Given a great variety of local dialects (and small languages) in Italy, should we allow questions about a specific way of saying things?
If a question appears about lu sicilianu (Sicilian language) or sardu (Sardinian language), how should we handle it? Should we answer as in the English cases (British English vs. American English)? Or should we limit the questions only to standard Italian?

For example, what should we do if a newbie appears, asking about something he/she has heard yesterday at the Catania fish market and truly believing it was Italian? So, he/she wouldn't ask for translation (which would be immediately off-topic) but rather for an explanation that couldn't be found in a dictionary. Do we wait until somebody from Catania comes to give an answer? Do we close such questions right away as off-topic? Do we explain first that it's another language? Do we suggest where to go in searches for an answer?

NB (after some discussions in the comments below): I do not advocate for answering the dialects questions. I'm just suggesting to define here a good practice regarding such questions.

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    Just a note, Sicilian and Sardinian (which you mentioned) are not really dialects, they are distinct languages, with their own rules, words. They sometimes share vocabulary, but they work on a different level. In other words, they are not "italian being pronounced differently or with strong accent", they are really other languages. :D – Alenanno Nov 7 '13 at 10:04
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    @Alenanno Everybody in this topic (including myself) agrees that they are different languages. :) The question is what we should do if a newby appears, asking about something he/she has heard yesterday at the Catania fish market and truly believing it was Italian. So, he/she wouldn't ask for translation (which would be immediately off-topic) but rather for an explanation that couldn't be found in a dictionary. Do we close such questions right away? Do we explain that it's another language first? Do we suggest where to go in searches for an answer? – I.M. Nov 7 '13 at 10:47
  • @I.M. this is not clear from the actual question, I'd rephrase it. – o0'. Nov 7 '13 at 11:03
  • @Lohoris OK, thanks. I'll edit the topic a bit. – I.M. Nov 7 '13 at 11:08

I'm torn about this.

The difference between a dialect and a language is fuzzy and probably only dependent on its diffusion. Dialects have full-fledged grammars, vocabularies and history, making each one of them a language which is not Italian.

I'm a native Italian speaker and I can barely understand (and surely not able to speak) the dialect of my own city, Milano.

So I would lean towards considering questions about dialects as off-topic as they are not about the Italian language.

That being said, I think we should still be open to questions about dialectal terms and their relation with the Italian language.

For instance, there might be doubts about whether a term (and its usage) is dialectal-only or it's an actual Italian term. As an example, I have a few friends from Firenze, who use the expression

Questo telefono non fa

for indicating that a phone is not working, whereas the current Italian for it would be:

Questo telefono non funziona

and it turned out that using the verb fare, with the meaning of funzionare, was purely dialectal.

Questions about this kind of matters would be perfectly on-topic, IMHO.

  • Good definition. If everybody else agrees, I accept this as the answer. – I.M. Nov 7 '13 at 20:53
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    This example is what it's called "regional Italian". – Charo Aug 9 '18 at 14:58

I'm a foreigner living in Italy and I had to deal very often with local dialects/languages. It is a very fun and interesting thing, it is part of the Italian way and it shouldn't be excluded from this website. We can't afford to have a stackexchange website for every dialect of Italian (even if is sicilian or sardinian), so they all should be discussed here and tagged as "[dialect]" and make this tag a little more prominent (bigger or different color) and also include it in the question title. The tag will tell the speakers from other countries that they shouldn't be concerned about this questions if they want only to learn literal Italian (which was another dialect elevated to national status).

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    This is a good point. We are not excluding questions concerning one of the languages in Italy, we are simply not dealing with that language as a whole. So, a question asking for relations with standard Italian is always welcome. – martina Dec 15 '13 at 13:16

What is normally called Italian dialect is not really a dialect of Italian, but rather a dialect of another language which is spoken in Italy. For example, I speak Bresciano, which is the main variety of the Eastern Lombard, which is not mutually intelligible with Italian. In fact, the Eastern Lombard word for wall is mür, which is closer to the French word than the Italian word; also the masculine singular article in Eastern Lombard is el, which is closer to Spanish article than the Italian one (il). I don't think that people who speak Italian would all understand i è nacc vià, and I would assume that an Italian born in Sicily could understand that sentence.

This is also true for many other Italian dialects.

Questions about Eastern Lombard, Sicilian, Venetian, or Alpine Provençal are not really about Italian, and we should not assume that the users who speak Italian necessarily know one of those languages, which are languages distinct from Italian.

  • +1, I agree, but out of curiosity, what does it mean 'i è nacc blah blah blah'? – Kyriakos Kyritsis Nov 6 '13 at 18:40
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    It means "they went away." – kiamlaluno Nov 8 '13 at 12:37
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    We should not assume that the users who speak Italian necessarily know one of those languages: well, then they won't answer. Does not mean that there will be NOONE who knows that particular dialect and does not (IMHO) make the question OT by default. In many (most?) places in Italy people mix Italian with dialect, and there are dialectal phrases that have become common use throughout Italy. Although you are right that most native speakers wouldn't understand i è nacc vià, I think almost everyone would understand jamme belli!. – nico Nov 23 '13 at 15:01
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    @nico Still, if you ask what jamme belli! means, that is OT; Neapolitan is not Italian. If you ask about a phrase used in Italian from Neapolitans, that is different. – kiamlaluno Nov 23 '13 at 17:38
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    @kiamlaluno: that's what I am saying. It depends on the context. Not every question about dialect is OT by default, and for many non-native speakers (and oftentimes for native speakers) understanding the fine limit between dialect and Italian is difficult. For instance: italian.stackexchange.com/questions/82/… – nico Nov 23 '13 at 22:28

I am very ambivalent about this, on one hand you might be correct in assuming anything relating to Milanes or Sicilanu, is not Italian and should be off topic; on the other hand you have to admit that people from Milano and Sicily speak Italian differently, in what should be considered dialects of Italian.

  • Yes, that's very true. I think you will agree with my answer then. – Gabriele Petronella Nov 18 '13 at 15:28
  • @GabrielePetronella Yes I do. But when it comes to differences between dialects/languages its more a question of degree than either or. I would call the collation "Questo telefono non fa" a variant of Italian, but Gorgia toscana as in [la ha:sa] for la casa a feature of Toscano. – Mario Elocio Nov 18 '13 at 16:12
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    Absolutely, what I think is that questions about how dialects interact with Italian should be on-topic, and that's one case :) – Gabriele Petronella Nov 18 '13 at 16:32

Italian dialects are a big and complicated mess. Instead of the few differences that there are between British English and American English, we would be dealing with radically different languages, with their own language, grammatical peculiarities (and sometimes rules), and of course dictionaries, and this clearly falls outside of the site scope.

Question that relate to dialects only tangentially, like a specific word that has been incorporated into Italian, or discussion about etimology or errors which might be more common in some regions, are perfectly within scope and on topic.

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    But they are still Italian languages/dialects, aren't they? It's easier to restrict the site only to standard Italian (and most of the questions will be about it anyway). But, maybe, we shouldn't discourage those people who start studying Italian, for example, in Sicily and want to understand the difference between what they read in a textbook and what they hear on the streets. – I.M. Nov 6 '13 at 16:35
  • @I.M. it's really not that clear how much italian are they. I don't mean it in a disparaging way - on the contrary, many of those are languages with a distinct identity and history and it would be unfair to belittle them into regional quirks. Maybe rather than only tangentially, I should've written in comparison with Italian, less harsh and more inclusive of all the (inevitable) encounters with dialects that any Italian native speaker or learner will have. – Agos Nov 6 '13 at 16:46
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    @I.M. by the way, asking how much Italian is there in dialects would a very interesting question for the site! – Agos Nov 6 '13 at 16:52
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    I perfectly understand your reasons and mostly agree with you. What I've had in mind, though, was: they are the languages of Italy. Very different from the Italian on TV, but still alive, rich, and widely used by the Italians, by the native speakers. – I.M. Nov 6 '13 at 16:59
  • @I.M., yes, I basically disagree with you, but surely some words deserve to be understood by Italian learners, if there exist one, such as, i.e., 'sorbole' or 'picciotto'. – Kyriakos Kyritsis Nov 6 '13 at 18:47
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    @Kyriakos Absolutely. That's why we should discuss this question in advance and make a decision. – I.M. Nov 6 '13 at 18:53

I'm obviously biased here because I have a couple of dialect questions I do not know where else to ask (save for Lingustics.SE), but I would say we should let those questions sit there for as long as needed. Why? Well, Chinese SE accepts dialect questions, and the variety there is just about as great as the one we have here: "Hakka" has a ton of subdialects, and I have found songs in at least three different subdialects. Also, phonetically speaking, dialects are wildly different from Mandarin, I'd say at least as much as Italian dialects differ from standard Italian, and I read that even grammatically some dialects have differences, just like it may be here (though I don't know of any grammatical difference from Italian to dialect that goes beyond different inflectional suffixes, save for an interesting use of impersonal forms in the dialect of my paternal grandparents, where one can say "L'è vnu la Paola", lit. "È venuto la Paola", where the lack of gender agreement makes me see an impersonal form in the verb). So I think dialect should not be considered as off-topic, but left open till someone knowledgeable chimes in, as happens on Chinese – and I know a thing or two about that, having asked plenty of Min and Hakka questions over there.


It would be cool to include the other languages and dialects from Italy, but I must agree with the others, they wouldn't really be on topic I'm afraid.

However if you have specific questions about linguistic aspects of them, you could ask on Linguistics SE. You won't be able to ask usage questions as you do on language sites, but some things can overlap if asked properly.

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    I'm not convinced: I think questions about dialects can be on topic because related to Italian, at least in a geographical sense. And a foreigner may not know it's a different language. But that language lives inside Italy and it could be nice to look at it/its relations to Italian. – martina Nov 7 '13 at 14:35
  • @martina I agree, it would be nice, and in some cases they might be OK (it might be useful to see case by case, and if Italian is relevant to the question, then even better) but SE sites are dedicated to one topic. This one is Italian SE so that's our topic. :P Had it been "Languages of Italy SE" then yes, they would have been on topic. This is my opinion based on the rules how I see them however, so... – Alenanno Nov 8 '13 at 2:19

A suggestion: 1) allow questions about the dialects/languages; 2) change the description of the site in the tour to reflect that.

The rationale. The main and only reason to dis-allow questions about the co-languages that was ever pursued on this page is political correctness (there was little argumentation(*) for any other point, while there was extensive for this one, like below by I.M.). While the only reason to make decisions about the policies in the site is usefulness of the site. I think most people who speak some such language speak standard Italian, too. So, by targeting the scope more broadly you reach still the same audience. So, allowing such questions makes the site more useful. While changing the description in the tour solves the PC problem.

(*) Which was that there are too few experts to answer questions about the dialects. A futile point, and it was already answered, of course: there are some, that's enough. There's an even better answer: there would be no more experts on special Stacks Exchanges for all those languages, if such sites existed, than there would on this site. All those people who know something about such languages know something about Italian, too; so, if they would want to share their knowledge on Stack Exchanges, they already do so here. Actually, the little quantity of such experts speaks all for support of my suggestion, because they wouldn't sustain any separate Stack Exchanges for individual languages.

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    The main reason to decline answering all questions about dialects and minor languages is that they are languages different from Italian. It has nothing to do with political correctness. Most people who speak some kind of dialect would also speak standard Italian, but the opposite is not true - not many Italians would be fluent in their local dialect, and there would be just a few who would understand (let alone speak) more than one dialect. – I.M. Jan 18 '17 at 9:57
  • @I.M. The two reasons that you mentioned are the same, and shame on you if you don't see that. The real reason is not that the languages are different (why not? couldn't one site cover many languages? a petty problem, obviously), the real reason is that you don't want to allow one slightest chance to leave someone thinking they may, save God, be considered the same language. Compare with the Chinese Stack Exchange: they allow questions about all the languages (I don't need to say which, you see), and that, I assume, makes the site more useful. On the downside, they don't care about PC, either. – Evgeniy Jan 18 '17 at 13:15
  • @Evgeniy They are not the same language (and I should know since I speak both Italian and Venetian). In this site there is a policy of covering only one language, this apparently is different on Chinese.SE but I do not see why this policy has anything to do with political correctness. – Denis Nardin Jan 30 '17 at 13:41
  • @DenisNardin Bella scoperta! :) The real question of the topic is what policy should be accepted. Therefore, the argument “the actual policy is X” does not make sense. PC (or, perhaps, conservativeness) might be the only reason behind this policy in the actual case, because usability rather suggests that all languages constrained to the same territory be considered the single topic for the site. Like five bananas might be a topic for a discussion in a family: there is no rule that allows to make just one banana be the topic every time. – Evgeniy Jan 31 '17 at 20:43
  • @Evgeniy The policy is whatever the community of the website decides, no more, no less. Some policies have good effects, some have bad. I believe this policy (keeping the focus of the website on Italian with the occasional foray into regional languages as necessary) has good consequences and so I support it. It seems the majority of the participants agree with me and so it became the "official" policy. You disagree, and that is your right but your only recourse is to put forth better arguments and not blindly accuse the others of "conservativeness" or "PCness" (whatever you mean by that). – Denis Nardin Jan 31 '17 at 20:51
  • @DenisNardin As to the good consequences, you have never described any. As to the arguments, I am the only one to have presented any. As to the policy, I couldn't care less which one is accepted; I have just added some argumentation into the topic, which I think is always a good thing. As to accusations, you made that bit up. I actually think some PC is a good thing. As to the reasons the policy is accepted, yes one could only guess why it's that way; my guess is as good as anyone's, and at least I can see nothing else for a reason. “Good consequences” is just a phrase… – Evgeniy Jan 31 '17 at 21:56

Tante risposte, ma mi sembra che nessuna abbia centrato il punto focale: questo sito si suppone debba essere frequentato da esperti, altrimenti la sua utilità sarebbe nulla (ai livelli di Yahoo Answers): quanti esperti di ciascun dialetto pensate di poter attirare? Sono pochissimi già dal vivo, figuriamoci quanti verrebbero qui abitualmente...

Per cui non è questione di accettare o meno i dialetti, bensì più pragmaticamente è questione che, anche volendo, non saremmo in grado di gestirli.

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