La nestre marilenghe – by Ida Corvino Miletich

The Friulan language is considered to be a neo-latin language. Although there are some vocabulary words that reflect both Germanic and Slavic influences, the sound system and grammatical aspects of the language have their roots in the spoken Latin that emerged as a result of Roman settlement in the northeast region of the Italic peninsula and the subsequent intermarriage with local Celtic tribes. Aquileia, the city founded in 181 B.C. on the outskirts of the Roman Empire, was the principal center of the area in the ancient world and an important commercial crossroads.

The main characteristics of the Friulan language were not fully defined until the VI to the X centuries, but a citation by St. Girolamo in his work, “Liber de viris illustribus”, (Book of Illustrious Men) indicates that by the middle of the fourth century, the Bishop of Aquileia, Fortunaziano, had commented on the Gospel in the “rusticus sermo”, the spoken language of the people.

The Friulan language continued to evolve during subsequent occupations by the Goths, the Lombards and the Franks, and by the late Middle Ages, it was recognized to be “la lingua dei contadini,” (the language of the peasants,) distinct from the official written Latin language, used in religious and civic documents. Scholars agree that Friulan, as a fully developed neo-latin language, was clearly established around the year 1000 AD.

The cultural and linguistic identity of Friuli was further consolidated during the more than three centuries that the Patriarcate of Aquileia (1077-1420) constituted the major political power in Friuli. (The Patriarch functioned as the head of an ecclesiastical diocese; he was elected to office and also exercised temporal powers, conferred to him by the Holy Roman Emperor of the time.) Thus, the Patriarcate, although an autonomous state, was dependent on the larger political order, (the Holy Roman Empire,) with which it maintained close relations. Remarkable indeed is the fact that the language and culture of Friuli retained its vitality at a time when the Holy Roman Emperors and the majority of the Patriarchs themselves were of Germanic stock.

In the volume entitled “Lezioni di lingua e cultura friulana”, published by La Societât Filologiche Furlane, the editor, Federico Vicario, translating from the Latin, quotes an anonymous traveler’s description of Friuli, written sometime between the XIII and XIV centuries…..

‘Il Friuli è una provincia a sé stante, distinta dalle altre province suddette, poiché non ha né una lingua latina, né slava, né tedesca, ma un idioma suo proprio, simile a nessun altro tra quelli italici. Tuttavia partecipa alla lingua latina di più di qualsiasi altra lingua a sé vicina.’

‘Friuli is a separate province, distinguished from other existing provinces, because it has neither a Latin language, nor a Slavic, or Germanic one, but its own language, that does not resemble any of the other Italic languages. Moreover, it partakes of the Latin language, more so than any of its neighbor languages.’