The Language of Venice

The Language of Venice is unique, despite modern worldwide cultural influences, as it remains original and is used by all classes of society.  It should not be considered a mere local dialect, since during the Republican era, it was used in official documents and in a considerable body of literature.



The Language of Venice – Development

Venetians do not think of their language as a means of preserving their identity, as it still remains a natural way of communication by some inhabitants of the city, particularly amongst the older generation and some island communities.

Nowadays, amongst the younger generations Venetian is spoken, but more informally with often the odd word or phrase thrown in amongst the Italian.  Perhaps many will say that they understand it, but often don’t use it themselves.  The indigenous population is only just above 50,000 people, the vast majority of workers commute in daily from the mainland.  Much of their economy, depends on mass tourism.  Venice is an expensive and rather inconvenient place to live for most Italians.  The city’s educational and art facilities have a large international student population.  So, today’s Venice is a “melting pot” of people.

The language has developed over the centuries and has adapted to changing circumstances.

Mainland peoples first settling in the lagoon, before the invasions from the north and east; would have spoken a dialect of Greek, or close to it; reflecting their origins.  As the influence of Rome spread throughout the Italian peninsular, languages such as Celtic or Etruscan would have slowly died out, to be replaced by Latin.

The Venetians would have adopted the new language and modified it with Greek.  They also “latinised” some of their terms that were unique to them and not found in other parts of Italy.

There are also influences of words derived from French, Spanish and German.

Examples of words of Greek origin are: Piron (fork), carega (chair) from the words “carex or carice”, used to weave chairs.  Moleca (lion) literally meaning majesty, derived from the word “malacoseon”.  Androne (entrance hall) from “andrononos”  meaning house of man.

Eastern influences that came later, are evident in the use of letters “X” and “Z”.  Examples of words are Zecca (mint), derived from the Arabic word “sikka”, meaning die from which a coin was cast.   Arsenale (Arsenal) derives from “dar sinaa”, meaning a workshop where ships were built.



Mixing of language is evident throughout the Mediterranean and especially in regions where Venetians were influential.  Thus, the dialect was much used in seafaring and trading activities.

When Venetians and Genoese were trading in the Black Sea, Italian was the business language in some southern Russian ports.

In Istria and along the Dalmation coast, the indigenous population had to cope with Croatian on land and Venetian at sea.  In 1553, Gianvambattista Guistiniani, an inspector acting on behalf of the Republic, noted that in Damatia a “lingua franca” was spoken in the ports of Pirano, Zana, Sebenico and Lesina.

In Spalato (Split), he found that “everyone speaks the lingua franca, but the womenfolk don’t sparkle, unless they speak in their mother-tongue”.

Francesco Sansovino, son of the renowned architect, supported this view – “Regarding language, each youth (male) normally knew the Italian language and these inhabitants of Ragusa, call it Franca; but amongst themselves they use their own mother tongue…..They invite each year an excellent preacher, who preaches only to the men and this because they preach in Italian, the women don’t understand

The Venetian dialect has been recognised as a literary language: Venetian poets writing in dialect include, Leonardo Giustinian, Domenico Venier, Giorgio Baffo, Francesco Gritti and Piero Buratti.

Historical works include the famous diaries by Sanudo in the 16th century.  Thanks to the comedies of Carlo Goldini, Carlo Gozzi and Giacinto Gallina, the dialect is now part of the classic Italian literature.

Pronunciation of the dialect, has been described as having a monotonous musicality and a soft lively sound. In the authoritative mid-19th century document “Dizionario Moroni”, it was described as graceful, gentle, insinuating and rapid.  Romanin, in his “Storia Documentata di Venezia”, said its sweetness could be traced to its Ionic influences.

Ease of use and simplification, has been favoured in the Venetian, probably because of the historical blending of languages.

For example, it tends to avoid double consonants, such as “ss” or “tt”; found commonly in conventional Italian.  Thus, when something is broken; the Italian word “rotto“, becomes ”roto“.  They also like to modify the letter “L”, so that “bello” become “beo”.

Common Abbreviations.  Visitors to Venice quickly come across words such as “Ca”, short for “Casa”; meaning “house”, but  now translates to “palace”; as in the famous Ca D’Oro.

Suffixes such a “i”, “e” and “o”, tend to be dropped, which may be simply down to laziness.  Thus patrician names such as Vernier, Falier, or Badoer; sound somewhat not typically Italian.  In the 15th century, there was a Venetian born Queen of Cypress, named Caterina Cornara; other family members are known as “Corner”.

A quote from Jan Morris, a famous foreign resident; sums it up – “You may look, consulting your guide book, for the church of Santi Giovanni e Paulo, but the street sign may call it San Zanipolo……What the Venetians call San Stae, is really San Eustaccio……San Stin is Santo Stefano…… Sant’ Aponal is San Apollinare“.

Finally, probably the best-known Italian word for hello is “Ciao” (pronounced chow) which, confusingly, also means goodbye!  The word came from the Venetian dialect word “s’ciao” a shortened form of “Sono suo Schiavo” or I am your slave!

Certainly, the development of the Venetian language adds to the feel of the city’s uniqueness, its magical atmosphere and sense of place.


LINKS (externalinternal)

Why do Venetians speak their own language and not Italian? (

See my other related posts in the History of Venice category 


The Language of Venice     The Language of Venice     The Language of Venice

The Language of Venice     The Language of Venice     The Language of Venice

The Language of Venice     The Language of Venice     The Language of Venice


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