Ligurian (ISO 639-3: lij), also known as Genoese (zenéize in Ligurian), is a romance language mainly spoken in Liguria (the Italian region in the north-west of the peninsula) but also in other surrounding areas (Southern Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna and Lombardy) as well as in France (Bonifacio in Corsica, Alps Maritimes), Monaco (where it is an official national language), in the village of Calassetta and the San Pietro Island in Sardinia, and in the neighborhood of La Boca in Argentina.
Currently, it is estimated that the language has around 450.000 speakers. However, it is important to clarify that the term “Ligurian Language” has recently been adopted to designate the denomination of this regional speech. Traditionally, it was called Genoese and it meant a system of dialects coming from the Ligurian area and its surroundings, since there are still a high number of variants. In fact, the Genoese is the best known because it has a solid and consistent literary tradition, and it had indeed been used for public ends in the past.
Officially, the Ligurian can be considered a minority language according to the European Charter of Regional or Minority Languages which in the first article states that “regional or minority languages means languages that are traditionally used within a given territory of a State by nationals of that State who form a group numerically smaller than the rest of the State’s population; and different from the official language(s) of that State”. Regarding the official status of the language in Italy, Ligurian is not even considered. The Italian legislation on the safeguard of minority historic languages states in the second article that “In implementation of Article 6 of the Constitution and in harmony with the general principles established by the European and international bodies, the Republic protects the language and culture of the Albanian, Catalan, German, Greek, Slovenian and Croatian populations and those speaking French, Franco-Provençal, Friulian, Ladin, Occitan and Sardinian”. Is therefore clear that the Italian Republic does not recognize the existence of Ligurian, on the contrary considers it a dialect.
According to the UNESCO Atlas of the world’s languages in danger which classifies the languages depending on the degree of endangerment, Ligurian is “definitely endangered” meaning that children no longer learn the language as mother tongue in the home. On the other hand, Ethnologue considers the status of Ligurian as “developing”, what means that the language is in vigorous use, with literature in a standardized form being used by some though this is not yet widespread or sustainable. The Language, thus, is in the initial stage of development.
Our impression, as Genoese, is that Ligurian is worryingly in process of disappearing. Although is still spoken mainly by elder population, young people (under 35 years old) doesn’t learn the language anymore, and usually adults (from 35 years old to 60) no longer use it as a vehicular language although most of them know it. Likewise, the massive immigration movements coming from southern Italy made contributed to increase the percentage of non-speakers and consolidate the Italian as the unique spoken and written language. Moreover, the current public use of the language is almost nonexistent, meaning that neither the media nor the public administration have adopted it as a means of communication. Another important fact to take into consideration is the insufficient impact that the few existing associations which promote the defense and use of the language generate. However, despite the discouraging situation, we are able to affirm that there is a will from the youngest generation to support initiatives that promote the use of the Ligurian language. A fact that suggests that far from being dead, Ligurian is still alive.
[Description delivered by the Ligurian community for the Language Fair]