking area lies in north-eastern Italy on the Austrian and Slovenian border. It covers the Provinces of Udine, Pordenone and Gorizia in the Region of Friuli Venezia Giulia. Friulian is also spoken in the Province of Trieste.

Friulian is popularly referred to as eastern Ladin and is a member of the Romance subgroup of the Indo-European family of languages. The major dialects of Friulian are central Friulian, eastern Friulian, Carnian, Gortan, Asino and western Friulian. Slovenian, Italian and German are also spoken in the area.

Geographically, Friuli can be divided into three areas: in the south, a large plain extending to the sea, the mountainous region along the Slovenian border, and the northern area of the Carnian and Julian alps. This area, measuring only 7km2 displays widely differing land formations including high mountain peaks, lagoons, karst rocks and balkan rock in the Gulf of Trieste.

The area covering the three Provinces and the Region has a total population of 1 219 (1991: 1 192 456), which is distributed between the various Provinces and cities as follows:

Province City
Gorizia 142,232 40,692
Pordenone 276,354 51,058
Udine 528,643 100,486
Trieste 272,327 241,386

The population, which can be classified as urban only in the cities of Udine and Pordenone, has declined by between 1% and 5% in recent decades.

According to the latest figures, 526 of the 1,219 inhabitants use Friulian on a daily basis, i.e. some 43% of the population (however, figures of 75% and 10% for those using Friulian occasionally are also quoted). In general, Friulian is spoken more frequently in rural areas, while its use in the major cities is on the decline, as shown by the following figures:

Province Population Italian Friulian Slovenian German
Pordenone 254,851 150,908 103,303 564 76
Udine 518,245 113,395 389,159 12,104 3,587
Gorizia 143,887 97,673 31,187 11,766 261
Trieste 299,672 273,301 --- 25,544 827
Total Pop. 1,216,655 635,277 526,649 49,978 4,751
Percentage 100% 52.2% 43.3% 4.1% 0.4%

By age group, 67% of 18- to 30-year-olds, 82% of 31- to 40-year-olds, 86.5% of 41- to 60-year- olds and 93% of the over 60s have learnt Friulian as their first language.

Apart from the Friulians resident in the area, there are another 700 to 800 abroad, of whom some 400 still actively use Friulian.

Industrial development in Friuli is fragmented and has taken place at a much slower pace than in the rest of Italy. The economy is generally based on small and medium-sized enterprises in the agricultural sector. People who are employed often work on their own farms or estates (maize, wine) as well. Despite this low-level industrial development, there has been a slight migration of workers from other areas of Italy, particularly in the centre and south of the Friulian-speaking area (in the electrical engineering, metalworking, chemical production, furniture production, foodstuffs, microelectronics, computing and tourism sectors). The cultural rediscovery of Friulian in the late 1960s (Movimento Friuli), which helped to revive a sense of separate identity as a result of political and cultural initiatives to preserve the language, was also accompanied by an improvement in the region's socio-economic status. 5.1% of the active population of 42.5% work in agriculture, 29.5% in industry, 59.6% in the service sector and 5.8% in other sectors.

[Top of page]

2.3. General history and history of the language

Friulian originates from the Latin Aquileia, which was founded as a military colony in 181 BC. The Celtic population, which outnumbered the Romans, consequently used a bastardized form of Latin. The transformation from rural Latin to Friulian took place in the 6th century AD during a period of isolation from Italian cultural life as result of the creation of a separate duchy of Alboin and the Lombards. The first documents in Friulian began to appear in the 13th century. The vast majority of the population spoke Friulian until the 15th century, while the nobility and educated classes spoke Latin or German. After 1420, when Friuli came back under Italian rule, the Venetian dialect developed as the dominant language. The spread of the Venetian dialect and the increasing involvement of the region in Italian national cultural life have continued to have a negative effect on the characteristics of Friulian.

Friulian experienced a high point in its sense of linguistic identity in the 1950s, when two new grammar books, a description of the dialects and a history of the Friulian language were published. In the 1980s the ASLEF language atlas was completed. On the other hand, there is now talk of a crisis in the Friulian language, mainly due to the high level of tourism and the levelling tendencies of the media. Surveys by the Commission and ISIG (Language and Literature Association) show that Friulian is being replaced not only by the national language (Italian) but also by Venetian. The Friulian community was united rather tragically following the 1976 earthquake, when the media attributed common social qualities to the various Friulian groups which were seen as forming a bond between these groups. The administrative unification of the Friulian-speaking areas in 1961 led, however, to the emergence of organisations such as Moviment Autonomist Furlan, Int Furlan and Scuele libare furlane, dedicated to the preservation of Friulian language and culture. Other private organisations devoted to the defence of the Friulian language are Società Filologia Friulana, Pre Checo Placerean, Clape Cultural Aquilee, Institût di Studis Furlans, Union Scritôrs Furlans, La Patrie dal Friûl, Glesie Furlane and Radio Onde Furlane.

[Top of page]

2.4. Legal status and official policies

Friulian is not officially recognised as a language but enjoys considerable unofficial support from the Friulian-speaking community. Over the last ten years in particular, the population has used all the means at its disposal to achieve administrative autonomy or at least to obtain unofficial recognition of Friulian. The only recognition given to the language is set out in Article of the regional Special Statutes for the Autonomous Regions of Italy:

"In the Region, all citizens shall receive equal treatment, irrespective of the language group to which they belong, and therefore their ethnic and cultural characteristics shall be preserved."

From the point of view of current support for Friulian, the regional authorities seem to be aware of their limited jurisdiction in this area, but have nevertheless issued a number of regulations on the protection and use of Friulian language and culture (Regional Law 68/1981). These cover the education system, studies and research, publishing, theatre, placenames and folklore. They provide, in particular, for protection and use of Friulian that is in keeping with the size of the Friulian-speaking population and the cultural potential inherent in this language.

According to the EUROMOSAIC Group's sources, the Italian government does not support the use of Friulian and in some cases discourages people from using the language.

[Top of page]

3. The use of the language in various fields

3.1. Education

Friulian is not officially integrated into the education system and is recognised only under Regional Law 68 dating from 1981. Until 1876 most teachers spoke only Italian. From that time onwards, bilingual exercises and dictionaries were introduced for teachers since they had problems with children whose mother tongue was Friulian. In 1923, regional languages and culture were incorporated into the education system (Ministerial Decree of 111923). Under fascism, Friulian literature and music were supported and Friulians, as a Latin civilisation, were defended against Slav and German "barbarism". The 1934 primary education reforms encouraged all forms of tradition, folk music and traditional dress.

In the 1950s rules on primary education were modified again, and since then there have been no major changes. Since the 1950s, therefore, Friulian has been taught as an optional subject (onea week) in a few primary schools, while in secondary schools one hour a week has been taught since 1975, but only on an experimental basis.

Although the teaching of Friulian is essential if it is to be preserved, this generally poses rather difficult problems. While a descriptive grammar and teaching materials are available, there is no normative grammar. Standardised teaching would also make it necessary to choose one form of Friulian as a kind of lingua franca, which is difficult because of the various dialects.

Some 20% to 50% of teachers in the area speak Friulian, and Friulian is an optional subject in a few nursery schools and at the primary level of a very few schools (in some 10% of State schools but 80% of independent schools). At secondary level, Friulian is also taught in a few schools but never as a compulsory subject (in 8% of secondary schools there is about one hour a week of Friulian; this has been at an "official experimental stage" since the 1970s).

In higher education, the presence of Friulian is rapidly declining. "Friulian Language and Literature" is taught at the Universities of Udine and Trieste. Since 1975 there has been a Friulian course (not free of charge) for non-resident adults. There is no training for Friulian teachers, but a few cultural institutions offer courses for teachers in cooperation with the University of Udine.

[Top of page]

3.2. Judicial authorities

Throughout the Friulian-speaking area, there are hardly any judges who can speak Friulian. Parties to the proceedings may, however, ask to be questioned in Friulian if they are monolingual. Legislative texts in Friulian are not always available either.

Hearings are conducted only in Italian, but witnesses can ask to be questioned in Friulian, in which case interpreters are available.

[Top of page]

3.3. Public authorities and services

According to our sources, Friulian is not generally used by central or regional government agencies. Within regional government, there is no support for its possible use, but nor is it actually banned. The status of Friulian is somewhat better in local authorities. According to our sources, the existence of Friulian is acknowledged and its use is accepted and supported. In verbal communication, Friulian is frequently used in local authorities as well as in power stations, telephone shops, etc.

The use of Friulian in public and semi-public institutions is not usual although, if the officials themselves speak Friulian, the language is used in many institutions, particularly the post office. The utilities keep all forms, however, only in Friulian.

According to our sources, public signs are in Italian. Only in more remote regions and mountainous areas may signs be in both Italian and Friulian.

[Top of page]

3.4. Mass media and information technology

As in public administration, Friulian has little status in the mass media.

There are no daily papers entirely in Friulian, for example, although the Messaggero Veneto and Gazzettino are published partly in Friulian.

The following periodicals are also published partly in Friulian: La Vita Cattolica, Voce Isontina, Friuli nel Mondo (journal of the Language and Literature Association), Patrie dal Friûl, Ce fastu (scientific journal), Sot la Nape (quarterly) and Strolic Furlan (yearbook).

The radio station RAIbroadcasts an arts programme entitled La specule in Friulian once a week. The private station Onde Furlane, which was set up in the late 1970s and has continued ever since without public funding, broadcasts 70 to 80 hours a week in Friulian to some 35 000 listeners. Leaving aside the establishment of the Onde Furlane station, which is heavily committed to the preservation of the Friulian language, there has been little change in the radio situation in the Friulian-speaking area over the last ten years.

The television station Tele Friuli broadcasts in Friulian once a week in the evenings. Otherwise there are no local stations, although there are bilingual programmes on the third channel of the public RAI-TV station.

In terms of the comprehensibility of Friulian in the mass media, slight problems arise as a result of the different versions of the language in the various mountain areas.

There is no computer software in Friulian.

[Top of page]

3.5. The Arts

In the last three years (1991-1993) 36 books have been published in Friulian in the following areas: children's books, poetry, stories, short novels and religious books. In general, literature has a special part to play in the preservation of Friulian as a minority language. Not only do unusually old texts exist (lyric poetry from the 13th century) but literary output has continued to the present day and is considered to be one of the finest and richest in Italy. Since the 19th century there have been publications of an academic nature (e.g. Dialettologia Friulana, G. Francescato, 1966, Studi linguistici sul friulano, G. Francescato, 1970, Saggi sul Ladino dolomitico e sul friulano, G.B. Pellegrini, 1972), a monolingual dictionary by Pirona-Carletti has been in existence since 1935, there are bilingual dictionaries by Pirona, Maria Tore Barbina, Nazzi and others, a language atlas has been in existence since 1972, a dictionary of placenames dates from 1979, and there is major literary output from the 17th century (Ermes di Coloredo) to the present day (Pier Paolo Pasolini).

There is very little pop music (the groups Fur Clap, Fale Curte and Mitili FLK) in the Friulian- speaking area, whereas folk music is very much alive in Friulian at the traditional festivals. The following groups perform traditional music: La Sedon Salvadie, Carantan, Libars Sunadors di Ruvigne, Liso e Gusto and Bande Zingare.

Since Friulian theatre was relaunched in the early 1980s, some 40 amateur groups have sprung up in the Friulian-speaking area. They are supervised by the umbrella association Associazione teatrale friulana di Udine.

Current official film output in Friulian by the RAI broadcasting company is the film Maria Zeff. Other films produced in the area are Prime di sere, Telefrico, El Poete des Pantianes and Mandi Tiere me. To celebrate the bicentenary of the birth of the Friulian poet Pietro Zorutt, a television film was produced by the Udine-based director Deganutti and a short film entitled Un Monumento a P. Zorutt - Poete dal Friûl was produced by the Gorizia-based Claudio Gasparutti and Eraldo Sgubin.

Apart from the cultural events Mostre dal Cine Furlan (CEC), Premi Friul (Onde Furlane) and Premio per Testi Teatrali, Gorizia holds an international folklore festival and an international choral singing competition at which Friulian culture occupies a major platform. In July 1994, Gorizia held an international folklore parade of local dance groups. These activities are generally regarded as very important for the preservation of the Friulian language and culture.

For a few years now, a literary prize has been awarded for works in Friulian. The Friulian Language and Literature Association has set up an exhibition entitled Friulian Culture: Past and Present, which was sponsored by the regional government. It was visited by 100 000 people in Passariano and is now touring the world. In 1980 the Association was awarded the Ossian prize for its contribution to the express rebuilding of Friulian culture. Its active support of the publishing industry led to over 10 000 works being published.

The Province of Udine, in collaboration with the Language and Literature Association, sponsored the Friulian Theatre Show, for which the Cultural Office of the Friuli Venezia Giulia Region made the necessary funds available to the Language and Literature Association.

It is said that the Italian government hardly supports any activities associated with the Friulian language and culture.

As yet there is no library solely for Friulian in the Friulian-speaking area, but there are plans to set one up. In this sense, central government does not pursue a cultural policy likely to support Friulian. Most language and cultural activities emanate from local authorities and not from cultural institutions. They are supported as far as possible by the provincial governments.

[Top of page]

3.6. The business world

When looking for work, it is an advantage to know Friulian. In most small and medium-sized enterprises in the Friulian-speaking area, only Friulian is spoken, particularly among manual workers. Friulian also enjoys a strong position in the agricultural sector.

In principle there is Friulian advertising in all areas of the mass media but, owing to the limited diffusion of the language in the media, it does not have the same influence as in other areas. There is, for example, advertising in Friulian on the private Onde Furlane station, where commercials for typical, traditional enterprises in particular are in Friulian.

Consumer information in the language is not banned but is hardly ever produced.

[Top of page]

3.7. Family and social use of the language

Within the family, Friulian has been handed down less and less since the 1960s. The reasons for this are the strong presence of other languages, particularly Italian, in upper schools and the mass media (especially television). In rural areas, Friulian is used even more frequently as the family language; if children in these areas attend upper secondary schools, however, they gradually start to use Italian in everyday speech as well.

There seems to be a general downward trend in the use of Friulian as a family language. There is a slight increase in its use at work, in the street and in restaurants.

Young couples normally speak to each other in Italian, particularly in urban areas. Only if Friulian is the everyday language in both families do couples also speak Friulian to each other. Some 80% of marriages take place between partners speaking the same language.

There is and has been no gender-based difference in passing on the language to children.

Outsiders unfamiliar with Friulian culture frequently regard Friulian speakers as inferior. In this context, Friulian is associated with rural life and isolation by the Italian-speaking community.

According to our sources, some 50% of Friulian-speakers regularly attend church. Some 70% of the clergy speak Friulian. Services are hardly ever held in Friulian, however, although this varies from one region to another. Ceremonies such as weddings or funerals are almost always held in Italian. Almost all liturgical texts have been translated into Friulian. The church has played an important role in endeavours to preserve the language in general. In 1966, the Moviment Friul was started with the help of local clergy. Since 1971, Friulian has been used in the liturgy. Local church initiatives can also be seen in the many public declarations in defence of the mother tongue which have been published and signed by priests and church members.

Speakers of Friulian are not very optimistic about the future of their language at present. For example, the use of Friulian amongst the younger generation has diminished considerably. This is mainly due to the language situation in schools, but also to the influence of the mass media and contact with other areas of Italy.

[Top of page]

3.8. Transnational exchanges

There are still Friulian emigrant associations in various continents which try to remain in contact with the arts in the Friulian-speaking area. Since 1980, the touring exhibition entitled Friulian Culture: Past and Present, mentioned above, has been taken to the major emigrant associations in Switzerland, Canada, the United States, Venezuela, Argentina and Australia. The aim is to strengthen ties with the homeland and also to convey a cultural message to the host countries.

[Top of page]

4. Conclusion

Although Friulian, with its 526,000 or so speakers, is the second largest minority language in Italy and has its own literature, the community is not very active. The continuing decline in the language is undoubtedly due to the inadequate use of Friulian in institutions despite the provisions of the Autonomous Statute of the Friuli Venezia Giulia Region and the inadequate use of the language in key social areas to which this leads.

[Top of page]