PRIMIS - Considerations on the protection of linguistic minorities


Thinking of a minority language means, at a first approach, referring to the condition shared by a group of speakers who express themselves in a context of numerical inferiority compared to a general situation. A condition far from unusual until a hundred years ago, when the mere lack of a road, or the sometimes even temporary impracticability of a path, allowed a community to remain isolated, thus preserving the original characters of its own language.

Which would also be of little significance in itself, if it were not that around these "linguistic characters" traditions, legal practices, customs and ultimately sensitivities were consolidated which ended up generating in each place characters whose strength still places.

Then that this language - but the speech also applies to dialects - is not "less important" than the national language, the specialists of the subject know well. In Italy, for example, for some time we have acquired the idea that it is wrong to consider the dialect degradation of Italian, while it is more correct to see both one and the other (Italian and dialects) as the outcome of a wider "corruption" of the Latin. And the fact that Latin, of strong Indo-European matrix, is not the only honourable ancestor of today's speakers between Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Slovenia is well known to Ladins and Friulian speakers, who express themselves using languages (today) of minority who had a common ancestor in the Rhaeto-Romance, whose origin they have been trying to understand for many years.

The situation is paradoxical: on one hand we have laws that protect the specificities of minority languages, and on the other we have gained a clear awareness that, basically, the story of languages and dialects is common to that of two large groups of degenerate brothers grown under the grim but helpless gaze of two elderly parents.

As said over the years, the “enlightened” legislator intervened at various levels to straighten at least the older of these brothers, the only ones who eventually had the dignity of being called a language! Let's talk about Friulian (the Regional Laws 29/2007 and 4/2001 approved by the Legislative Assembly of Friuli Venezia Giulia) and in addition to it the Ladin and Cimber (which, in turn, the Regional Council of Veneto has protected with Regional Laws 73/1994 and 8/2007). But the State did the same with National Law 482/1999 "Rules on the protection of historical linguistic minorities" on the basis of the principles of the “European Charter of regional or minority languages", concluded in Strasbourg on the 5th of November 1992 and signed by the Italy only a few months after the approval of its law.

All the aforementioned legal rules, proposing tools for the conservation and protection of languages, start from the correct assumption that we are not dealing with an original language which then became corrupted over time, but with individuality defended jealously by the speaker, also through tools that the institutions provide. Projects like PRIMIS do more: they try to highlight the concrete evidence, both material and immaterial, of these ancient presences to save minority languages from the desuetude, antechamber of oblivion.

But defended by whom? Of course, from the reign of the triumphant English who has the language of computers as modern vectors and - with them - everything that can move can bring the different lifestyles and habits of the century. Think of one of the oldest manifestations of the Italian vernacular, the Veronese riddle of the IX century: Se pareba boves, alba pratalia araba,  albo versorio teneba, negro semen seminaba (trans. In front of him (he) led oxen, White fields (he) plowed, A white plow (he) held, A black seed (he) sowed). The word versorio indicates the versor, that part of the plow that shatters the earth cut by the plow, a concept that would be a villain to explain for example to my poor grandfather, but that today, after twelve hundred years of honoured career, has followed the inexorable events of his life, and after birth in the fertile plains of the Tigris and Euphrates he inevitably died and buried by new agricultural machinery. The theme is precisely this: it is not the trivialization of Italian or the boldness of English that makes the ancient minority languages retreat, but, ultimately, that concept that Flaubert expressed roughly so: as a young man everything is alive and new, from old the heart becomes a necropolis.