The first signs of that something different was going on in Venice was a street sign I saw which called a street “calle” which is exactly the same name as a street in Spain; a street in Italian (Florentine dialect) is “via”. I drew on my contact with the Catalan’s in Spain “Carrer” and neighbours Toulouse in France “Carriera” to point out sizeable differences, between the official language and the local dialect. Unlike the previous 2 visits to Venice I was not fluent in Spanish so this went undetected. As I got further into my stay I started listening and noticed a different sound and words that sounded more familiar to me. I asked a gondolier what he was speaking to the other gondoliers because it didn’t sound Italian. He told me it was Venetian; and Venetian was not a dialect of Italian, but it’s own language. That is when I started to investigate.
The receptionist at our hotel was listening to Cuban hip-hop, I made a suggestion as to another good Cuban hip-hop band. I then asked him about Venetian and then we started drawing differences between Italian and Venetian, which I noticed sometimes as similarities between Spanish. But these 2 places couldn’t be so far apart in the Latin speaking sphere. Venice is at the far east of the sphere and Spain at the far west.
Venice is a region of Italy that has had a prestigious history in days gone by. A former naval powerhouse and empire builder, Venice ruled much of the Adriatic Sea and westward toward the Middle East including parts of Greece. Venetian traders based in colonies like Constantinople such as Marco Polo were often known to travel to China on trade missions. Italy as a united country is a rather new invention, Venice being the far more dominant region of Italy could equally have been it’s capital.
So how do you define a language, and Venetian as a language? According to the capital Rome, they do not recognise Venetian as a language but a dialect of Italian. Usually languages are defined as the dialect of the capital or in Italy’s case the accepted dialect of the capital; Florentine Italian. Every other variation of that language in that country is considered a dialect. In Italy’s case every other variation is Latin.
To make it clear cut we’ll take France as an example. Neither Basque, Alsatian or Breton are dialects of French because they are not Latin dialects. Breton is celtic, and Alsatian a German dialect. However Occitan in the south is not either a dialect of French, but a language of it’s own closely, related to Spain’s Catalan.
Let’s draw a line in the sand in Italy. Linguists consider those languages north of Tuscany, starting at Emilia-Romagna as a group of different languages or maybe dialects, you be the judge. Those south of the line are considered dialects of Florentine Italian, but note that in Rome the Neapolitan dialect of the Naples region has official status as a language, even though it is a dialect of the southern Italian group, which includes Corsican in France.
If you look at the map below you see what is a language continuum of the Latin speaking world, which one should note that every region you get further away from the centre of the recognised language, the more diluted it gets. Also frontier dialects get further diluted by the adjacent languages. The yellow lines note a different group of dialects which have significant difference or limited similarity from their main recognised dialect in that country. Veneto the language of the Venetian people is quoted as having influences from their German and Slovenian speaking neighbours.
My only reference to similarities between the Veneto group was my friend Emilia-Romagna. Having learnt a little Italian I noticed the difference from Italian and similarity between Emiliano-Romagnol and Veneto. Whereas the words for fart and stink, are scorreggio and puzza respectively, so in the 2 dialects including Veneto say scoresa and spusa. In French it would be peter and puer, which shows that Veneto is not that far removed from Italian as is French. There are also names that are typical or show that you are from the Veneto region. Sartor (Veneto) the English surname for Taylor is common, in Italian this is Sarto. Given the height of the former Venetian empire many of these surnames can be found in islands in the Greek archipelago.
Strangely sometimes people who speak standard Italian, have often found they cannot understand Venetians speaking in dialect. On the other hand when non-intelligibility does happen, Spanish speakers often find they have a bigger advantage in deciphering the conversation. Personally, I sit on the fence with this one. There are so many similarities, that you could still consider it a dialect, but where do you draw the line in calling it a language. If you want to be picky then Portuguese would be a dialect of Spanish or vice-versa.