Monday, 21 November 2022

Exploring Croatian - A Brief History of the Istro-Venetian Language

November the 21st, 2022 - Delving further into the intricacies of the Croatian language, and veering away from standard Croatian as we know it today, let's look at another lesser spoken tongue - Istro-Venetian language.

We've looked into the main three dialects that make up modern standard Croatian as we know it today - Shtokavian, Chakavian and Kajkavian (as well as Northwestern Kajkavian), as well as some old and almost forgotten Dalmatian words, the Dubrovnik subdialect (Ragusan), and some dialects and languages which are so sparsely spoken today that they barely exist anymore. These include the Istriot language from parts of the Istrian peninsula, and of course Zaratin, once widely spoken in the Zadar area. All this clearly tells us that the Croatian language goes far beyond what most people know it as, and it has a history that is as varied as it is deep.

So, what about the mysterious Istro-Venetian language? The name might give it away, especially if you're familiar with the somewhat complicated history between Italy, Venice and the Istrian peninsula. This language which is often also called the Istrovenetic language, is heavily influenced by Venetian.

Istro-Venetian shares a common basic lexicon and language structure as other languages within the wider ''family'', but what makes the Istro-Venetian language interesting is that it is not only the most widespread (by far) of the so-called Istro-Romanic idioms still spoken today, but that it also occurs on both sides of the modern Croatian-Slovenian border. Both of these languages (the Croatian and the neighbouring Slovenian ''version'') ​​are classified within the wider Venetian dialectal diasystem despite having a few slight differences.

If you know anything about the formerly mighty Venice and its constant expansion and extensive trade networks (you'll know a lot about this if you've ever studied the former Dubrovnik Republic), you'll know that it took not only its culture and style of architecture with it, but its language too. This was to the detriment of both Romance and Slavic languages which once reigned strong in the areas in which Venetian influence took hold. The saga is no different for the Istro-Venetian language, and its history begins with the arrival and expansion of Venetian rule across the what is the modern day Croatian Istrian peninsula.

With the ever-strengthening presence of all things Venetian across much of the Croatian coast, particularly down in Dalmatia, the Istro-Venetian language took hold and prevailed very well across urban areas, and the Republic of Venice contributed to this consolidation when it controlled most of the Istrian peninsula after around 1420.

Today, the Istro-Venetian language is primarily preserved among bilingual native Istrians, most of whom are older individuals who number approximately 25,000-30,000 people. Unlike Zaratin, which you'd be extremely unlikely to hear used at all anymore and which nosedived after the Second World War, these 30,000 people do continue to use Istro-Venetian in addition to their mother tongue.

The initial linguistic ''venetisation'' of Istria took place between the 10th and the 15th centuries, and Venetian was the official language of the administration, which is logical given the ruling body at the time. The rest of the phases rolled out with the process coming to a natural end with the end of Venetian rule in Istria in the 1800s. Despite the end of an era having occurred as far as Venice was concerned, Istrian languages (of which there are several, including Istriot) prevailed. For some lesser spoken dialects and subdialects, the passage of time unfortunately sealed their demise, but for some, such as the Istro-Venetian language, that wasn't the case.

As stated, by the 1800s, the clock had started ticking for the once mighty Venice and it weakened as a state and a ruling body in both political and economic power and influence, and a natural consequence of that came in the form of culture and language, too.

As time passed, one important linguistic period was the one which was marked by the contact of Trieste (Italy), which had gained in power and influence as a free port following Venice's weakening, and the existing Istro-Venetian language, Croatian and Slovenian languages ​​spoken across Istria came into much deeper contact as a result. The economic expansion of that time created an extremely abundant flow of goods, people and information throughout Istria, and communication was largely dialectal. Owing to that, a relatively large part of the former Romance language continuum was restored across a lot of Western Istria. Due to the bilingualism of the original speakers of Croatian and neighbouring Slovenian, the number of speakers of what had then come to be the Istro-Venetian language gradually increased.

While nowhere near as well known as some other dialects, subdialects and languages (as some linguists and other experts argue many of them to be), the Istro-Venetian language has had a lot of efforts put into preserving it for generations of Istrians yet to come. Since back in 2012, the Festival of the Istro-Venetian Dialect (Festival dell'Istroveneto), an international cultural manifestation dedicated to the protection, evaluation and promotion of the Istrovenetic dialect, has been held in the picturesque Istrian town of Buje.

Buje is of course the ideal location for such a festival, being located in the western part of the Istrian peninsula, where the Istro-Venetian language has arguably remained the strongest, and because this hilltop town is known as the sentinel of Istria. Buje was part of the Venetian Republic from 1358 until 1797, with a high number of people identifying as Italian still living there to this very day.

For more on the Croatian language, dialects and subdialects, make sure to check out our dedicated lifestyle section.

Monday, 7 November 2022

Dalmatian-Venetian Languages - A Brief History of the Zaratin Dialect

November the 7th, 2022 - Have you ever heard of the Zaratin dialect (Zaratinski dijalekt)? Unless you're a linguist or you just happen to be from the part of the wider Zadar area which spoke it, it isn't likely.

For such a small country geographically speaking, there are so many dialects, subdialects and even ways of speech which border on a language of their own spoken across Croatia. There are words specific not only to certain areas, but in many cases to specific islands, and in some cases, to specific places on those same specific islands. Having looked into the main dialects which make up the standard Croatian language as we know it today, Shtokavian, Kajkavian and Chakavian, as well as old Dalmatian and Ragusan (the Dubrovnik subdialect), let's get a little bit more obscure and delve a little into the Zaratin dialect from Zadar (or should I say Zara, given that we're talking about the Venetians).

The Zaratin dialect came to be from mixing Venetian speech with both the Croatian and Jadertine languages and was used by Italians from Zadar for centuries. The horrors which played out across Europe during World War Two are often blamed for kickstarting the beginning of the end for the Zaratin dialect, more specifically the bombing of the City of Zadar.

This tragic event saw a huge number of Zadar locals leave this part of Dalmatia and seek refuge and better lives elsewhere. Most of those people were actually Italians from Zadar who spoke in the Zaratin dialect, and censuses taken during the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth show that a significant number of locals living in Zadar spoke in the Zaratin dialect (then listed as Italian for all intents and purposes) - over 60 percent to be more precise.

There were of course other dialects spoken in Zadar, most of which were heavily influenced by the Venetians and as such their language. As stated, up until the outbreak of the Second World War, the Italian influence in Zadar was strong and ethnic Italians living in Zadar were numerous, and as such their various ways of speaking. Following the bombing of Zadar and the aforementioned exodus of around 20,000 or so Italian Zadar residents, the Zaratin dialect (and others) suffered a decline in the amount of people left there who spoke it. The tragedy for this dialect didn't stop there, as Italian property was either handed over to relatives or confiscated by the state in Yugoslavia, and the ethnic Croatian influence began to grow, replacing the traces of the ethnic Italians from Zadar.

By the time the war ended and the 1950s rolled around, a heavily damaged Zadar was reconstructed by Croats, and the standard Croatian language began to gain a stronghold. The demise of the Zaratin dialect was then in full force. In this day and age, with many local dialects and subdialects across the Republic of Croatia unfortunately dying with the very last generations to speak them, very few elderly people in Zadar still speak in the Zaratin dialect and have it as their mother tongue.

While not all of them spoke in just the Zaratin dialect, the Dalmatian Italians were once a fundamental part of the way life was woven in Zadar and across the rest of Dalmatia, and it seems that even today the true amount of Italian Dalmatians is unclear, with just a few hundred individuals declaring themselves ethnic Italians in official censuses. It has been more or less accepted that the census carried out in Croatia back in 2001 underestimated the sheer number of Italian Dalmatians there are, as many people simply chose not to express their actual ethnic identity for a variety of reasons, from disputes over property ownership rights to not having adequate representation or protection as a minority.

Today, there are numerous Dalmatian Italian Associations, and the one in Zadar is called the Italian Community of Zadar (Comunita Italiana di Zara), which boasts 500 members and was founded back in 1991. It is responsible for launching the first Italian courses after Italian schools were all shut down in 1953.

If you want to hear the Zaratin dialect, one song which was once very popular and is worth listening to is El muto zaratin (Zadarski mulac), written back at the end of the nineteenth century by Luigi Bauch.

For more on Croatian language and history, make sure to keep up with our dedicated lifestyle section.

Monday, 31 October 2022

The Croatian Language Explored - The Čakavian Dialect

October the 31st, 2022 - We've delved into the histories and words of old Dalmatian, the Dubrovnik subdialect, the Zagreb dialect, and we've also explored swearing in the Croatian language. Now let's take a look at another of the main dialects, Čakavian.

Čakavian is one of the three main dialects from which standard Croatian language as we now know it is made up, along with Štokavian and Kajkavian, which we've looked into in two of the aforementioned articles. The Čakavian dialect isn't as obscure as many of the dialects spoken across this country, and it stands out from the crowd because it is deemed to have been the basis of the stylisation of the first publicly used standard Croatian language.

Opinions on just how this particular dialect of the Croatian language which is fairly widely spoken vary, so we'll have a quick dive into both the majority and the minority opinions. According to the dominant opinion held by some linguists, during Ottoman encroachment and invasion, there was a push of spoken dialects out towards the west, and those who spoke the Štokavian dialect fled to areas in which Čakavian was primarily spoken. This consisted of bits of the Dalmatian coast and most of the Dalmatian hinterland, as well as parts of Gorski Kotar and Lika, and on most of the islands north of the Peljesac Peninsula. It also included most of Istria and then inland, all the way to Karlovac.

According to the minority opinion, Čakavian developed from the Old Slavic language spoken by certain coastal Croats as a result of linguistic mixing of that language with the remnants of Romanised people who also influenced the language then spoken by the Croats, which caused the emergence of this dialect of the standard Croatian language. Supporters of this opinion also support the fact that there aren't really any collective Čakavian speakers located in the interior of the country except in very specific areas.

Dutch accentologist and linguist Willem Vermeer divided the Čakavian dialect, or in this case language, into three groups: Northwest, Central and Southeast Čakavian.

Glancing outside of the borders of modern Croatia, most Čakavian dialects are spoken in nearby Austria, followed by Slovakia and Hungary where the number of people who speak with this dialect is less. There is a lot more one could say about this history of this dialect of the Croatian language, with different experts having their own classifications and divisions. Vermeer was just one of them, with Iva Lukezic, another expert, having her own division of this way of speaking which is quite different to that of Vermeer as recently as 2012.

Instead of doing a deep dive into that, let's take a look at some Čakavian words with their standard Croatian and English translations. If you happen to have read any of the above-linked articles or know some old Dalmatian, Štokavian or Kajkavian, you'll more than likely recognise several:

Angurija - lubenica/water melon

Banjati se - to bathe or swim/kupati se

Ceno - jeftino/cheap

Delat - raditi/work

Farmacija - ljekarna/pharmacy

Gad - neotrovnica (zmija)/non-venomous snake

Harta - papir/paper

Infishan - zaljubljen/in love

Jadrit - jedriti/sail

Kalmat se - smiriti se/to calm down

Lesica - lisica/fox

Merlin - mrkva/carrot

Navada - navika ili obicaj/a habit or a custom

Oganj - vatra/fire

Pamidor - rajcica/tomato

Razjadit se - naljutiti se/to get angry

Sakamo - svugdje/everywhere

Tancat - plesati/to dance

Ulika - maslina/olive

Vakit - vikati/to shout

Vlasi - kosa/hair

Zrcalo - ogledalo/mirror


For more on the Croatian language, from swearing and extinct words to the histories and examples of different dialects, make sure to keep up with our dedicated lifestyle section.