The Ladin language
"Danter nos baiunse ladin, deache chësc é nosc lingaz dla uma. Mo val’ iade ti dunse inće a nüsc ghesć le bëgnodü por ladin."
Roughly 35,000 people reside in the four valleys that radiate from the Sella Massif – Val Badia, Val Gardena, Val di Fassa and Livinallongo – and in Ampezzo; the majority of them speak Ladin as their native language. Language is the main factor that legitimizes historically Ladin-speaking people’s claim to be considered as a separate ethno-linguistic group.
What are the origins of Ladin?
Some people wonder about the origins of the Ladin language and when asking Ladins they might receive inaccurate answers. We therefore feel it is necessary to give you some information about this on our website.
Despite its ancient origins, official, scientific recognition of Ladin dates back only until the second half of the 19th Century when scholars noticed its presence in three distinct linguistic islands: in the Grisons Canton in Switzerland, in the Dolomites and in the Friuli area. Linguists observed that the Ladin language retained many of the characteristics of the regional vernacular Latin that had become homogenously widespread in the Padana Plain as well as in the three Roman provinces of Venetia et Histria, Rhaetia and Noricum. In fact, Ladin retains phonetic and lexicographic substrate of the Rhaetian and Noric languages, as well as distinct Celtic influences. Pre-Latin terminology in use today that dates back to the beginnings of Ladin – for example, baràntl (mountain pine), brama (cream), ciamùrc (chamois), cìer (Swiss pine), crëp (rock), dàscia (fir branch), dlasena (whortleberry), nìda (whey butter), ròa (landslide), aisciöda (Spring) – define mountain characteristics for which colloquial Latin was perhaps inadequate. The Ladin language, with Celtic influences in some areas and pre-Latin Alpine influences in others, is the direct continuation of the regional Vulgar Latin that dates back to Roman Empirical times.
The first scholar to demonstrate the linguistic affinity between the three “Ladin” or “Rhaeto-Romanic” islands was the Italian linguist Graziadio Isaia Ascoli. He presented a theory of continuous linguistic unity during the Roman Period that encompassed the entire Alpine region (from the Danube in the North to Lake Garda in the South; from the San Gottardo Mountain Pass in Swizterland in the West to Trieste in the East). Today, this original unity is confirmed by the existing toponymy – well-acknowledged to be the most conservative aspect of the language. In fact, many place names in the Swiss Grisons Canton, in the Dolomites and in Friuli coincide, whereas their Latin origin indicates how widespread and extensive Romanization had become.
Idiomatic variations of the Ladin language
Similarly to the Grisons Canton, the Ladin-speaking region in the Dolomites can be subdivided into different linguistic branches. The Ladin spoken in Val Badia consists of a group of variants: badiot in the high valley, Ladin de Mesaval in the municipality of San Martino and marô in Marebbe. On the other hand, gherdëina is the only language spoken in Val Gardena. Val di Fassa also has three distinct idiomatic subdivisions, like Val Badia: cazet in the high valley, brach in the central area (from Soraga to Mazzin), while the language in Moena is known as moenat. Fodom (or Livinallese) is spoken in the Livinallongo Valley, whereas anpezan is spoken in Cortina d’Ampezzo.
Today, all the idiomatic subdivisions of Ladin reflect the influence of extended economic and cultural contact with the two neighboring areas that possess different linguistic frameworks. There are actually many elements that derive from the Italian dialects in the North, as well as medieval Bavarian traces, and Germanic influences assimilated in modern times.
Alongside Ladin, both Italian and German are also acknowledged languages in the Dolomite Valleys. Monolingualism – which used to be widespread among the population – has practically disappeared.
Historical and social developments, the location between two linguistically and culturally different areas (Italian and Germanic), as well the sharp rise of the tourism industry in recent years have forced Ladins to become multilingual. The mass media and millions of tourists that regularly invade the Dolomites require linguistic flexibility, which Ladins fortunately accomplish through special school curricula. Although Ladins are able to express themselves fairly well in Italian and German, it is interesting to note how the elderly, in particular, express confidence and self-assuredness only when speaking their native language. Many other similar situations reflect the steadfast and unquestionable attachment of Ladins to their own language and identity. (W. Pescosta)