Friulian language explained

Script:Roman script
Agency:Osservatori Regjonâl de Lenghe e de Culture Furlanis

Friulian ( or affectionately marilenghe in Friulian, friulano in Italian) (also Eastern Ladin) is a Romance language belonging to the Rhaetian family, spoken in the Friuli region of northeastern Italy. Friulian has around 600,000 speakers, the vast majority of whom also speak Italian. It is sometimes called Eastern Ladin, since it shares the same roots as Ladin, although over the centuries it has diverged under the influence of surrounding languages, including German, Italian, Venetian, and Slovenian. Documents in Friulian are attested from the 11th century, and poetry and literature dating as far back as 1300. By the 20th century, there was a revival of interest in the language, which has continued to this day.


A question which causes many debates is the influence of the Latin spoken in Aquileia and surrounding areas. Some claim that it had peculiar features that later passed into Friulian. Epigraphs and inscriptions from that period show some variants if compared to the standard Latin language, but most of these are common to other areas of the Roman Empire; often it is cited the fact that Fortunatianus, bishop of Aquileia from 342 till circa 357, wrote a commentary to Gospel in sermo rusticus, that is in the language spoken by the people, which therefore should have been quite different from Standard Latin[2] . We don't know the language of the text, but it shows a shift between languages that didn't exist for example in other important communities of Northern Italy. The language spoken before the arrival of the Romans in 181 BC was of Celtic origin, since the inhabitants belonged to the Carni, a Celtic population. In modern Friulian the words of Celtic origins are few, while much influence of the original population is showed in toponyms (names of villages which end in -acco, -icco are an example). Even influences from Longobardic language —Friuli was one of their strongholds—are very few. From this evidence, scholars today agree that the formation of Friulian dates back to around 1000, at the same time as other dialects derived from Latin (see Vulgar Latin). The first written records of Friulian have been found in administrative acts of the 13th century, but these documents became more frequent in the following century, when literary works also emerged (Frammenti letterari for example). The main center at that time was Cividale. The Friulian language has never acquired official status: legal statutes were first written in Latin, then in Venetian, and finally in Italian.

Relationship with Ladin (La questione ladina)

The idea of a unity among Ladin, Romansh and Friulian comes from the Italian historical linguist Graziadio Isaia Ascoli, who was born in Gorizia. In 1871 he presented his theory that these three languages are part of one family, which in the past stretched from Switzerland to Muggia and perhaps also Istria. Today we can see only those three languages, isolated from one another, that evolved differently—in particular, Friulian was much less influenced by German. The scholar Francescato claimed subsequently that until the 14th century the Venetian language shared a good number of phonetic features with Friulian and Ladin; therefore he thought that Friulian was a much more conservative language. It is also interesting to note that before the arrival of the Romans, the border between Carni and Venetic populations was the river Liquentia (nowadays Livenza), which is still the border between Friulian and Venetian today. The most widely-held opinion is that these languages were part of a family but were split many centuries ago. Also, many features that Ascoli thought were peculiar to the Rhaeto-Romance languages can in fact be found in other languages of northern Italy.

The area of diffusion

In Italy

Today, Friulian is spoken in the province of Udine including the area of the Carnia Alps, but widely throughout the province of Pordenone, in half of the province of Gorizia, and in the eastern part of the province of Venice. In the past, the language borders were wider since also in Trieste and Muggia particular variants of Friulian were spoken—the main document about the dialect of Trieste, or tergestino, is "Dialoghi piacevoli in dialetto vernacolo triestino", published by G. Mainati in 1828.

In the world

Friuli was until the 1960s an area of deep poverty, causing a large number of Friulian speakers to emigrate. Most went to France, Belgium, and Switzerland or outside Europe, to Canada, Mexico, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, the United States, and South Africa. In these countries there are associations of Friulian immigrants (called Fogolâr furlan) who try to protect their traditions and language.


See main article: Friulian literature. The first texts in Friulian date back to the 13th century and are mainly commercial or juridical acts. We can see in these examples that Friulian was used together with Latin, which was still the administrative language. The prime examples of literature that have survived—much from this period has been lost—are poetry from the 14th century, which are mainly dedicated to the theme of love and were probably inspired by the Italian poetic movement Dolce Stil Novo. The most famous work is Piruç myò doç inculurit (which means "My sweet, coloured pear"), composed by an anonymous author from Cividale, probably in 1380.

Original textVersion in modern Friulian
Piruç myò doç inculuritquant yò chi viot, dut stoi arditPiruç gno dolç inculurîtcuant che jo ti viôt, o stoi dut ardît
There are few differences in the first two rows, which demonstrates that there has not been a great evolution in the language except for several words which are no longer used (for example, dum(n) lo, a word which means "child", which was used frequently in the past). A modern Friulian speaker can understand these texts with only a little difficulty.

The second important period for Friulian literature is the 16th century. The main author of this period was Ermes di Colorêt, who composed over 200 poems.

Famous poets and writers


Long vowels are typical of the Friulian language and this has a great influence also on Friulian pronunciation of Italian.

Friulian distinguishes between short and long vowels, e.g. in the following minimal pairs (long vowels are marked in the official orthography with a circumflex accent):

lat (milk)

lât (gone)

fis (fixed, dense)

fîs (sons)

lus (luxury)

lûs (light n.)

The Friulian dialects differ in their treatment of long vowels. In certain dialects, some of the long vowels are actually diphthongs. The following chart shows how four words (sêt thirst, pît foot, pôc (a) little, fûc fire) are pronounced in four dialects. Each dialect uses a unique pattern of diphthongs (yellow) and monophthongs (blue) for the long vowels:


The double consonants (ll, rr, and so on), used frequently in Italian, are nearly absent in Friulian.




In Friulian, nouns referring to inanimate objects or abstract concepts can have either masculine or feminine grammatical gender: e.g. "il mûr" ("the wall", masculine), "la cjadree" ("the chair", feminine).

Articles take the following forms, derived from the Latin ille and unus:

Definite articles
Before a vowel, both il and la can be abbreviated to l'.The indefinite article in Friulian (corresponding to "a" in English) varies according to gender.
Indefinite articles

Note that these are the standard forms; in spoken language you can hear also el (in northern Friuli) or al (in southern and western Friuli) instead of il, li (or las in northern Friuli) instead of lis and le instead of la, but these should be avoided in written language. Remember that the final -e of une is pronounced.

Also a partitive article exists; it has only one form, des (for example, des vacjis means some cows).


Nouns in Friulian, as in other Romance languages, are either masculine or feminine in gender.


Most feminine nouns end in -e, which is pronounced.


Some feminine nouns, however, end in a consonant, including those ending in -zion (from Latin).


Most masculine nouns end either in a consonant or in -i.

A few masculine nouns end in -e, including sisteme (system) and probleme (problem). These are usually words coming from ancient Greek. However, because most masculine nouns end in a consonant, it is not uncommon to find the forms system and problem instead—though this is more likely to occur in print than in speech.

There are also a number of masculine nouns which have been borrowed intact from Italian, that is, with a final -o, like treno (train). Many of these words have been fully absorbed into the language, even forming their plurals with the regular Friulian -s rather than the Italian -i. Still, there are some purists, including those influential in Friulian publishing, who frown on such words, insisting that the "proper" Friulian terms should be without the final -o. So despite the fact that one almost always hear treno, chances are that if you see the word in print it will be seen as tren.


A Friulian adjective must agree in gender and number with the noun it qualifies. Most adjectives have four forms for singular (masculine and feminine) and plural (masculine and feminine), for example brut (ugly):


Note that, in northern Friuli, the feminine plural is pronounced brutes instead of brutis.

To form the plural, normal rules are followed; given a masculine singular form, the corresponding feminine form is not so straightforward:

Rules for the formation of plurals

To form the plural of nouns ending in -e, whether feminine or masculine, change the final -e to -is.

To form the plural of almost all other nouns, simply add a final s. Note: this final s is always pronounced as a soft s, that is, like the s of the English word cats, and never with the hard z-sound of the s in dogs.

In some Friulian dialects there are many words whose final consonant becomes silent when the +s is added. These words include just about all those whose singular form ends in -t. The plural of gjat, for example, is written as gjats, but is pronounced in much of Friuli as though it were gjas, and that of plat (that means dish), though written as plats, is often pronounced as plas. Other words in this category include clâf (key) and clap (stone), whose plural forms, clâfs and claps, are often pronounced with a silent f and p, respectively (clâs, clas), so that the longer a in the former is all that distinguishes it from the latter. Note also that a final -ç, which is pronounced either as the English "-ch" (in central Friulian) or as "-s", is pluralized in writing as -çs, regardless of whether the pluralized pronunciation is "-s" or "-ts" (it varies according to dialect); an example is messaç / messaçs (message).


Masculine nouns ending in -l or -li form their plurals by substituting -i for the l or the li.

Feminine nouns ending in -l are pluralized regularly.

Some masculine nouns which end in -t are pluralized by changing the final -t to -cj.

Nouns ending in s do not change spelling when pluralized (even though some speakers may pronounce the plural -s differently from the singular -s).

The plural of an (year) has several forms depending on dialect, including ain, ains, agn and agns. Regardless of pronunciation, the written form is agns.

Clitic subject pronouns

A feature of Friulian are the clitic subject pronouns. These, known in Friulian as pleonastics, are never stressed; they are used together with the verbs to express the subject, and can be found before the verb in declarative sentences or immediately after it in case of interrogative or vocative (otative) sentences.

Weak pronouns

An example: jo o lavori means I work; jo lavorio? means Do I work?, while lavorassio means I wish I worked.


Verbs, present, declarative form
Personfevelâ (to speak)lâ (to go)jessi (to be)
Joo fevel-io v-oio soi
Tutu fevel-istu v-âstu sês
Luial fevel-eal v-aal è
o fevel-ìno l-ino sin
o fevel-aiso v-ais (l-ais)o sês
Lôra fevel-ina v-ana son


An adjective can be made into an adverb by adding -mentri to the ending of the feminine singular form of the adjective (lente becomes lentementri, slowly), though it can sometimes[3] lose the -e of the adjective (facile becomes facilmentri, easily). These type of formation is more common in written language; in spoken language people use frequently other forms or locutions (i.e. a planc for slowly).


Most of the Friulian vocabulary is derived from Latin. Needless to say, there have been substantial phonological and morphological changes throughout its history. Therefore many words are shared with Romance languages,[4] but other languages have contributed too:

Present condition of Friulian

Nowadays, Friulian is officially recognized in Italy, supported by law 482/1999, which protects linguistic minorities. Therefore, teaching of Friulian has been introduced in many primary schools. An online newspaper is active, and there are also a number of musical groups which use Friulian for their songs as well as some theatrical companies. Recently two movies have been made in Friulian (Tierç lion, Lidrîs cuadrade di trê), with positive reviews in Italian newspapers. In about 40 per cent of the communities in the Province of Udine, road signs are in both Friulian and Italian. There is also an official translation of the Holy Bible. In 2005, a famous brand of beer used Friulian for one of its commercials.

The main association to foster the use and development of Friulian is the Societât filologjiche furlane, founded in Gorizia in 1919.


Every city and village in Friuli has two names, one in Italian and one in Friulian. Only the Italian is official and used in administration, although it is widely expected that the Friulian ones will receive partial acknowledgement in the near future. For example, the city of Udine is called Udin in Friulian, while the town of Tolmezzo is called Tumieç.

Challenges of standardisation

A challenge that Friulian shares with other minorities is to create a standard language and a unique writing system. The regional law 15/1996 approved a standard orthography, which represents the basis of a common variant and should be used in toponyms, official acts, written documents. These standard is based on Central Friulian, which was traditionally the language used in literature already in 1700 and afterwards (the biggest examples are probably Pieri Çorut's works), but with some changes:

Standard Friulian is called in Friulian furlan standard, furlan normalizât, or, using a Greek word coinè.

Criticism against standard Friulian

There have been several critics of the standardization of Friulian, mainly from speakers of local variants which can differ a lot from it; they also argue that the standard could eventually kill local variants. The answer of the supporters of standardization are the various advantages that a unique form can bring to the language, above all it can help to stop the influence of Italian language in the neologisms, which pose a serious threat to Friulian's future development. They also explain this is a written standard, and it doesn't affect pronunciation, that can follow local variants.

Variants of Friulian

Four dialects of Friulian can be distinguished, all mutually intelligible. They are usually distinguished by the last vowel of many parts of speech (including nouns, adjectives, adverbs), following this scheme:

For example, the word home becomes cjase in Central Friulian, and cjasa or cjaso in other areas. It is also notable that the most famous intellectual who used Friulian during the 20th century, Pier Paolo Pasolini, wrote his works in Western Friulian, since he learned the language from his mother who was from Casarsa/Cjasarsa (, near Pordenone.

It's worth to note that in 13th century, early literary works in Friulian were based on the language spoken in Cividale, which was at that time the most important town in Friuli. These works show endings in -o, which, interestingly, nowadays is restricted to some villages in Carnia. Later, the main city of Friuli became Udine and the most common ending was -a; only from the 16th century on, -e endings were used in standard Friulian.

Writing systems

In the official writing system, approved by the Province of Udine and used in official documents, Friulian is written using the Latin alphabet, plus the c-cedilla (ç). The letter q is used only for personal names and historical toponyms, in every other case is replaced by c. Besides that, k, x, w, and y appear only in loan words, so they are not considered part of the alphabet.

Aa Bb Cc Çç Dd Ee Ff Gg Hh Ii Jj Ll Mm Nn Oo Pp Qq Rr Ss Tt Uu Vv ZzThere are also grave accents (à, è, ì, ò and ù) and circumflex accents (â, ê, î, ô, and û), which are put above the vowels to distinguish between homophonic words or to show where there is stress (the former) and show long vowels (the latter).

Other systems

An alternative system is called Faggin-Nazzi from the names of the scholars who proposed it. It is less common, probably also because it is more difficult for a beginner due to its use of letters such as č that are typical of Slavic languages, but seem foreign to native Italian speakers. These letters are used in order to more accurately reflect particular features of Friulian phonology.

Some examples

Mandi, jo mi clami Jacum!

Vuê al è propite cjalt!

O scugni propite lâ cumò, ariviodisi

No pues vignî fûr cun te usgnot, o ai di studiâ


The grammar section is based on An introduction to Friulian by R. Pontisso. Some parts are also based loosely on Gramatiche furlane by Fausto Zof, Edizioni Leonardo, Udine 2002.


External links

Notes and References

  1. Ethnologue report for language code:fur
  2. storia
  3. Such is the case of Friulian adjectives deriving from Latin adjectives of the second class.
  4. Language similarity table