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A standard orthography was developed in the 1930s by Viglongo and Pacot, known as the grafia piemontese moderna (modern Piedmontese orthography). Although this is considered the standard for official publications, in personal and commercial writings most speakers deviate from it and use their own variations.1) One survey reported that some speakers felt that the lack of a popularly used standard orthography was a potential obstacle to wider use of Piedmontese on digital media.2) There is no institution charged with maintaining a standard orthography.
Piedmontese is spoken in Piedmont, a region in northwest Italy that shares borders with France and Switzerland. The Piedmontese language area does not cover the whole region of Piedmont: other regional varieties are also present, including Occitan and Franco-Provençal in the west, Lombard in the east, and some Walser communities speaking a Germanic variety.3)
The Piedmontese language itself is often divided into several mutually intelligible dialects. The dominant dialect is that of Turin, the capital of the region. This variety has largely spread itself over the western part of the region (with some minor variations), and is known as torinese, koinè, or alto-piemontese. Other regional dialect groups include canavese, biellese, valsesiano, alessandrino, monferrino, and langarolo.4)5)
This map, created by F. Rubat Borel, shows the languages spoken in Piedmont and the surrounding regions. Most of Piedmont itself is covered by Piedmontese, while Franco-Provençal, Occitan, Ligurian, Emilian, Lumbard and Walser German are all present on the edges.
Estimates of the number of speakers of Piedmontese range from 700,000 to 2,000,000. Additionally, over a million inhabitants of the region say they have some passive knowledge of the language.6)7)8)
Historically, Piedmontese has never had an official place in the Italian education system. However, in the first half of the 20th century it was still common for teachers to resort to using Piedmontese instead of Italian with their pupils, who were often raised monolingually in the regional language.
During the fascist era (1922-1945), written Piedmontese was explicitly prohibited as part of the government's quest to eliminate the regional languages of Italy. Children speaking Piedmontese were punished and taught to be ashamed of their language. However, even during this time the language was still transmitted to younger generations and used commonly in the family.
After the fall of the fascist government, Piedmontese was no longer forbidden, but monolingual (Italian) ideologies in the education system continued to be strong. Piedmontese was seen as a backward language, useless and even harmful if one wanted to get ahead in life. Teachers and parents alike decided to speak Italian with their children: 'for their own good'.
Calls for the teaching of Piedmontese in schools rose in the 1970s, but were largely unsuccessful, until the regional government of Piedmont passed a law in 1990 offering limited provisions for the teaching of Piedmontese and other regional languages. However, it wasn't until 2000 that the teaching of Piedmontese in schools actually started with the ARBUT program (financed by the region of Piedmont). This program provided two hours a week of Piedmontese classes for pupils in participating schools (mostly primary schools, but also some secondary schools).
In 2011 the region of Piedmont stopped supporting the ARBUT program financially. It continued to run in a limited way, with teachers working voluntarily and teaching materials paid for by private donations. Its current status is unclear.9)10)11)12)
Three levels of legislation (potentially) affect Piedmontese and its position in education: international/European legislation, national Italian law and regional law of Piedmonte.
On an international level, Italy has signed the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in 2000, but has not yet ratified it.13) The ratification law has been under examination by a parliamentary commission since 2000, and four successive legislatures have failed to complete the process of ratification.14) The provisional text of the law would recognize and protect twelve linguistic minorities under the Charter. If passed, the ratification of the ECRML would grant additional status in education to the languages listed. However, the twelve languages considered for protection include several that are spoken in Piedmont, such as Franco-Provençal and Occitan, but not Piedmontese.15)
In Italian national law, the Legge Statale 482 from 1999 recognizes and protects the same twelve minority languages considered for the European Charter. For the recognized languages, schools in territories where they are spoken are allowed to use the minority language as a medium of instruction in addition to Italian. However, under this law Piedmontese is not recognized and thus not granted any status in the education system.16)17)
In 1999 the regional government of Piedmont passed a motion officially recognizing Piedmontese as the regional language of Piedmont. In this motion, the regional government also asked the president of Italy to send the Legge Statale 482 (described above) back to the Parliament, to be amended with the inclusion of Piedmontese in the list of minority languages to be recognized and protected. This effort failed, meaning that Piedmontese has official status only on the regional level.18)
The regional government of Piedmont first passed legislation to recognize and protect the linguistic minorities of the region in 1979, although this law did not include any direct practical measures.19) In 1990, another regional law (n. 26) followed in which more specific measures were lined out to protect and promote the regional languages spoken in Piedmont, including Piedmontese as well as the other linguistic minorities. Article 5 of this law promotes courses for pre- and in-service teachers about the “linguistic and cultural heritage” of Piedmont, as well as elective courses teaching the regional languages and cultures of Piedmont for at least one hour a week available to students at all levels of education. The regional government also provided funding for these courses.20)
The 1990 regional legislation was followed in 2009 by a new regional law on the protection, valorisation and promotion of the linguistic heritage of Piedmont. This law contained further provisions for Piedmontese and other regional languages in education, even allowing for a limited role of the regional languages as medium of instruction alongside Italian. However, in 2010 the Constitutional Court of Italy ruled that the parts of the law that put Piedmontese on an equal status with Occitan, Franco-Provençal, French and Walser German, with regards to recognition and protection, were unconstitutional. The status of Piedmontese in education has since been unclear.21)22)23)
The ARBUT program, instituted in 2000, provides classes in Piedmontese language and culture to pupils in participating schools (usually primary, sometimes secondary). Generally these classes run for two hours per week. Nòstre Rèis, one of the organisations supporting the program, writes that the courses include learning to read and write in Piedmontese, speaking the language, reading literary and contemporary texts, and in some cases using Piedmontese as a medium of instruction for other subjects. From 2000, each year 150-200 ARBUT courses were organized across the province, with approximately 1500-2000 students participating. Since the regional government cut funding for the program in 2011, it is unclear how many schools and pupils participate in ARBUT.25)26) The ARBUT program was also supported by Gioventura Piemontèisa.
Institutes of adult education in Piedmont occasionally offer courses in Piedmontese language and culture.27)
The University of Turin offers a single, facultative course on Piedmontese in its Master's program in Linguistics. This course is taught in Italian.28)
Clearly, the place of Piedmontese in education is very limited, and this has had a negative impact on the vitality of the language. In Piedmont, the local language is often considered a code to be used by older people, and rarely spoken to children. Wider use of Piedmontese in education could help to change attitudes in the community and promote the idea that Piedmontese is a living language, suitable for both young and old.29)
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