Corsican (''corsu'' , ; full name: ''lingua corsa'' , ) is a Romance language
from the Italo-Dalmatian family
that is spoken predominantly on the Mediterranean
island of Corsica
). Corsican is closely related to the Tuscan varieties
from the Italian peninsula
, and therefore to the Florentine
-based standard Italian
Under the longstanding sway of Pisa
over Corsica, Corsican used to play the role of a vernacular
in combination with Italian
, which was the island's official language. In 1859, Italian was replaced by French
, owing to the French acquisition from the Republic of Genoa
in 1768. Over the next two centuries, the use of French in the place of Italian grew to the extent that, by the Liberation
in 1945, all the islanders had a working knowledge of French. The 20th century saw a language shift, with the islanders changing their language practices to the extent that there were no monolingual Corsican speakers left by the 1960s. By 1995, an estimated 65 percent of islanders had some degree of proficiency in Corsican, and a minority amounting to around 10 percent used Corsican as a first language.
[ To access the data, click on List by languages, Corsican, Corsican in France, then scroll to ''Geographical and language background''.]
Some languages that originated from Corsican but are also heavily influenced by Sardinian
, and are nowadays considered to be languages on their own, are also spoken, and to some extent written, on the island of Sardinia
Classification by subjective analysis
As for Corsican, a bone of contention is whether it should be considered an Italian dialect
or its own language
. Some scholars argue that Corsican belongs to the Centro-Southern Italian dialects
and is closely related to Italy's Tuscan, if not reputed to be part thereof. Mutual intelligibility between Italian and the dialects of Corsican is in fact very high, with particular reference to the Northern varieties. Despite the geographical proximity, it has indeed been noted that the closest linguistic neighbour to Corsican is not Sardinian
, which constitutes a separate group, but rather Tuscan and the extreme Southern Italian lects like Siculo
The matter is controversial, as the island was historically and culturally bound to the Italian Mainland from the Middle Ages until the 19th century, and installed in a diglossic system where both Corsican and Italian were perceived as two sociolinguistic levels of the same language; Corsican and Italian traditionally existed on a spectrum, whose proximity line was blurred enough that the locals needed little else but a change of register to communicate with the standard Italian-speaking elites and administration. "Tuscanising" their tongue allowed for a practice of code-mixing typical of the Mainland Italian dialects.
One of the characteristics of standard Italian is the retention of the -''re'' infinitive ending, as in Latin ''mittere'' "send". Such infinitival ending is lost in Tuscan
as well as Corsican, which has ''mette'' / ''metta'', "to put". The Latin relative pronouns ''qui''/''quae'' "who", and ''quod'' "what", are inflected
in Latin; whereas the relative pronoun in Italian for "who" is ''chi'' and "what" is ''che''/''(che) cosa'', it is an uninflected ''chì'' in Corsican. Perhaps the biggest difference between standard Italian and Corsican is that the latter uses the ''u'' termination, whereas standard Italian uses the ''o'' ending. For example, the Italian demonstrative pronouns ''questo'' "this" and ''quello'' "that" become in Corsican ''questu'' or ''quistu'' and ''quellu'' or ''quiddu''. This feature was typical of the early Italian texts during the Middle Ages.
The Corsican language has been influenced by the languages of the major powers taking an interest in Corsican affairs; earlier by those of the medieval Italian powers: Papal States
(828–1077), Republic of Pisa
(1077–1282) and Republic of Genoa
(1282–1768), more recently by France (1768–present), which, since 1859, has promulgated the official Parisian French. The term "gallicised
Corsican" refers to the evolution of Corsican starting from about the year 1950. The term "distanciated Corsican" refers to an idealized variety of Corsican following linguistic purism
, by means of removing any French-derived elements.
The common relationship between Corsica and central Italy
can be traced from as far back as the Etruscans
, who asserted their presence on the island in as early as 500 BC. In 40 AD, the natives of Corsica did not reportedly speak Latin. The Roman exile, Seneca the Younger
, reports that both coast and interior were occupied by natives whose language
he was not able to understand (see the Ligurian hypothesis
). Whatever language was spoken is still visible in the toponymy or in some words, for instance in the Gallurese dialect
spoken in Sardinia ''zerru'' 'pig'. An analogue situation was valid for Sardinian
The occupation of the island by the Vandals
around the year 469 marked the end of authoritative influence by Latin speakers (see Medieval Corsica
). If the natives of that time spoke Latin
, they must have acquired it during the late empire.
It has been theorised that a Sardinian
variety might have been spoken in Corsica, prior to the island's Tuscanisation
under Pisan and Genoese rule.
Examples of the main Corsican 'language' variants and their comparison with standard Italian and the Tuscan dialect ( Elbano )
The two most widely spoken forms of the Corsican language are the groups spoken in the Bastia
area (generally throughout the northern half of the island, known as Haute-Corse
, ''Cismonte'' or ''Corsica suprana''), and the groups spoken around Sartène
(generally throughout the southern half of the island, known as Corse-du-Sud
, ''Pumonti'' or ). The dialect of Ajaccio
has been described as in transition. The dialects spoken at Calvi
are closer to the Genoese
dialect, also known as Ligurian
This division along the Girolata-Porto Vecchio line was due to the massive immigration from Tuscany which took place in Corsica during the lower Middle Ages: as a result, the northern Corsican dialects became very close to a central Italian dialect like Tuscan, while the southern Corsican varieties could keep the original characteristics of the language which make it much more similar to Sicilian
and, only to some extent, Sardinian
The Northern Corsican macro variety (''Supranacciu'', ''Supranu'', ''Cismuntincu'' or ''Cismontano'') is the most widespread on the island and standardised as well, and is spoken in North-West Corsica around the districts of Bastia and Corte. The dialects of Bastia and Cap Corse
belong to the Western Tuscan dialects; they being, with the exception of Florentine
, the closest to standard Italian. All the dialects presenting, in addition to what has already been stated, the conditional formed in (e.g. "she would love") are generally considered ''Cismontani'' dialects, situated north of a line uniting the villages of Piana
, and also covering the subgroups from the Cap Corse (which, unlike the rest of the island and similarly to Italian, uses ''lu'', ''li'', ''la'', ''le'' as definite articles), Bastia (besides i > e and a > e, u > o: , , , ; a > o: , , ), Balagna, Niolo and Corte (which retain the general Corsican traits: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ).
Across the Northern and Southern borders of the line separating the Northern dialects from the Southern ones, there is a transitional area picking up linguistic phenomena associated with either of the two groups, with some local peculiarities. Along the Northern line are the dialects around Piana
, from Cinarca with Vizzavona
(which form the conditional tense like in the South), and Fiumorbo through Ghisonaccia and Ghisoni, which have the retroflex sound (written ''-dd-'') for historical ; along the Southern line, the dialects of Ajaccio (retroflex ''-dd-'', realized as -''ghj''-, feminine plurals ending in ''i'', some Northern words like ''cane'' and ''accattà'' instead of ''ghjacaru'' and ''cumprà'', as well as ''ellu''/''ella'' and not ''eddu''/''edda''; minor variations: ''sabbatu'' > ''sabbitu'', ''u li dà'' > ''ghi lu dà''; final syllables often stressed and truncated: ''marinari'' > ''marinà'', > ''panattè'', ''castellu'' > ''castè'', ''cuchjari'' > ''cuchjà''), the Gravona
(which would be classified as Southern, but is also noted for its typical rhotacism: ''Basterga'') and Solenzara, which did not preserve the Latin short vowels: ''seccu'', ''peru'', ''rossu'', ''croci'', ''pozzu'').
The Southern Corsican macro variety (''Suttanacciu'', ''Suttanu'', ''Pumontincu'' or ''Oltramontano'') is the most archaic and conservative group, spoken in the districts of Sartène and Porto-Vecchio. Unlike the Northern varieties and similarly to Sardinian, the group retains the distinction of the Latin short vowels ''ĭ'' and ''ŭ'' (e.g. ''pilu'', ''bucca''). It is also strongly marked by the presence of the voiced retroflex stop
, like Sicilian (e.g. ''aceddu'', ''beddu'', ''quiddu'', ''ziteddu'', ''famidda''), and the conditional tense formed in ''-ìa'' (e.g. ''(idda) amarìa'' "she would love"). All the ''Oltramontani'' dialects are from an area located to the South of Porticcio, Bastelica
, Col di Verde and Solenzara. Notable dialects are those from around Taravo
(retroflex -''dd''- only for historical : ''frateddu'', ''suredda'', ''beddu''; preservation of the palatal lateral approximant
: ''piglià'', ''famiglia'', ''figliolu'', ; does not preserve the Latin short vowels: ''seccu'', ''peru'', ''rossu'', ''croci'', ''pozzu''), Sartène (preserving the Latin short vowels: ''siccu'', ''piru'', ''russu'', ''cruci'', ''puzzu''; changing historical ''-rn-'' to ''-rr-'': ''forru'', ''carri'', ''corru''; substituting the stop for the palatal lateral approximant: ''piddà'', ''famidda'', ''fiddolu'', ''voddu''; imperfect tense like ''cantàvami'', ''cantàvani''; masculine plurals ending in ''a'': ''l'ochja'', ''i poma''; having ''eddu/edda/eddi'' as personal pronouns), the Alta Rocca (the most conservative area in Corsica, being very close to the varieties spoken in Northern Sardinia), and the Southern region located between the hinterlands of Porto-Vecchio and Bonifacio (masculine singulars always ending in ''u'': ''fiumu'', ''paesu'', ''patronu''; masculine plurals always ending in ''a'': ''i letta'', ''i solda'', ''i ponta'', ''i foca'', ''i mura'', ''i loca'', ''i balcona''; imperfect tense like ''cantàiami'', ''cantàiani'').
The Gallurese variety is spoken in the extreme north of Sardinia
, including the region of Gallura
and the archipelago of La Maddalena
, and Sassarese
is spoken in Sassari
and in its neighbourhood, in the northwest of Sardinia
. Their geographical position in Sardinia has been theorised to be the result of successive migration waves from Tuscany and the already tuscanized Corsica, whose settlers had slowly displaced the Sardinian varieties spoken therein.
Although they both belong to the Italo-Dalmatian family, like Corsican but not Sardinian, it has long been a subject of debate whether the two should be included as dialects either in Corsican or in Sardinian or, in light of their historical development, considered independent languages. A classification has been proposed that they should all be placed in a single category, Southern Romance
, but such proposal has not garnered universal support among linguists.
On the Maddalena archipelago
, which was culturally Corsican but had been annexed to the Savoyard Kingdom of Sardinia
a short while before Corsica was ceded by Genoa
to France in 1767, the local dialect (called ''isulanu'' or ''maddaleninu'') was brought by fishermen and shepherds from Bonifacio over a long period of immigration in the 17th and 18th centuries. Though influenced by Gallurese, it has maintained the original characteristics of Southern Corsican. In the dialect of ''maddalenino'', as it is known in Italian, there are also numerous words of Genoese
On October 14, 1997, Article 2 Item 4 of Law Number 26 of the Autonomous Region of Sardinia granted "''al dialetto sassarese e a quello gallurese''" equal legal status with the other languages on Sardinia
. They are thus legally defined as different languages from Sardinian
by the Sardinian government.
Number of speakers
The January 2007 estimated population of Corsica was 281,000, whereas the figure for the March 1999 census, when most of the studies—though not the linguistic survey work referenced in this article—were performed, was about 261,000 (see under Corsica
). Only a fraction of the population at either time spoke Corsican with any fluency.
The use of Corsican language over French language has been declining. In 1980 about 70 percent of the population of the island "had some command of the Corsican language." In 1990 out of a total population of about 254,000 the percentage had declined to 50 percent, with only 10 percent using it as a first language.
[ (These figures do not count varieties of Corsican spoken in Sardinia.) The language appeared to be in serious decline when the French government reversed its unsupportive stand and initiated some strong measures to save it.
According to an official survey run on behalf of the ''Collectivité territoriale de Corse'' which took place in April 2013, in Corsica the Corsican language has a number of speakers between 86,800 and 130,200, out of a total population amounting to 309,693 inhabitants.] Only 28% of the overall population is able to speak Corsican well, whilst an additional 14% has a capacity to speak it "quite well". The percentage of those who have a solid oral understanding of the language varies between a minimum of 25 percent in the 25–34 age group and the maximum of 65 percent in the over-65 age group: almost a quarter of the former age group does not understand Corsican, while only a small minority of the older people do not understand it. [ While 32 percent of the population of northern Corsica speaks Corsican quite well, this percentage drops to 22 percent for South Corsica.] [ Moreover, 10 percent of the population of Corsica speaks only French, while 62 percent speak both French and at least some Corsican.] [ However, only 8 percent of the Corsicans know how to write correctly in Corsican, while about 60 percent of the population does not know how to write in Corsican.] [ While 90 percent of the population is in favor of a Corsican-French bilingualism, 3 percent would like to have Corsican as the only official language in the island, and 7 percent would prefer French in this role.] [
UNESCO classifies Corsican as a "definitely endangered language." The Corsican language is a key vehicle for Corsican culture, which is notably rich in proverbs and in polyphonic song.
287px|Bilingual road-signs, with the official (IGN) names (often with their roots in Italian) being crossed out by some local nationalists.
When the French Assembly passed the Deixonne Law in 1951, which made it possible for regional languages to be taught at school, Alsatian, Flemish and Corsican were not included on the ground of being classified as ''dialectes allogènes'' of German, Dutch and Italian respectively, i.e. dialects of foreign languages and not languages in themselves. Only in 1974 were they too politically recognized as regional languages for their teaching on a voluntary basis.
The 1991 "Joxe Statute", in setting up the Collectivité Territoriale de Corse, also provided for the Corsican Assembly, and charged it with developing a plan for the optional teaching of Corsican. The University of Corsica Pasquale Paoli at Corte, Haute-Corse took a central role in the planning.
At the primary school level Corsican is taught up to a fixed number of hours per week (three in the year 2000) and is a voluntary subject at the secondary school level, but is required at the University of Corsica. It is available through adult education. It can be spoken in court or in the conduct of other government business if the officials concerned speak it. The Cultural Council of the Corsican Assembly advocates for its use, for example, on public signs.
According to the anthropologist Dumenica Verdoni, writing new literature in modern Corsican, known as the ''Riacquistu'', is an integral part of affirming Corsican identity. Some individuals have returned from careers in continental France to write in Corsican, including Dumenicu Togniotti, director of the ''Teatru Paisanu'', which produced polyphonic musicals, 1973–1982, followed in 1980 by Michel Raffaelli's ''Teatru di a Testa Mora'', and Saveriu Valentini's ''Teatru Cupabbia'' in 1984. Modern prose writers include Alanu di Meglio, Ghjacumu Fusina, Lucia Santucci, and Marcu Biancarelli.
There were writers working in Corsican in the 1700s and 1800s.
Ferdinand Gregorovius, a 19th-century traveller and enthusiast of Corsican culture, reported that the preferred form of the literary tradition of his time was the ''vocero'', a type of polyphonic ballad originating from funeral obsequies. These laments were similar in form to the chorales of Greek drama except that the leader could improvise. Some performers were noted at this, such as the 1700s Mariola della Piazzole and Clorinda Franseschi. However, the trail of written popular literature of known date in Corsican currently goes no further back than the 17th century. An undated corpus of proverbs from communes may well precede it (see under ''External links'' below). Corsican has also left a trail of legal documents ending in the late 12th century. At that time the monasteries held considerable land on Corsica and many of the churchmen were notaries.
Between 1200 and 1425 the monastery of Gorgona, which belonged to the Order of Saint Benedict for much of that time and was in the territory of Pisa, acquired about 40 legal papers of various sorts related to Corsica. As the church was replacing Pisan prelates with Corsican ones there, the legal language shows a transition from entirely Latin through partially Latin and partially Corsican to entirely Corsican. The first known surviving document containing some Corsican is a bill of sale from Patrimonio dated to 1220. These documents were moved to Pisa before the monastery closed its doors and were published there. Research into earlier evidence of Corsican is ongoing.
Alphabet and spelling
Corsican is written in the standard Latin script, using 21 of the letters for native words. The letters j, k, w, x, and y are found only in foreign names and French vocabulary. The digraphs and trigraphs ''chj'', ''ghj'', ''sc'' and ''sg'' are also defined as "letters" of the alphabet in its modern scholarly form (compare the presence of ''ch'' or ''ll'' in the old Spanish alphabet) and appear respectively after ''c'', ''g'' and ''s''.
The primary diacritic used is the grave accent, indicating word stress when it is not penultimate. In scholarly contexts, disyllables may be distinguished from diphthongs by use of the diaeresis on the former vowel (as in Italian and distinct from French and English). In older writing, the acute accent is sometimes found on stressed , the circumflex on stressed , indicating respectively () and () phonemes.
Corsican has been regarded as a dialect of Italian historically, similar to the Romance lects developed on the Italian peninsula, and in writing, it also resembles Italian (with the generalised substitution of -''u'' for final -''o'' and the articles ''u'' and ''a'' for ''il/lo'' and ''la'' respectively; however, both the dialect of Cap Corse and Gallurese retain the original articles ''lu'' and ''la''). On the other hand, the phonemes of the modern Corsican dialects have undergone complex and sometimes irregular phenomena depending on phonological context, so the pronunciation of the language for foreigners familiar with other Romance languages is not straightforward.
As in Italian, the grapheme appears in some digraphs and trigraphs in which it does not represent the phonemic vowel. All vowels are pronounced except in a few well-defined instances. is not pronounced between and : ''sciarpa'' ; or initially in some words: ''istu'' .
Vowels may be nasalized before (which is assimilated to before or ) and the palatal nasal consonant represented by . The nasal vowels are represented by the vowel plus , or . The combination is a digraph or trigraph indicating the nasalized vowel. The consonant is pronounced in weakened form. The same combination of letters might not be the digraph or trigraph but might be just the non-nasal vowel followed by the consonant at full weight. The speaker must know the difference. Example of nasal: is pronounced and not .
The Northern and central dialects in the vicinity of the Taravo river adopt the Italian seven-vowel system, whereas all the Southern ones around the so-called "archaic zone" with its centre being the town of Sartène (including the Gallurese dialect spoken in Northern Sardinia) resort to a five-vowel system without length differentiation, like Sardinian.
The vowel inventory, or collection of phonemic vowels (and the major allophones), transcribed in IPA symbols, is:
Sample of text
* Corsican Wikipedia
* Gallurese dialect
* Languages of France
* Sassarese language
Corsican language, alphabet and pronunciation
Category:Dialects of Italian
Category:Languages of France
Category:Languages of Sardinia