General Overview

Area of Distribution and Number of Speakers 

Venetan (Vèneto) is a Romance language spoken in North-Eastern Italy (mainly in the province of Veneto), on the adjacent Istrian peninsula (Croatia and Slovenia), and in the state of Rio-do-Sul (Brazil).

There live about 4,487,560 people in Veneto and half of them currently speaks Venetan (2,109,502 according to 1976 census) while nearly everybody can understand it. Venetan was used on the coasts of Slovenia and Croatia during the domination of the Serenìsima Repùblica (fallen in 1797), but people can understand it even today. The emigrants from Veneto in the early 1900s brought the language to Brazil where it became a koine (q.v.) for all Italians there (it is called Talian or Vêneto Brasileiro).

Origin and History

The ancient population of Veneto seems to have shared some Slavic features but modern Venetan derives from Vulgar Latin which replaced most of the local Italic languages after the Roman conquest. During the Serenìsima Repùblica Vèneta (Republic of Venice), the Venetian variant of Venetan was the official language and it was well-known around Europe. In this period Venetan was brought to Dalmatia (the litoral of modern Slovenia and Croatia) and was used as a commerce language in the Mediterranean region and evidently it contributed largely to the formation of the Lingua Franca, the famous pidgin spoken along the Mediterranean coasts till 1800.

The Indovinello Veronese, considered to be one of the first written documents in Italian vulgar languageis, shows some linguistic features typical of Venetan. In the past, a lot of literary works were written in Venetan, though the best known author, the dramatist Carlo Goldoni, wrote it “in an Italian way” (that is with Italian orthography — for instance he changed diexe ten into diese thus avoiding the old letter x). During the domination of the Habsburgs Venetan was still the language of the navy even if the language of the Government was German.

Present Situation 

According to some opinion polls in Veneto the local language is most widely used (85% and even more in some situations): but the main fact is that it is used in all domains. One of the reasons for this “survival” can be found in the geographical structure of the region, that has no real leading town; most of the towns are under 10,000 inhabitants, and the rest are between 10,000 and 25,000 (apart from the few big towns): it is known that in towns under 30,000 the local language tends to keep its vitality, which increases as the number of inhabitants decreases. Moreover Venetan is the only language in the territory mastered actively by large strata of the population.

During the post war decades a lot of work was done to italianize Venetan speakers, and some generations were taken to the point of being ashamed of their so called “dialect” (Italian government considers Venetan a “dialect”, and not a language to protect). «Parla Italian se no te senbri ignorante!» «Speak Italian or you’ll sound ignorant!» has been a common advise from parents to children for a long time and even in schools. As unill the mid 1960s Veneto was a poor region, it was usual in films brodcast on the national Italian TV Venetan to appear to be spoken from men-servants.

Today there is a new conscience of the necessity of asserting one’s cultural background, and so the problem of the local language re-emerges. In some cases it is dealt with as an instrument for refined poetry, at a level which is widely recognized as having nothing to do with provinciality; in other cases, above all on the part of mass media and public organizations, the local language/culture is viewed in a folkloristic perspective. There is a third position, that tends to revive Venetan as a memory of things gone, and adopts an old-fashioned and purist attitude. The renewed interest in Venetan as a written language is creating some problems with spelling and the individuation of a koiné.

The dynamic situation of the interaction between Venetan, Italian and the particular variety known as “Popular Italian” (spoken by people who have Venetan as their mother tongue and have learnt standard Italian imperfectly), and the fact that the often prophesized death of “dialects” is still far to come, make Venetan of high sociolinguistic interest. Recently more and more Venetans are interested in their language and one can hear children speaking Venetan to their parents (even in medium towns!) but a standard language has not been developed yet and everybody writes “in its own way” and a lot of books are printed using Italian orthography (cf. Ven. mezo vs. It. mezzo mid, middle, Ven. stazion vs. It. stazione station).

There are some local radios broadcasting in Venetan, but the regional TV still uses only Italian.


Dante distinguished in the 13th century three varieties of Venetan, while the modern linguists discern up to five different dialects:

Venetian (spoken in Venice, Mestre and other towns along the coast). It has 24 phonemes: seven vowels and 17 consonants. The original Latin plosives are softened and voiced and often disappear entirely; no double consonants can be found. There are other traits, but the most typical one is the phoneme £ which is softened to a pre-velar unroundend semi-vowel, [e]; [m, n] at the end of a syllable tend to become [µ]. As far as the lexicon is concerned, it can be described as one of the most original ones, above all in the sector of marine ad navigational vocabulary.

Central Venetan (Padua, Vicenza, the area of the mouth of the Po), which are characterised by the survival of the once widespread interdental phones, which can still be heard in rural areas. The second trait is the metaphony of [] and [] due to the presence of an [i] that follows: metaphony often serves in paradigmatic oppositions such as singular/plural, cf.:
el mónte, el ségno => i munti, i signi.

Northern Venetan (Treviso, Feltre, Belluno): it’s the boundary with the Ladin and Friulan areas, and its lexicon is strongly characterized as “alpine”, contrasting with coastal Venetian While Treviso shows the influence of Venice, in rural areas interdental phones can still be heard; metaphony isn’t as common as in the central variety.

Western Venetan (Verona): historically this area does not belong to the Venet area and that accounts for the quantity of differences between this province and the rest of Veneto.

“Colonial” Venetian (according to the definition of the American linguist Bidwell): it has many internal varieties and is spoken out of the traditional Venetia, such as in Venetia Julia, in Istria, in Dalmatia and in other Adriatic areas which were dominated by the Venetian Republic.


The phonetic system of Venetan is quite similar to West-Romance languages like Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, French and Occitan. It resembles particularly the Spanish one.

In Venetan there are 7 vowels a, i, u, o (open-o), ó (closed-o), e (open-e), é (closed-e). Final vowels can be dropped according to the spoken variant: Trevisan and Bellunese drop vowels very often, Venetian and Veronese drop them only after n, l, r; while central Venetan drops e, o only after n, cf.:

Venet. / Veron el parte vs. Trev. / Bellun. el part he goes;
Venet. / Veron. i véde vs. Trev. / Bellun. i véd / i vét they see;
Central Ven. dotóre vs. Periph. Ven. dotor doctor.
Gn corresponds to Spanish ñ, Portuguese nh and Italian / French gn. The stroked-L (as in Polish), l has a particular pronounciation (in Venetan like [e]).
The final -i often produces vowel change, cf.:

paron owner, boss => paruni (parui) owners, bosses;
méto I put => te miti you put;
boton button => butuni buttons.
Veronese and Venetian take -i without any vowel change, while Bellunese and part of Trevisan don’t take the ending -i: te mét(e). Note, however, that Bellunese parùi has -i and vowel change.
Accent is free and may fall on the ultimate, penultimate or antepenultimate syllable. Its place is recognizable from orthography. Words ending in consonant always have the accent on the last vowel, thus saver = [sa’ver], nathion = [najon].

As in Spanish, the Latin consonants c between vowels is voiced to g in Venetan, cf.:

CL amic|um friend => Ven. amigo;
CL foc|um fire => Ven. fógo.
Consonants p between vowels is voiced to b => v => [no sound] in Venetan, cf.:
CL sapere to be tasteful / to be wise => Ven. saver to know;
CL scopa broom =>Ven. scóa.
Consonants t between vowels is voiced to d => [no sound] in Venetan, cf.:
CL potere to be able => Ven. poder;
CL rota broom => Ven. roda / rua (<= róa).
The intervocalic -b- tends to become v, cf.
CL habere to have => Ven. aver;
CL cantaba|m/t (I/he) was singing => Ven. cantava.
The consonant clusters ct, pt are transformed to t, cf.:
CL octo eight => Ven. oto,
CL captare to catch => Ven. catar to find.
The clusters cl / tl , gl , fl , pl are palatalized to ci, gi , fi, pi, cf.:

VL clamo (I) call => Ven. ciamo,
CL vetulu|s old => VL *vetlo => *veclo => Ven. vecio,
CL glacies ice => Ven. giaso,
VL flor(e) flower => Ven. fior,
VL pleno full => Ven. pien.
The clusters scl / stl / schi , sgl / sghi are palatalized to s-ci , sgi cf.:
CL fistulare => VL *fistlare => *fisclare to play the bagpipe => Ven. fis-ciar to whistle;
ML sclav|us slave => Ven. s-ciavo.
VL sglaciare to thaw (ice) => Ven. sgiasar, desgiasar.
(The old greeting sclavo [your] slave became s-ciavo => s-ciao => ciao…)
The clusters ali, eli, ili, oli, uli are transformed to aj ej, ij , oj, uj (j is pronounced as [d] in Venice or as short semivocalic [j]), cf.:

CL ali|um garlic => Ven. ajo,
CL ole|um oil => olio => Ven. ojo,
CL mulier woman => Ven. mojer wife etc.
The l between vowels (sometimes at the beginning of a word) becomes l (pronounced normal [l] or short semivocal e), cf.:
CL illa balla the ball => Ven. la bala,
CL ille caballo the horse =>Ven. el cavalo,
CL ille shole the schools => Ven. le scóle.
The clusters mb, mp change into nb, np, cf.:
VL camp|us field => Ven. canpo.
The cluster mr is divided by epenthetic -d- or -a- and become mbr => nbr or mar, cf.:
VL camera room => Ven. canbra / càmara.
The cluster nr is divided by epenthetic -d- or -a- and become ndr or nar, cf.:
VL cinere ash => Ven. séndre / sénare.
The consonants g / di and the semiconsonantic -i- become d =[d], [ð] or x =[z], cf.:
VL gente(m) people -> Ven. xente [‘zente], [‘ðente];
VL ioc|us game -> Ven. xugo / dugo [‘sugo], [‘dugo], [‘ðugo];
VL medio mid(dle) -> Ven. mexo / medo [‘mezo], [‘meðo], [‘mezo].
The consonants c / ti become th / s =[s], cf.:
VL cento a hundred => Ven. sento [‘sento], [‘ento];
VL cerclo circle => Ven. sércio
CL cingula(m) strap => Ven. séngia strap/thong/belt
VL platea square => platia => Ven. piasa [‘pjasa], [‘pjaa];
VL mancantia lack => Ven. mancansa [man’kansa], [man’kana].
Sometimes the resulting voiceless s changes into a voiced x, cf.:
VL voce voice => Ven. vóse / vóxe [‘vose], [‘voze];
VL place pleases => Ven. piaxe [‘pjaze] (to) like it/them;
VL pace peace => Ven. paxe [‘paze] (through the old form pase [‘pase]).


Venetan retains many grammatical forms of Latin. The loss of some verbal endings brought about an extensive usage of the personal pronouns and in this way there appeared a semi-analytical flexion. There are also special endings for the interrogative flexion. The progressive tenses are widely used as compared with the other Romance languages (e.g. there is a Future Compound Progressive of dubitative meaning, which is absent in Italian).

On the other hand the compound tenses are constructed with the verb aver to have and èser to be just as in French (see…) and Italian (see…), while the reflexive and pronominal verbs always have the auxiliary aver as in Ibero-Romance languages.

A great number of nouns have the distinctive endings of -a for the feminine form and -o for the masculine form, corresponding to Latin nouns of the first and second declensions, respectively.


The core of the Vnetan vocabulary is inherited from the Vulgar Latin but it shows words deriving from Germanic and from Greek, due to the long commercial relations between Venezia and Greece (e.g. piron fork comes from the Greek verb peírô to stick). On the oher hand, Venetan words have been borrowed in modern Greek and Albanian. It also retain some particular word existing in Catalan (or French), cf. Ven. goto glass and Cat. got, Ven. pare/mare father/mother and Cat. pare/mare, Ven. tamixo sieve and Cat. tamís, Ven. sóga rope and Cat. soga, Ven. masa too much/many vs.Cat. massa.

Like other languages, Venetan has borrowed a lot of words from Arabic.(e.g. Ven. naransa orange).

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