Lombard language

Lombard (native name lumbàart, lumbard or lombard, depending on the orthography; pronounced [lũˈbɑːrt] or [lomˈbart]) is a language[7] belonging to the Cisalpine or Gallo-Italic group, within the Romance languages.[8] It is a cluster of homogeneous varieties used by at least 3,500,000 native speakers in Northern Italy (most of Lombardy and some areas of neighbouring regions, notably the eastern side of Piedmont), Southern Switzerland (cantons of Ticino and Graubünden),[8] and Brazil (Botuverá, Santa Catarina).[9] The languages closest to Lombard are Franco-Provençal, French, Romansh, Occitan[10][11] and Piedmontese.[12]

lombard/lumbaart (WL)
lombard (EL)
Native toItaly, Switzerland, Brazil
South Tyrol
Santa Catarina
Native speakers
3.9 million (2002)[5]
Language codes
ISO 639-3lmo
Linguasphere51-AAA-oc & 51-AAA-od
Lombard-speaking areas in blue, with transition dialects between Lombard and Emilian in a lighter shade. The green line marks the passage from Western to Eastern varieties.


The most ancient linguistic substratum having left its mark on this language is that of the ancient Ligures.[13][14] Available information about this variety is extremely vague and limited.[13][14] This is in sharp contradistinction to the picture that can be drawn about the group which replaced the Ligures, the Celts.[15] Contributions from the Celts to local languages were self-evident, so that Lombard language is still classified as a Gallo-Romance language (from ancient Romans name for Celts, Gauls).[13]

Roman domination shaped dialects spoken in ancient Lombardy, such that lexicon and grammar of this language find their origin in the Latin language.[15] This influence was not yet homogeneous;[13] idioms of different areas were influenced by previous linguistic substrata and each area was marked by a stronger or weaker characterisation in comparison to Ligure or ancient Celtic languages.[13]

The Lombardic language left clear traces too, as it was the variety spoken by Longobards, a Germanic population which dominated a large section of Italy, including Lombardy, after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Lombardic had acted as a linguistic superstratum over Lombard, since the Longobards did not impose their language on the population. Lombardic left traces without Germanicising the local language, such that Lombard preserved its Romance nature.[16]


Lombard is considered a minority language, structurally separate from Italian, by Ethnologue and by the UNESCO Red Book on Endangered Languages. However, Italy and Switzerland do not recognize Lombard speakers as a linguistic minority. In Italy this is the same as for most other minority languages,[17] which are normally considered Italian dialects - despite the fact that they belong to different subgroups of the Romance language family, and their historical development is not derived from Italian.[18]


Historically, the vast majority of Lombards spoke only Lombard.[19] With the rise of Standard Italian throughout Italy and Switzerland, one is not likely to find wholly monolingual Lombard speakers, but a small minority may still be uncomfortable speaking the dominant Italian. Surveys in Italy find that all Lombard speakers also speak Italian, and their command of each of the two languages varies according to their geographical position as well as their socio-economic situation. The most reliable predictor was found to be the speaker's age: studies have found that young people are much less likely to speak Lombard as proficiently as their grandparents did.[20] In fact, in some areas, elderly people are more used to speaking Lombard rather than Italian, even though they know the latter as well as the former.


Lombard is from the Gallo-Italian languages, which share features with Gallo-Romance languages and other Western Romance languages[21].


The varieties of the Italian provinces of Milan, Varese, Como, Lecco, Lodi, Monza and Brianza, Pavia and Mantua belong to Western Lombard, and the ones of Bergamo, Brescia and Cremona are dialects of Eastern Lombard. All the varieties spoken in the Swiss areas (both in canton Ticino and canton Graubünden) are Western, and both Western and Eastern varieties are found in the Italian areas.

The varieties of the Alpine valleys of Valchiavenna and Valtellina (province of Sondrio) and upper-Valcamonica (province of Brescia) and the four Lombard valleys of the Swiss canton of Graubünden, although they have some peculiarities of their own and some traits in common with Eastern Lombard, should be considered Western. Also, dialects from the Piedmontese provinces of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola and Novara, the Valsesia valley (province of Vercelli), and the city of Tortona are closer to Western Lombard than to Piedmontese.


The Lombard variety with the oldest literary tradition (from the 13th century) is that of Milan, but now Milanese, the native Lombard variety of the area, has almost completely been superseded by Italian from the heavy influx of immigrants from other parts of Italy (especially Apulia, Sicily, and Campania) during the fast industrialization after the Second World War.

Ticinese is a comprehensive denomination for the Lombard varieties spoken in Swiss Canton Ticino (Tessin), and the Ticinese koiné is the Western Lombard koiné used by speakers of local dialects (particularly those diverging from the koiné itself) when they communicate with speakers of other Lombard dialects of Ticino, Grigioni, or Italian Lombardy. The koiné is similar to Milanese and the varieties of the neighbouring provinces on the Italian side of the border.

There is extant literature in other varieties of Lombard, for example La masséra da bé, a theatrical work in early Eastern Lombard, written by Galeazzo dagli Orzi (1492?) presumably in 1554.[22]


Standard Italian is widely used in Lombard-speaking areas. However, the status of Lombard is quite different in the Swiss and Italian areas, such that the Swiss areas have now become the real stronghold of Lombard.

In Switzerland

In the Swiss areas, the local Lombard varieties are generally better preserved and more vital than in Italy. No negative feelings are associated with the use of Lombard in everyday life, even with complete strangers. Some radio and television programmes, particularly comedies, are occasionally broadcast by the Swiss Italian-speaking broadcasting company in Lombard. Moreover, it is common for people from the street to answer in Lombard in spontaneous interviews. Even some television ads in Lombard have been reported. The major research institution working on Lombard dialects is located in Bellinzona, Switzerland (CDE - Centro di dialettologia e di etnografia, a governmental (cantonal) institution); there is no comparable institution in Italy. In December 2004, the CDE released a dictionary in five volumes, covering all the Lombard varieties spoken in the Swiss areas.[23]

In Italy

Today, in most urban areas of Italian Lombardy, people under 40 years old speak almost exclusively Italian in their daily lives because of schooling and television broadcasts in Italian. However, in periferic Lombardy (Valtellina, Lake Como, Bergamo, Brescia, Lodi), Lombard is still vital.

That is from a number of historical and social reasons: its usage has been historically discouraged by Italian politicians, probably as it was regarded as an obstacle to the attempt to create a 'national identity'.

Now, the political party most supportive of Lombard (and of the varieties of Northern Italy in general) is the Northern League (in the past, on the other hand, the leftist parties were the ones giving support to local varieties). Thus, speaking a dialect of some minority languages might be politically controversial in Italy.

A certain revival of the use of Lombard has been observed in the last decade, when the use of Lombard has become a way to express one's local identity and to distance oneself from Roman-oriented mainstream Italian culture. The popularity of modern artists singing their lyrics in some Lombard dialect (in Italian rock dialettale, the best-known of such artists being Davide Van de Sfroos) is also a relatively new but growing phenomenon involving both the Swiss and Italian areas.


The following tables show the sounds used in all dialects of Lombard.


Consonant phonemes[24]
Approximant Fricative Affricate Stop Nasal
Trill Central Lateral Voiced Voiceless Voiced Voiceless Voiced Voiceless
Bilabial b p m
Labiodental ʋ f
Dental d t
Alveolar r l z s d͡z t͡s n
Postalveolar ʒ ʃ d͡ʒ t͡ʃ
Palatal j (ʎ) ɲ
Velar w ɡ k

In Eastern Lombard, /dz/, /z/ and /ʒ/ are merged to [z], and /ts/, /s/ and /ʃ/ to [s]. The latter sound is often further debuccalized to [h].


Vowel phonemes[24]
Front Central Back
Unrounded Rounded
High i iː y yː u uː
Mid e eː ø øː o
ɛ ɔ
Low a aː

While in Western varieties vowel length is contrastive (e.g. Milanese andà "to go" vs andàa "gone"),[24] it is not in Eastern ones, that normally use short allophones.

When there are two repeating orthographic vowels that are separated by a dash, it is to avoid them being confused with the long vowel, such as a-a in ca-àl "horse".[24]

Western long /aː/ and short /ø/ tend to be back [ɑː] and lower [œ], respectively. /e/ and /ɛ/ may merge to [ɛ].

See also


  1. Minahan, James (2000). One Europe, many nations: a historical dictionary of European national groups. Westport.
  2. Moseley, Christopher (2007). Encyclopedia of the world's endangered languages. New York.
  3. Coluzzi, Paolo (2007). Minority language planning and micronationalism in Italy. Berne.
  4. Spoken in Botuverá, in Brazil, municipality established by Italian migrants coming from the valley between Treviglio and Crema. A thesis of Leiden University about Brasilian Bergamasque: .
  5. Lombard at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  6. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Lombard". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  7. "Documentation for ISO 639 identifier: LMO". Archived from the original on 2017-08-19. Identifier: LMO / Name: Lombard / Status: Active / Code set: 639-3 / Scope: Individual / Type: Living
  8. Jones, Mary C.; Soria, Claudia (2015). "Assessing the effect of official recognition on the vitality of endangered languages: a case of study from Italy". Policy and Planning for Endangered Languages. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 130. Archived from the original on 2017-04-21. Lombard (Lumbard, ISO 639-9 lmo) is a cluster of essentially homogeneous varieties (Tamburelli 2014: 9) belonging to the Gallo-Italic group. It is spoken in the Italian region of Lombardy, in the Novara province of Piedmont, and in Switzerland. Mutual intelligibility between speakers of Lombard and monolingual Italian speakers has been reported as very low (Tamburelli 2014). Although some Lombard varieties, Milanese in particular, enjoy a rather long and prestigious literary tradition, Lombard is now mostly used in informal domains. According to Ethnologue, Piedmontese and Lombard are spoken by between 1,600,000 and 2,000,000 speakers and around 3,500,000 speakers respectively. These are very high figures for languages that have never been recognised officially nor systematically taught in school
  9. Spoken in Botuverá, in Brazil, municipality established by Italian migrants coming from the valley between Treviglio and Crema. A thesis of Leiden University about Brasilian Bergamasque: .
  10. "Lombard". thefreedictionary.com. Retrieved 30 April 2018.
  11. https://www.thelocal.ch/20170302/18-interesting-facts-about-switzerlands-fourth-language-romansh
  12. Bonfadini, Giovanni. "lombardi, dialetti" [Lombard dialects]. Enciclopedia Treccani (in Italian).
  13. Agnoletto, p.120
  14. D'Ilario, p.28
  15. D'Ilario, p.29
  16. "Il milanese crogiuolo di tanti idiomi". Archived from the original on 2017-09-24.
  17. Coluzzi, P. (2004). Regional and Minority Languages in Italy. 'Marcator Working Papers', 14.
  18. von Wartburg, W. (1950). "Die Ausgliederung der romanischen Sprachräume", Bern, Francke.
  19. De Mauro, T. (1970) Storia linguistica dell'Italia unita (Second Edition), Laterza, Berkeley.
  20. 2006 report Archived 2010-07-04 at the Wayback Machine by the Italian institute for national statistics.(ISTAT)
  21. Tamburelli, M. and Brasca, L., 2017. Revisiting the classification of Gallo-Italic: a dialectometric approach. Digital Scholarship in the Humanities, 33(2), pp.442-455.
  22. Produzione e circolazione del libro a Brescia tra Quattro e Cinquecento: atti della seconda Giornata di studi "Libri e lettori a Brescia tra Medioevo ed età moderna" Valentina Grohovaz (Brescia, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore) 4 marzo 2004. Published by "Vita e Pensiero" in 2006, ISBN 88-343-1332-1, ISBN 978-88-343-1332-9 (Google Books).
  23. LSI Archived 2005-11-23 at the Wayback Machine, CDE, 2004
  24. Sanga, Glauco (1984). Dialettologia Lombarda (in Italian). University of Pavia. pp. 283–285.


  • Agnoletto, Attilio (1992). San Giorgio su Legnano - storia, società, ambiente. SBN IT\ICCU\CFI\0249761.
  • D'Ilario, Giorgio (2003). Dizionario legnanese. Artigianservice. SBN IT\ICCU\MIL\0625963.
  • Bernard Comrie, Stephen Matthews, Maria Polinsky (eds.), The Atlas of languages: the origin and development of languages throughout the world. New York 2003, Facts On File. p. 40.
  • Brevini, Franco - Lo stile lombardo: la tradizione letteraria da Bonvesin da la Riva a Franco Loi / Franco Brevini - Pantarei, Lugan - 1984 (Lombard style: literary tradition from Bonvesin da la Riva to Franco Loi )
  • Glauco Sanga: La lingua Lombarda, in Koiné in Italia, dalle origini al 500 (Koinés in Italy, from the origin to 1500), Lubrina publisher, Bèrghem.
  • Claudio Beretta: Letteratura dialettale milanese. Itinerario antologico-critico dalle origini ai nostri giorni - Hoepli, 2003.
  • G. Hull: "The linguistic Unity of Northern Italy and Rhaetia, PhD thesis, University of Sydney, 1982; published as The Linguistic Unity of Northern Italy and Rhaetia: Historical Grammar of the Padanian Language, 2 vols. Sydney: Beta Crucis Editions, 2017.
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  • Tamburelli, M. (2014). Uncovering the ‘hidden’ multilingualism of Europe: an Italian case study. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 35(3), 252-270.
  • NED Editori: I quatter Vangeli de Mattee, March, Luca E Gioann - 2002.
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