Inquiry # 1: SARDINIAN

Ilaria Nardotto
Professor Cynthia L. Hallen
Linguistics 450, Section 1
June 30, 1999

I was struck in class by one of the overheads that was shown of all the different language families, because I saw that Sardinian was categorized as a different language from Italian. I served four months of my mission in Olbia (north of the island of Sardinia) and as a consequence I know about all of the different dialects spoken there, but I had never thought of categorizing all of them under one general language, such as the Sardinian language. After seeing that overhead I quickly became interested in learning more about this intriguing subject, therefore I took advantage of this opportunity to research and satisfy some of my curiosities about Sardinian, its history from its earliest origins to the present, and the causes of its language changes, in order to find out if we can talk of an actual Sardinian language, or if we need to say that there are more than one Sardinian languages.

According to The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Sardinian is "a Romance language spoken on Sardinia." On the front page of the dictionary I found a chart which showed a language family tree starting from the Indo-European family and branching down to Italic, Old Latin, and all the daughter languages of this last one. Sardinian was not on the chart, therefore I researched some more and found the following language family tree on the Internet (see the Table 1 on the next page):

Table 1 - Language Family Index

Indo-European, Italic, Romance, Southern, Sardinian (4)






It is common to think that Sardinian is historically deriving from Latin, but as Loi Corvetto wrote in her book called L’Italiano di Sardegna (translation: Italian of Sardinia), there are so many different dialects spoken on the island that it is impossible to generalize them all into one language ( Loi Corvetto, 14). We could say that with regard to Sardinian dialects "there are a minimum of two (. . .) up to an imprecise and unpredictable maximum that would coincide if not with every single town, at least with each geographical circumscription" (Virdis 1978, 9).

Sardinian is therefore not just one set language, but it is actually divided into four different languages, or as the people of Sardinia call them, into four different dialects: Sardinian Campidanese, Sardinian Gallurese, Sardinian Logudorese, and Sardinian Sassarese. I remember talking to older people in Olbia, and I remember them telling me how each of these four dialects are so different, that even within each dialect there are many variations, depending on where people live. They told me that people from different towns but in the same area where one of the four major dialects are spoken, can understand each other, even when speaking different variations. For example, a person from Olbia speaks a little bit differently than a person from Tempio, but since they both speak a variation of Sardinian Gallurese they can understand each other. On the other hand, people are in trouble when they use totally different dialects. For example, if a person from Olbia speaking Gallurese talks to a person from Cagliari who speaks Campidanese, they have a hard time understanding each other.

The reason why these four dialects differ is that the vocabulary varies. For example, following is the first line of the Lord’s Prayer in Sardinian Campidanese, compared to the same line in Sardinian Logudorese, which says "our father our who art in heaven":

"Babbu nostu ki ses in is celus" (Sardinian Campidanese).

"Babbu nostru k’istas in sos kelos" (Sardinian Logudorese).

Some of the variations found in just this single line tell us that there are different uses of the "r." In the Campidanese dialect the /s/ has been rhotacized, where in the Logudorese it has not. On the other hand, the vowel "i" can be omitted in Sardinian Logudorese and replaced by an apostrophe, while this does not happen in Sardinian Campidanese. Furthermore, the consonant "c" in Campidanese is replaced by a "k" in Logudorese. These are just single sound differences, but there are also word differences, depending on which foreign language has most influenced each particular dialect. For example the article "is" in Campidanese resembles the Italian "il," while the article "sos" in Logudorese resembles the Spanish "los" instead. The same thing happens in the verb "to be," where "ses" in Campidanese sounds like the Italian "sei," while "istas" in Logudorese sounds just like the Spanish "estas" (Sardinian Language and Culture).

The map on the next page shows the main four Sardinian dialects in their geographical location, and it also shows some of the main towns and cities of Sardinia.

I have explained earlier, the important thing to note about Sardinia is that in almost every city a different variation of a dialect is spoken, and the people make proud distinctions between them. For this same reason I was surprised to see that on the chart shown in class there was the language of Sardinian as one general language spoken on the island, when I now that there really is not just one dialect, but many of them. I mentioned earlier that different words are used in each dialect, depending on which foreign language has had the most influence over that particular dialect and region. Corvetto stated, in fact, that "the linguistic situation of Sardinia is due to historical events, like the influence (. . .) of various dominations" (Loi Corvetto, 13). Let us take a look at the history of Sardinia:

Sardinia is one of the most ancient lands in Europe and it seems to have been inhabited permanently around 6000 B.C. The people who settled on the island came from different places and inhabited different regions, becoming united in language (whichever language the majority of the people spoke at the time) and customs, but keeping their political differences. The north of Sardinia was probably settled by men who came from the Italian mainland. The central region was settled by people from the Iberian Peninsula. Finally, the south of the island seems to have been founded by Africans. Later, around 1000 B.C. Sardinia was inhabited by Phoenician families who came by ship and settled in different port areas, and opened trades with the native Sardinians who lived inland. In 509 B.C. the Sardinians attacked the Phoenicians, feeling that they were becoming too menacing, and the enemy asked the Carthaginians for help, who ended up conquering almost the whole island. When the Romans defeated the Carthaginians in 238 B.C., Sardinia became a province of Rome. Around 476 - 530 AD, Vandals from Africa kept occupying and raiding the island until they were defeated by the Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire. In the IX century AD, Sardinia was subject to the incursions of the Arabs, as they were completing their conquests of the Mediterranean, North-Africa, Spain, and part of France and Sicily. In 1479 the kingdom of Sardinia became Spanish, as a result of the marriage of Ferran II of Aragon and Isabel of Castile, and Sardinia still carries some of the Spanish traditions today. In fact, many of the last names of the people in Sardegna today have a Spanish background. Finally, after the wars of Independence, when the Unity of Italy was achieved, the Kingdom of Sardinia became the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. Today, Sardinia is an Autonomous Region of the Italian Republic ("Ethnologue").

All of these historical events had a profound effect on the language spoken in Sardinia. In fact, because of all the different influences of different people and different languages, the Sardinian language has changed accordingly. For example, the development of sounds in Sardinian derive not only from Latin, but also from Italian, Spanish, French, and Arabic. More precisely, Sardinian has 85% lexical similarity with Italian, 80% with French, 78% with Portuguese, 76% with Spanish, 74% with Rumanian and Rheto-Romance. Here are a few examples of cognates taken from "Sardinian Language and Culture" in the Internet:


caelum[k] cielo cielo ciel kelu "heaven"

cantat canta canta chante cantat "(he) sings"

pullum pollo pollo poule puddu "cock"

aqua acqua agua eau abba "water"

Since different languages influenced different parts of the island at different times, it is no surprise to find distinctions between different kinds of Sardinian. Following is a description in more detail about each one of them:

Sardinian Campidanese, also called Sardu, Campidanese, or South Sardinian. It comprises the following dialects: Cagliare (or Cagliaritan), Arborense, Sub-Barbaricino, Western Campidenese, Central Campidanese, Ogliastrino, Sulcitano, Meridionale, and Sarrabense. It is generally used in the south. Cagliare, which is the dialect of the capitol of Sardinia, has 62% lexical similarity with Standard Italian, and 73% with Logudorese. Campidanese is quite distinct from the other Sardinian languages ("Sardinian Language and Culture").

Sardinian Gallurese, also called Northeastern Sardinian, or Gallurese. It is influenced by Corsican and Tuscan (Standard Italian). Gallurese has 83% lexical similarity with Standard Italian, 81% with Sassarese, 70% with Logudorese, 66% with Cagliare. The people who speak Gallurese call Campidanese and Logudorese (and the people who speak them) "Sard", but do not include themselves or their language in those terms ("Sardinian Language and Culture").

Sardinian Logudorese, also called Sard, Sardarese, Logudorese, or Central Sardinian. It includes the following dialects: Nuorese, Northern Logudorese, Barbaricino, and Southwestern Logudorese. Logudorese has 68% lexical similarity with Standard Italian, 73% with Sassarese, and Cagliarese, 70% with Gallurese ("Sardinian Language and Culture").

Sardinian Sassarese, also called Northwestern Sardinian, or Sassarese. It was influenced by Ligurian and Pisan, and has 81% lexical similarity with Gallurese, and 76% with Standard Italian. Just like the people who speak Gallurese, the people who speak Sassarese call Campidanese and Logudorese (and the people who speak them) "Sard", but do not include themselves or their language in those terms ("Sardinian Language and Culture").

An interesting aspect of the dialects o f Sardinia is that in general, no one form of Sardinian is selected as standard for literary purposes. Italian is in fact the language normally used for literary and teaching purposes in Sardinia. In other words, most forms are only spoken languages, and they are used by most people at home, or between close neighbors in urban neighborhoods and villages. For example, farmers and housewives over 35 use almost no Italian. Sardinian is in general use only in central and southern areas, where it has prestige equal to Italian in some contexts including writing ("Sardinian Language and Culture").

In conclusion, Sardinian is considered as one set language derived from Latin and spoken on the island of Sardinia, even though taking a closer look we can see that it is not quite so simple. Sardinian derives from very specific families (as seen in the language family tree), but there is a major factor which leads us to see that Sardinian is not just one very specific language. In fact, Sardinian, due to the many influences by different people who brought not only culture but also language changes, is still today divided into numerous dialects. Each dialect relies on the language spoken by the people who settled or influenced that specific region of the island at some point in time. Since different people influenced each region so many times, as a consequence each dialect has also received many different influences. Therefore, we can see that if we want to be precise we cannot talk of one actual Sardinian language, but of many of them, which can then be categorized under the general name of Sardinian.

Works Cited

Loi Corvetto, Ines. L’Italiano Regionale di Sardegna. Bologna: Zanichelli, 1983.

Grimes, Joseph E. "Ethnologue: Language Family Index." Sardinian - Sardu. 1996. @

Mensching, Guido. "Sardinian Language and Culture." Protzessamentu de Dator Linguisticas. June 5th, 1999. @

"Sardinian." The Random House Dictionary of the English Language: The Unabridged Edition. 1966.

Virdis, M. Fonetica del Dialetto Sardo Campidanese. Cagliari: La Torre, 1978.

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Department of Linguistics
Brigham Young University
Last Updated: Monday, September 6, 1999