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Review of  The Friulian Language: Identity, Migration, Culture

Reviewer: Simone Mattiola
Book Title: The Friulian Language: Identity, Migration, Culture
Book Author: Rosa Mucignat
Publisher: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): Friulian
Language Family(ies): Romance
Issue Number: 26.535

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Review's Editor: Anthony Aristar


''The Friulian Language'' is a volume edited by Rosa Mucignat and published in 2014 by Cambridge Scholars Publishing. It consists of an introduction and four parts composed of ten chapters. The main aims of this book are two: first, to create a preliminary tool (in English) for linguists (or other experts) who want to know something about Friulian and, second, to collect a series of contributions from different fields (eg. linguistics, history, literature, etc.) that can show the characteristics of Friulian and the world related to it.

The introduction ''Friuli: A Small Homeland in the Age of Transnationalism'' by Rosa Mucignat begins with an explanation of Friulian language's classification (Rhaeto-Romance), geographic location (North-East Italy, Friuli-Venezia Giulia region) and a brief history from Roman age to the economic boom that characterized Italy after the Second World War. After that the editor presents the book and their parts.

Part I is titled ''History and Status'' and is composed of two chapters: the first one is on history and the second one is on law and language policies.

Chapter One ''History, Language and Society in Friuli (Thirty Years Later)'' by Fulvio Salimbeni is an overview of the history and social changes of Friuli from the pre-Roman age, through the earthquake of 1976 and until now. Salimbeni focuses in particular on the position of the Friulian during this period and on the influences of Germanic and Slavic worlds. This chapter is a brief revision and update of the book written by the author and Giuseppe Francescato in 1976 named ''Storia, lingua e società in Friuli'' (''History, language and society in Friuli'').

Chapter Two ''Laws for the Protection of the Friulian Language'' by William Cisilino shows the laws that protect the Friulian language. The author starts presenting the regional law 15/1996 that was promulgated by Friuli-Venezia Giulia and it was the first legislation for protecting and improving Friulian's status. Then, Cisilino focuses on national law 482/1999 ''Norme in materia di tutela delle minoranze linguistiche storiche'' (''Law governing the protection of historical linguistic minorities'') that defends twelve historical linguistic minorities in Italy (German, French, Slovene, Greek, Albanian, Catalan, Croatian, Ladin, Friulian, Sardinian, Franco-Provencal and Occitan) and then he describes in detail the regional law 29/2007 ''Norme per la tutela e la valorizzazione e promozione della lingua friulana'' (''Laws for the protection, valorisation and promotion of the Friulian language'').

Part II is titled ''Language and Culture'' and is composed of three chapters: the first one on phonology and morpho-syntax, the second one on the lexicon and the third one on women in the Friulian language and culture.

Chapter Three ''Friulian Linguistics'' by Paola Benincà deals with some linguistic peculiarities of Friulian. The authoress explains some important characteristics of Friulian language focusing on phonology (lengthening of tonic vowels and its connection with the diphthongization of tonic vowels in open syllables), morphology (the case of first person singular of the present indicative that unexpectedly ends in ''-i'' and the case of double-compound, or surcompsite, forms of past tenses) and (morpho)syntax and its diachrony (the syntax subject clitic pronouns' system and the related implicational scale).

Chapter Four ''The Friulian Lexicon'' by Carla Marcato shows the most important and characteristic lexemes of Friulian language (such as ''mandi'' and ''frut'' that mean respectively ''goodbye'' and ''child''). The author focuses on the diatopic variation and on the diachronic ''stratification'' that concerns these lexemes, pointing out the borrowings and the influences that during last centuries have characterized Friulian (in particular with Germanic and Slavonic languages, but even with Venetian).

Chapter Five ''The Feminine Gender in Friulian: Visibility and Commonplaces'' by Fabiana Fusco concentrates on the position of woman in the friulian (and italian) culture and society analyzing the language. The analysis concerns with the definitions of words such as ''man'' and ''woman'' that are reported by some lexicographic studies (particularly dictionaries) and Fusco shows us the ungenerous image that these volumes produce of women. In addition, this chapter includes some comments on the studies on ''women's language'' made by italian linguists during seventies: these scholars considered the language spoken by females a more marked and conservative variety compared to the one spoken by men.

Part III is titled ''Migration'' and is composed of three chapters: the first one is about migration of Friulians to Latin America, the second and the third ones are about mosaic workers in London and in Canada respectively.

Chapter Six ''Friulian Migration to Latin America: Linguistic Reflexes'' by Franco Finco focuses on the migration that characterized the nineteenth and twentieth centuries from Italy (in particular from South and North-East) to South America (Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay). The language (in this case Friulian) that was spoken by the migrants has undergone some changes (hybridisation, assimilation, etc.) caused by the contact with the autochthonous languages (Spanish and Portuguese). Furthermore, another interesting point is that the language that some descendants of these immigrants speak today shows some traits of the Friulian language that were spoken during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Chapter Seven '''In the Hands of Italians': Friulian Mosaic and Terrazzo Workers in London'' by Javier P. Grossutti analyzes a story that is almost completely unknown: the migration of mosaic and terrazzo workers from Friuli to Great Britain. During the last decades of nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century some artisans from Friuli (in particular from the small village of Spilimbergo) went to London via Paris to work at the construction of mosaic and terrazzo of important public buildings: Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Westminster Cathedral, the London Coliseum and the Science Museum. The author reconstructs this story studying archival texts and interviewing some descendants of these craftsmen.

Chapter Eight ''The Contribution of Friulians to Mosaic Work in Canada'' by Olga Zorzi Pugliese deals with a topic that is similar to the one of the previous chapter. In fact, the authoress focuses on the migration of the mosaic and terrazzo workers from Friuli to North America and in particular to Canada. Even in this case between nineteenth and twentieth centuries a lot of Friulian craftsmen emigrated to Canada exporting their art. In the first half of twentieth century, these businesses had considerable success, producing an increasing number of mosaic and terrazzo companies managed by Friulians.

Part IV is titled ''Literature'' and is composed of two chapters: the first one is about a novel of Pier Paolo Pasolini and the second one is on three poems written by three different poets on Tagliamento river.

Chapter Nine ''Language and Time in Pier Paolo Pasolini's 'Il sogno di una cosa''' by Rosa Mucignat is an analysis of one of the less famous novels, ''Il sogno di una cosa'' (''The Dream of Something''), written by one of the most important intellectuals of italian culture and literature: Pier Paolo Pasolini. The purpose of the authoress is to reconsider the importance of a novel that is often not appreciated by scholars. The plot tells about three young friends after the Second World War and the difficulties that they encounter as they try to realize their dreams and their aspirations in the post-war society. ''Il sogno di una cosa'' is written in italian, but takes place in Friuli and is the novel of Pasolini that is more influenced by friulian landscape and culture.

Chapter Ten ''Recent Friulian Poetry: Some Observations'' by Rienzo Pellegrini is the final chapter of the book. The author investigates the state of poetry in Friulian after Pasolini, often considered the founder with the publication in 1942 of ''Poesie a Casarsa'' (''Poetries in Casarsa''). In last sixty years there have been some important poets that used Friulian to write their verses; Pellegrini focuses on three different poets and their poetries on the same topic: Tagliamento river. The poems are: ''L'âga dal Tajamènt'' (''The Water of the Tagliamento'', 1969) by Siro Angeli, ''Tiliment'' (''Tagliamento'', 1987) by Amedeo Giacomini and ''La Grava'' (''The River Bed'', 2004) by Novella Cantarutti. The author shows that, despite the same topic, these verses each describe the river in a different way and give us a beautiful image of its riverside.


The main aim of ''The Friulian Language'' is to create a tool for beginners and for people who don't know anything about Friulian and so every chapter of the volume presents only introductory information. The book is a good contribution and shows several aspects of the Friulian language and the culture as it analyzes different subjects.

Obviously, this volume has some defects. For example, there is an important lack: in the volume there is no chapter that focuses on language planning (status, corpus, acquisition; cfr. Iannàccaro and Dell'Aquila 2004), on the status of Friulian today and on possible future scenarios.
Now let's analyze each chapter to discover some of specific lacks and defects, but also to underline some of the positive things.

Chapter One is very accurate and concise; Salimbeni tells us about the history of Friuli and Friulian from the earliest times to the present with scientific precision and gives us some important bibliographic references, such as Ascoli (1873) or Finzi, Magris and Miccoli (2002). If there is a flaw, it is that his contribution is too much in debt with the volume Francescato and Salimbeni (1976) about the history, language and society of Friuli.

One can form a different conclusion with regard to Chapter Two, which analyzes the legislative situation of Friulian and gives us a lot of information, perhaps even too much. In fact, this chapter is quite confused, approximate and superficial. There is little information on national law (L. n. 482/1999) or previous regional law (L.R. n. 15/1996); on the other hand there is considerable analysis of current regional law (L.R. n. 29/2007). The problem is that this analysis fills only few pages and so none of these information is explained properly. There are two consequences of this situation: first, the chapter is a mess of not exhaustive information; second, it is too technical and so does not conform to the introductory aim of the entire volume.

Chapter Three begins with a brief history and the explanation of some characteristics of Friulian linguistics. In the following paragraphs Benincà focuses on some different and precise characteristics of Friulian. Conversely, Chapter Two, analyzes only few traits of Friulian phonology, morphology and syntax, but the author shows us the complete situation related to these features. Benincà is clear and exhaustive in her explanation.

The chapter Four presents the Friulian lexicon. It is probably the best chapter of the volume because the author is extremely clear and shows us a good number of lexemes explaining their diatopic distribution and their stratification. The text is really well-written and stimulates the reader to continue the reading, in addition Marcato excites curiosity and makes interesting the information that she explains.

Chapter Five analyzes the situation and the image that women have in the Friulian world through the study of the language and in particular of lexicographical works. I think that the situation that the author describes is not completely accurate or at least is not longer so. Fusco studies the definition that some important dictionaries (eg. ''Nuovo Pirona'', 1992; that is a revision of the ''Vocabolario Friulano'', 1871 by Pirona) give of words such as ''man'' and ''woman'' and the related examples. Certainly, she is right: the definitions and the proverbs that these volumes used are sexist and represent women with a series of unhappy stereotypes. At the same time, the author de-contextualizes these sentences: in fact, most of them were written more or less between the 1850 and the 1950. The society of that period was undoubtedly sexist and was disrespectful towards women; there is a similar situation for works on ''woman’s language'' that Fusco mentions: they are almost all works and studies that was done in the sixties and seventies, before the feminist movement that in Italy took place around of 1977. This chapter is not inmaccurate, but is somehow misleading and at least ungenerous to the Friuli of today.

The chapter Six is about the modifications that the migration to South America created in Friulian language. These changes consist of hybridizations and assimilations due to the contact between two or more languages; another important point is that the Friulian that these people speak shows some archaic traits and these are due to the isolation that the language of migrants had from the Friulian spoken in Friuli. This chapter is well-written and is pleasant to read.

The chapters Seven and Eight have a really interesting topic: the migration of important craftsmen of mosaic and terrazzo from little villages of Friuli to important cities such as London (chapter Seven) or Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary and other Canadian cities. These topics are almost unknown and the two authors are really good at exciting the curiosity of readers and stimulating their interest. Probably, the only lack that there is in chapter Seven (but not in Eight) is that Grossuti decides to not show us images of the works to which he referred to in his contribution.

In chapter Nine, the author (that is also the editor of the volume) tries to reconsider the importance of a not appreciated novel of Pasolini, ''Il sogno di una cosa''. This is his only novel set in Friuli and is influenced by the Friulian language and culture. Mucignat realizes her aim and makes the reader interested in reading this novel.

Even chapter Ten is a good contribution and makes the reader aware that something beyond Pasolini's poetries exist in Friulian. Pellegrini shows that the Friulian language could be a good language for literature and he quotes really fantastic verses of almost unknown poets.

In conclusion, in my opinion this volume is undoubtedly a book that is pleasant to read. It represents a good starting point for the study of Friulian language and the fields that are related to it. In addition the volume fulfils an important function: it creates a tool about Friulian in English. The contributions are well-written, with few exceptions, and the authors explain the topics in a stimulating way. The writing is often clear and accurate: this makes the reading easy. The chapters on the lexicon by Marcato and the two chapters on mosaic and terrazzo craftsmen's migrations by Grossutti and Zorzi Pugliese are particularly valuable. It should be emphasized that every chapter gives a complete list of bibliographic references that the reader could use to deepen his understanding of a topic. In conclusion, the book is really valuable in particular for the multidisciplinary approach that is fundamental to comprehension of the world that a language encapsulates.


Ascoli, Graziadio Isaia. 1873. Saggi Ladini. Archivio Glottologico Italiano 1. 1-556.

Finzi, Roberto, Claudio Magris and Giovanni Miccoli (eds.). 2002. Storia d'Italia: Le regioni dall'Unità a oggi: Friuli-Venezia Giulia. 2 vols. Turin: Einaudi.

Francescato, Giuseppe and Fulvio Salimbeni. 1976. Storia, lingua e società in Friuli. Udine:Casamassima.

Frau, Giovanni (2002). Il ruolo dell'''Osservatorio regionale della lingua e della cultura friulane'' quale elemento di raccordo fra gli enti locali e la comunità scientifica. Plurilinguismo 9. 195-202.

Iannàccaro, Gabriele and Vittorio Dell'Aquila. 2004. La pianificazione linguistica: lingua, società e istituzioni. Roma: Carocci.

Orioles, Vincenzo (ed.). 2002. La legislazione nazionale sulle minoranze linguistiche: Problemi, Apllicazioni, Prospettive. Plurilinguismo 9 (Monographic Issue).

Strassoldo, Raimondo. 2002. Lingua, identità, autonomia: l'evoluzione della ''questione friulana'' dal 1945 ad oggi. Plurilinguismo 9. 179-194.
Simone Mattiola graduated in Linguistics at the University of Turin with a thesis in linguistic typology and african linguistics about the correlation of gender and number in Cushitic (Afroasiatic). Now, he is a PhD student at the Universities of Bergamo and Pavia (Italy). His reaserch concerns the study of pluractionality and related phenomena in the languages of the world with a typological approach. His main research interests are: linguistic typology, morphology (in particular Number, Gender and Case), african linguistics (mainly Semitic and Cushitic – Afroasiatic) and language planning (in particular of Ladin, Rhaetoromance).

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