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Ladins in Italy

  • Profile

    Ladin, a neo-Latin language related to Romansh, is spoken by approximately 30,000 people in the Abtei, Gröden, Fassatal, Ampezzo and Buchenstein valleys of the Dolomites and Cortina d’Ampezzo in the regions of Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto. The towns are more than 1,000 metres above sea level, and the valleys are separated from each other by high Dolomite passes.

    There are five dialects associated with each of the valleys.

    More than half of Ladin speakers are located in Bolzano province of Trentino-Alto Adige, with other Ladin-speaking communities in Trento and in the province of Belluno in Veneto.

    Traditionally, Ladins were farmers, foresters and craftsmen and women. From the beginning of the twentieth century, and especially after the Second World War, year-round tourism has become important on account of the unique landscape. Moreover, there are naturally various trades.

    Historical context

    The indigenous Rhaeto lived along the crest of the Alps from the source of the Donau to Adria from 8,000 BCE. In 15 BCE they were conquered by the Romans, and in the following centuries their language mixed with popular Latin, thus forming the Ladin language, a neo-Latin language such as, for example, French or Spanish. Migrations resulted in three Ladinian language areas, which still survive: Graubünden in Switzerland, Dolomite Ladinia, and Friul. In the fifth century CE the Ostrogoths conquered the region and in the seventh century it became part of the Holy Roman Empire. Around 1000 CE the area was divided into individual principalities. The area was ruled by the Austrian Hapsburgs from 1323 to 1797, when it came under French rule until 1801; then it reverted to Austria until the French occupied it again from 1809 to 1814. For the next 100 years the Ladin-speaking valleys were under Austrian rule. In 1919 they were given to Italy. In 1927 the Fascist government divided the Ladin valleys between the three provinces of South Tyrol, Trentino and Belluno to weaken resistance to Italian rule. In 1939 the government offered Ladins the opportunity to emigrate although Ladin was officially classified as an Italian dialect. This option was cancelled by the German occupation in 1943. In 1946 the area was returned to Italy against the wishes of the population.

    The 1947 Constitution recognizes the rights of minorities. In 1948 the Regional Autonomy Statute for the Trento/South Tyrol (Bolzano) accorded specific, and different, rights to the Ladins in the provinces of Bolzano and Trento. The Ladins of Belluno province in the region of Veneto were given no official status. The minority’s rights in Bolzano and Trento included the provision of the Ladin teaching in primary schools, Ladin place names and the enhancement of Ladin culture in general.

    The 1972 Autonomy Statute strengthened the legal protection of the Ladin minority in Bolzano and Trento. The Bolzano Ladins gained the right to proportional representation in public administration. In 1975 the regional authorities set up the Istitut Cultural Ladin in the Fassa valley of Trento province. The institute has a museum and library to promote the language and culture.

    The first organization for protecting Ladin culture, Naziun Ladina was set up in 1870. The Union di Ladins, established in 1914, set up various organizations including libraries, and took over the editing of the Usc di Ladins, which subsequently grew from a monthly into a highly regarded weekly. In 1976 the Istitut Ladin Micurà de Rü was established, named after the scholar Micurà de Rü wrote the first Ladin grammar in 1833. It publishes books and multimedia, and conducts language courses. In 1987 the Istitut Pedagogich Ladin was established in Bolzano to set standards and provide assessors for Ladin teaching in schools in Bolzano province. In 1983 the political party Union Autonomista Ladina (UAL) was founded and its leader Ezio Anesi became the first Ladin councillor at the Trento provincial government. In 1992 he was elected to the national parliament. The autonomist political party Ladins was launched in 1993 and gained two provincial government seats.

    The Ladin community was recognized in the 1999 Italian law on the means of protecting linguistic minorities. Further specific legislation to improve conditions for the Ladin minority was adopted by the Italian government in 1988 for Bolzano, in 1989 for Belluno (Veneto region), in December 1993 for Trento, and in 2001 for Bolzano, Trento and Vicenza (Veneto region).

    Current issues

    The Ladin community has uneven protection. The best provision is in Bolzano province, while Trento province has less, Belluno province less still, and Vicenza almost nothing. But Ladins in Bolzano also have to confront the German-speaking minority which has proved hostile. In general the provision for the Ladin minority is slowly improving.

    Although the language is officially recognized by the Veneto region for Belluno province, and in Vicenza province, and the community has the right to place names in Ladin, these rights remain largely symbolic. There is no Ladin used in public administration. Ladin is taught on a voluntary basis in nursery school in Belluno province. In primary schools in the Fodom and Anpezo districts some extra-curricular activities are organized in Ladin. The language is not offered at secondary level. In-service teacher training for Ladin began in these areas in 2000.

    Ladins have the right to a percentage of government posts in Bolzano province, but only around 4 per cent. Since 1989, Ladin has been an administrative language in the valleys of Badia and Gardena. In other areas of the province the administration mostly uses Ladin only when dealing with Ladin matters. The exception is election campaign literature, which is put out in German, Italian and Ladin. Ladins have the right to use their language in court proceedings but they must provide interpretation or translation at their own cost. As court documents and judgments are in Italian only, this right is rarely used.

    Ladin has been taught in schools in Bolzano province since 1948 and from 1972 it has been a language of instruction at nursery, primary and secondary levels. In the first year of primary school Ladin is a language of instruction with either German or Italian. From the second year the language of instruction is split evenly between Italian and German, 12 hours each, and Ladin is taught for two hours a week. Religion is taught in all three languages. This pattern is also followed at lower secondary school. Teachers must be able to speak all three languages and those with proficiency in Ladin are given priority in obtaining jobs at secondary level. In most upper secondary schools, when students specialize in certain subjects, Ladin is taught for one hour a week. There are Ladin upper secondary schools, but attendance is in decline because the range of subjects offered is less broad than in Italian or German schools. In vocational schools German is the language of instruction.

    The University of Bressanone/Brixen in Bolzano province has Ladin linguistic and literature courses. Its Faculty of Education Science, which trains nursery and primary school teachers, has its own Ladin department. The Frei Universität Bozen/Libera Università di Bolzano which opened in 1998, was set up mainly for the German-speaking minority and is outside the Italian state system but has financial support from the provincial and national governments. It offers teacher training in German, Italian and Ladin.

    Ladin language and literature courses are offered at the universities of Padua, Udine, Innsbrück, Salzburg and Zürich.

    Ladin has been an administrative language in the Fassa valley of Trento province since 1993. Six nursery schools in the valley use Ladin and Italian as equal languages of instruction. At primary and lower secondary school Ladin has been the teaching medium from the mid-1990s for one hour a week and it is taught as a subject for another two hours a week. There is no provision for Ladin in upper secondary education. In vocational education Italian is the language of instruction.

    The Trentino-Alto Adige region’s Istitut Cultural Ladin conducts research into the language and culture, publishes the results of this, some educational materials and the annual journal Mondo Latino. A new building for the institute’s museum, with conference and e-learning facilities, was opened in 2001. The museum has a network of other sites in the Fassa valley.

    The Istitut Ladin Micurà de Rü trains Ladin teachers for the Gardena and Badia valleys and provides adult education. It has published hundreds of books in the last three decades, including language and teaching books and books for children. It also provides CD-ROMs and online services. It publishes an annual journal Ladinia.

    In 1988 Professor Heinrich Schmid, a specialist from Zurich in Romance philology who had elaborated a standard form of Romansh for the Lia Rumanscha in Switzerland, set out the basis for a unified version of Dolomite Ladin on behalf of the Istitut Cultural Ladin and the Istitut Ladin Micurà de Rü. This gave rise to the SPELL project launched in 1994 to codify Ladin.

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