- Italy’s official language is standard Italian, however many older Italians speak a regional or local dialect which can differ greatly from one to the other.
- Although senior Italians have lived in Australia for many years, many may still speak very little English.
- For those people who originate from the area close to Trieste (north-eastern Italy) there may be sensitivities around Italian identity due to past geopolitical changes.
- Italians tend to be highly expressive of joy, sadness and grief, both vocally and physically with frequent use of gestures and touch.
- Senior Italians may have difficulty with printed information both in English and Italian due to their lack of formal education
Italy’s national language is standard Italian. However, in each of Italy’s twenty regions a number of dialects are spoken. The Italians who migrated to Australia from Italy in the 1950s and 1960s had limited education and may not be able to speak standard Italian with complete confidence but may instead be proficient in a dialect.
The dialects can differ vastly, particularly between the northern and southern regions of Italy, making communication difficult between speakers of different dialects. For example, someone who speaks Calabrese, a dialect of Calabria, might not be understood by someone who speaks Friulano, a dialect of Friuli Venezia Giulia.
Also most of these dialects are oral, not written languages and evidence of them can be found in song recordings and more recently in modern publications of literature such as compilations of folk sayings, etc. It is also important to note that even though the Italian community has been settled in Australia for some time, this does not justify the expectation that they necessarily speak English. In fact, the 1996 census identified that the Italian population in NSW aged 55 years and over held the number one position as the migrant population who has the largest number of people who speak “poor” English.
In addition, as people age, their skills in a second language deteriorate and there is a tendency for them to revert back to their native language. This is particularly true for people who suffer from Dementia, whose memory function deteriorates reverting to their primary language, which is usually a dialect.
People who originated from the north – eastern region, Friuli Venezia Giulia, surrounding Trieste and bordering the Slovenian and Croatian confines, might have been exposed to geopolitical changes instigated by the Italian and the old Yugoslav Republic during and post the World Wars.
Therefore, they might have particular sensitivities regarding their Italian identity. For example, a person born within what is now the Croatian boarder might consider that they are definitely Italian because that area was under Italian rule and also due to the cultural influence at the time of their birth and youth.
Italians are generally very expressive and animated when communicating. They express feelings and emotions using not only words but including melodic intonations, sounds and gestures. A high level of physical contact is considered normal. Italian women and men will greet aquaintances and friends with a kiss on either side of the cheek.
Some older Italians might have difficulty with information presented in written format, irrespective of whether it is in English or Italian, due to poor eye sight or due to limited education. This is because when they were young in Italy schooling was not yet compulsory and large numbers of the population were illiterate, especially those who lived in rural areas.