Italian becomes official language ... of Italy

ROME Fri Mar 30, 2007 5:42pm BST

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ROME (Reuters) - It's official. The language of Italy is Italian -- but not everyone is happy about it.

While it might seem obvious, the Italian-ness of Italian has only just been enshrined in the constitution, with parliament voting this week to state that: "The Italian language is the official language of the Republic".

The seemingly uncontroversial statement was opposed by 75 members of parliament, including leftists who said it smacked of cultural imperialism and northern separatists who are suspicious of pretty much any diktat from Rome.

One deputy, Federico Bricolo from the Northern League party, said his nationality, and therefore his language, was not Italian but Venetian. He said the dialect of Venice was spoken by "millions of men and women around the world".

"It's the language spoken in my family, in schools, at work. I am Venetian, Mr President, my language is that of Venice," Bricolo said in his dialect before his microphone was switched off because he was breaking a rule that states only Italian may be spoken in parliament.

Franco Russo, of Italy's main Communist party, said the post-war constitution deliberately left out any mention of the language in a reaction against dictator Benito Mussolini's attempts to "Italianise" the country by force.

The change to the constitution, approved by 361 votes to 75, is purely symbolic and does not alter the legal status that other languages enjoy in parts of Italy, such as German in the Alto Adige region or French in Val d'Aosta.

But supporters of the change said it was high time the language was recognised as a fundamental part of what made up modern Italy -- a country which was only created by unifying rival regions and city states in 1870.

It was Tuscan dialect -- in which Dante wrote the mediaeval epic poem the Inferno in the fourteen century -- that emerged as the national language of Italy, but many people still speak local dialects some of which are largely incomprehensible to people from other parts of the country.

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