Can Italians speaking the modern Italian dialect (which is derived from Tuscan) understand old Italian dialects such as Ligurian and Venetian?

What would the English analog be? Would it be like understanding Shakespeare, or Chaucer or Beowulf?

  • 3
    Ligurian and Venitian are modern spoken dialects/languages. Why do you call them old?
    – fdb
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 23:43
  • Glancing at them, I don't find them much harder to understand than Italian. I would doubt it would be as difficult as Frisian for English speakers, but perhaps a smidgen harder than Scots depending on the degree of vocabulary differences (which I can't really judge not being an Italian speaker) Also, are you asking about written or spoken? That would make a bit of a difference. Commented Oct 30, 2015 at 2:36
  • If you are not an Italian speaker, you should not be answering the question. Commented Oct 30, 2015 at 3:18
  • 5
    Excuse me? I didn't answer the question. I offered a comment, while trying to guide you to a better question. Believe it or not, though, many people who specialize in several Romance languages can often offer insights on the other ones, even if they don't speak them. Commented Oct 30, 2015 at 4:05
  • I am a Romanian with almost zero problems of understanding ‘official’ Italian when seeing it written or hearing it spoken. (The same goes for my grasp of ‘official’ Spanish as well). However, I cannot for the life of me make any sense of (spoken) Sicilian.
    – Lucian
    Commented Sep 15, 2016 at 8:00

1 Answer 1


I don't know about any material on this topic but I can tell you my experience that I think applies to most Italians, if not all.

First, you need to know that a lot of Italian dialects are considered full-fledged languages, completely independent from Italian, with their own grammar and structures. So understanding is harder because the grammar is different, the vocabulary and the syntax too, not just the pronunciation. Sardinian is one such example, although considering the lack of written standard in its history, a lot of vocabulary (relatively speaking) has been — quite sadly — lost, and various Italian loanwords have entered the language, so an Italian speaker might locate them now and then.

Among the factors that determine how much you can understand, there's the distance of course, because the closer a certain dialect/language/variety is to you, the easier it will be to understand. Even within the same region, this is still true: Varieties can change from town to town and even from village to village. However this doesn't work in a proportional manner, because other factors enter the equation.

Another factor is familiarity. I have had a lot of contact with Sicilians, for example, so my understanding of it has been increased compared to someone that heard it less. If a friend of mine is speaking on the phone with their relatives/friends in Sicilian, I might understand words or at least, the general gist of the conversation. Of course, there is not one Sicilian. Like I said, they can change from place to place even within the same region. Especially since a lot of dialects lack a written standard.

One more factor is whether you speak broad or not. When Italians say "parlare (dialetto) stretto", it means to speak a pure dialect. This usually means that you're not just speaking Italian with a strong local accent. It means that you're usually speaking "strictly" as the locals do: strong accent, (sometimes) almost unintelligible pronunciation with a fast pacing and with words completely mixing with each other, so that it's virtually impossible for someone else to understand what is being said, and of course - local vocabulary/syntax/grammar. If you have little or no familiarity and the speaker is not using any "keyword" (similar words across languages), then you won't likely understand anything. Even with familiarity (but still being from another region), you will probably miss a lot of it.

  • Great answer. The level of cognates used (what you've termed "keywords", I believe) and pronunciation differences would be the biggest impediments in my mind. The same issue happens between all Romance languages — and perhaps similarly in other dialect continua — as while there are important structural and grammatical differences, they don't make nearly as big a difference as the vocabulary (Romanian) and pronunciation (French). Commented Oct 31, 2015 at 16:38
  • This is good information that is relevant, but does not answer the question. Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 17:58

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