Eastern Lombard language

Eastern Lombard language
Eastern Lombard
Spoken in  Italy
Region  Lombardy (Italy)
Native speakers ~1,500,000  (date missing)
Language family
Language codes
ISO 639-3 lmoLombard language
Linguasphere 51-AAA-oda; -odb; -odc

Eastern Lombard is a group of related languages, spoken in the eastern side of Lombardy, mainly in the provinces of Bergamo, Brescia and Mantua, in the area around Crema and in a part of Trentino[citation needed]. Its main variants are Bergamasque and Brescian[citation needed].

In Italian-speaking contexts, Eastern Lombard is often generically called a "dialect". This is often incorrectly understood as to mean a dialect of Italian, which actually is not the case, it's not a dialect but a language. Eastern Lombard and Italian are different languages and are only partly mutually intelligible.

As per today, Eastern Lombard does not have any official status either in Lombardy or anywhere else: the only official language in Lombardy is Italian.



Eastern Lombard is a Romance language and belongs to the Gallo-Italic branch. Its position on the language family put in evidence that it is genetically closer to Occitan, Catalan, French, etc. than to Italian. Its substratum is Celtic.

Geographic distribution

Eastern Lombard is primarily spoken in the east side of Lombardy (Northern Italy), in the territories of the provinces of Bergamo and Brescia, in the northern side of the province of Mantua and in the area around Crema. The varieties spoken in these regions are generally mutually intelligible for speakers of neighbouring areas but this is not always true for distant peripheric areas. For instance, an inhabitant of the alpine valleys of Bergamo can be hardly understood by a peasant of the plains of Mantua. Differences include either lexical, grammatical and phonetic aspects.


The following notes are essentially based on the variety of Eastern Lombard spoken in Brescia. The basic principle are generally valid also for the other varieties but local discrepancies can be found.

Eastern Lombard has 9 vowels and 20 consonants.


  Labial Alveolar Postalveolar
Plosives and
p  b t  d tʃ  dʒ k  ɡ
Nasals m n ɲ  
Trill   r    
Fricatives f  v s  z (ʃ)    
Approximants w   j  
Lateral approximants   l ʎ  

The voiced consonants /b/, /d/, /ɡ/, /v/, /z/, /dʒ/ never occur at the end of a word. This phenomenon, common to other languages (including German, Dutch, Turkish and Russian), is called final devoicing. The phoneme /ʃ/ only occurs in loanwords, often borrowings from Italian. For example, scià, "to ski" (from Italian sciare) is pronounced /ʃiˈa/. The phoneme /tʃ/ is pronounced [j] before a consonant. This never occurs inside a word as the segment /tʃ/+consonant doesn't exist in Eastern Lombard. However, it does occur when /tʃ/ appears word-finally preceding another word which begins with a consonant. For example:

i è nacc vià - [iɛnajˈvja] = "they have gone away"

The approximants /j/ and /w/ are distinct phonemes from the vocalic sounds /i/, /u/. This can be seen in the following examples:

  • /kwat/ = "how much" vs. /kuˈat/ = "brooded"
  • /pjat/ = "flat" vs. /piˈat/ = "bitten"

Locally, the alveolar fricative [s] is replaced by the glottal fricative [h]. This mainly happens in the prealpine valleys of the provinces of Bergamo and Brescia; thus "Brescia" is pronounced [ˈbrɛhɔ] instead of [ˈbrɛsɔ]. However, even in areas where this phenomenon is the rule, there are some interesting exceptions to take in account. Words like grasie ("thanks") are never pronounced [ˈɡrahje]. At present, the most common pronunciation is [ˈɡrasje] but a more genuine outcome (and often preferred by aged people) would be [ˈɡrahtʃe].

Other examples for this feature:

  • licensià ("to dismiss, to fire") = [litʃenˈsja] / [lehenˈtʃa]
  • cristià ("Christian") = [crisˈtja] / [crihˈtʃa]
  • pasiù ("passion") = [paˈsju] / [pahˈtʃu]


Regressive assimilation at word boundaries is common in Eastern Lombard. Assimilation can be either complete or partial. Complete assimilation occurs when two occlusive sounds fall in contact. In this case the first occlusive is completely absorbed by the second and the resulting sound has all the features of the second consonant but is notably lengthened. For example:

  • el ga fat pàla = [ɛlɡafaˈpːalɔ]
  • l'è tròp calt = [ˌlɛtrɔˈkːalt]
  • el gat bianc = [ɛlɡaˈbːjaŋk]

The same phenomenon occurs when an occlusive consonant precedes a nasal or a liquid consonant. For example:

  • en gat négher = [ɛŋɡaˈnːeɡɛr]
  • l'è tròp mis = [ˌlɛtrɔˈmːis]
  • so ché strac mórt = [soˌkestraˈmːort]

Complete assimilation can also occur when an occlusive precedes a fricative. For example: l'è nit vért = [ˌlɛniˈvːert].

When a sequence of nasal+occlusive falls in contact with another occlusive or a fricative, the first occlusive is completely elided and the nasal undergoes partial assimilation. In this case no lengthening occurs. For example:

  • el ga 'l sanc b = [ɛlˌɡalsamˈblø]
  • l'è lonc fés = [ˌlɛloɱˈfes]

But when an occlusive precedes [z], assimilation involves both consonants and the result is an affricate sound:

  • l'è nit zó ècc = [lɛˌnidzːoˈɛtʃ]
  • l'è tròp zalt = [ˌlɛtrɔˈdzːalt]

The phoneme /n/ can undergo assimilation in place of articulation with a following consonant. Thus, the /n/ in /nk/ and /nɡ/ is a velar [ŋ], the /n/ in /nv/ and /nf/ is a labiodental [ɱ]. Within a word, the phoneme /n/ is never transcribed before /p/ and /b/, where /m/ is written instead. Nasal assimilation, including /n/ to /m/, also takes place across word boundaries. For example:

  • en ca = [ɛŋˈka] "a dog"
  • vàghen fò = [ˌvaɡeɱˈfɔ] "hurry up"
  • l'an pasàt = [ˌlampaˈsat] "the last year"


Eastern Lombard has 9 vocalic sounds:

IPA Description Example Italian English
i Close front unrounded vowel sich /sik/ cinque five
e Close-mid front unrounded vowel sét /set/ sete thirst
ɛ Open-mid front unrounded vowel sèch /sɛk/ secco arid
a Open front unrounded vowel sach /sak/ sacco sack
o Close-mid back rounded vowel ciót /tʃot/ chiodo nail
ɔ Open-mid back rounded vowel sòch /sɔk/ ceppo stump
ø Close-mid front rounded vowel söt /søt/ asciutto dry
y Close front rounded vowel mür /myr/ muro wall
u Close back rounded vowel mur /mur/ gelso mulberry

Only three vocalic phonemes occur in unstressed final syllables: /a/ in open syllables only, and /o/ and /e/ in both open and closed syllables. Other vowels can occur in final syllables in loanwords.

Locally, the phoneme /a/ is pronounced [ɔ] when it appears as last sound of the word in an unstressed syllable (actually slightly more close than cardinal [ɔ]). For example:

  • lüna = [ˈlynɔ] "moon"
  • sètèmana = [sɛtɛˈmanɔ] "week"

Unstressed vowel system reduction and local variability

Some vowel contrasts are eliminated in unstressed syllables. For example, in the urban Brescian variety, [ɔ] and [o] no longer contrast. Thus, the word robà ("to steal") can be pronounced both [roˈba] and [rɔˈba], with almost no difference noticed by speakers. In addition, a further variant [ruˈba] is also possible, though in this case, a difference is noticed by speakers but it is considered a local variant and no loss of intelligibility results. The sounds [e] and [ɛ] also no longer contrast in unstressed syllables, and therefore the word vedèl ("calf") can be pronounced [veˈdɛl] or [vɛˈdɛl]. However, when affected by vowel harmony (see below), the unstressed sounds [e/ɛ], [o/ɔ], and [ø] become [i], [u], and [y] respectively.

In conclusion, it is possible to say that only five contrastive vowel qualities are found in unstressed syllables: [o/ɔˌ(u)], [øˌ(y)], [a], [e/ɛ], [i] (but with the [i] not completely separated from [e/ɛ]). Some examples:

  • molà [moˈla] ("to let go, to release")
  • mölà [møˈla] ("to grind")
  • malàt [maˈlat] ("sick")
  • pelàt [peˈlat] ("bald")
  • milà [miˈla] ("Milan")

The situation can differ for other Eastern Lombard varieties, however, and the rules of the unstressed vowel system vary according to the area. For example, in Franciacorta, a province of Brescia, the sounds [o] and [ø] are regularly replaced by [u] and [y] in pretonic position:

  • mulà (Franciacortan) instead of molà (Brescian)
  • Ruàt (Rovato, a toponym) instead of Roàt
  • Üspedalèt (Ospitaletto, a toponym) instead of Öspedalèt

Since in unstressed position these vocalic sounds are not contrastive, these local variants do not compromise reciprocal intelligibility.

Vowel harmony

Eastern Lombard exhibits a process of regressive vowel harmony involving the feature of vowel height. When the stress falls on a close vowel (/i/ or /u/) the preceding vowels shift their height, becoming close as well (/ɛ/ and /e/ become [i], while /ɔ/ and /o/ become [u]). The vowel /a/ is not affected by this process and acts as opaque vowel blocking the harmonization process. This phenomenon affects all the words independent of the word's function

Because the diminutive and augmentative are formed with the suffixes and (feminine -ìna and -ùna) respectively, this process is easily observable in nouns:

  • cortèl ("knife")
  • curtilì ("small knife")
  • curtilù ("big knife")

As already mentioned, the vowel /a/ acts as opaque vowel which blocks the harmonization process:

  • fontàna ("fountain")
  • fontanì ("small fountain") (not funtanì)
  • öspedàl ("hospital")
  • öspedalì ("small hospital") (not üspidalì)

But vowels that occur after the /a/ and before the stressed vowel are still affected:

  • mortadèla (type of Italian sausage)
  • mortadilìna

In these cases variants like funtanì and üspedalì (but not üspidalì) or murtadilìna are accepted (or locally preferred) but fall under the normal unstressed vowel variability.

Verbs are affected by this process in their conjugation, when the inflection contains a stressed /i/ (there are no verbal suffixes containing a stressed /u/). For example:

  • öler(öl) ("to want" - infinitive)
  • öle ("I want" - first person singular present indicative)
  • ülìt ("wanted" - past participle)
  • ülìf ("you all want" - second person plural present indicative)
  • ülìef ("you all were wanting" - second person plural imperfect indicative)

Adjectives formed with the suffix -ùs (feminine -ùza) also exhibit this rule:

  • póra(pura) ("fear")
  • purús ("fearful person" [masculine])
  • purúza ("fearful person" [feminine])


Since Eastern Lombard is still principally an oral language, a commonly accepted orthography has not been established. While in recent years there has been an increasing production of texts (mainly light comedies and poem collections), each author continues to follow their own spelling rules. The most problematic and controversial issues seem to be the representation of intervocalic /s/ and /z/ (rendered by different authors with <-ss->, <-s-> or <-z->) and final /tʃ/ vs. /k/ (rendered with <-cc>, <-c> or <-ch>).

This article follows the rules of the Italian orthography, with the following exceptions.

Writing of vowels

Diacritic marks are utilized for vowel sounds to distinguish /e/ from /ɛ/ and /o/ from /ɔ/ in stressed syllables. Furthermore, the umlaut is adopted to represent the rounded vowels /ø/ and /y/:

Letter Phoneme
a /a/
é /e/
è /ɛ/
i /i/
ó /o/
ò /ɔ/
u /u/
ü /y/
ö /ø/

Note that grave and acute accents are also used to indicate the stressed syllable in non-monosyllabic words. Since unstressed vowels are less distinctive, it is not necessary to discriminate the open/close quality.

Writing of consonants

The digraph <-cc> is used at the end of the word to represent the sound /tʃ/ (in other positions this sound is rendered by means of the usual Italian orthography rules: <c> before front vowels and <ci> before non-front vowels).

A consonant sequence that is peculiar to Lombard is that of a voiceless alveolar fricative followed by a voiceless postalveolar affricate, [stʃ]. This article adopts the convention of representing this sound as <s·c>, although other texts may follow different traditions (so the same sequence can also be spelled <s'c> or <s-c> or even the ambiguous <sc>). This sequence, which is absent in Italian, can occur at the beginning of word, as in s·cèt /stʃɛt/ ("son, boy"); in the middle, as in brös·cia /ˈbrøstʃa/ ("brush"); or at the end, as in giös·cc /ˈdʒøstʃ/ ("correct" [plural]).

The sequence /sdʒ/ is also present in Eastern Lombard and not in Italian and is represented in this article with the sequence of signs <-sgi->, for example:

  • bàsgia ("large bowl") = /ˈbasdʒa/
  • sgionfà ("to inflate") = /sdʒonˈfa/


The grammatical system of Eastern Lombard is similar to other those of other Romance languages. The word order is SVO (subject–verb–object) and it has a moderate inflection system: verbs are declined for mood, tense and aspect and agree with their subject in person and number. Nouns are classified as either masculine or feminine and can be marked as singular or plural. Adjectives and pronouns agree with any nouns they modify in gender and number. Eastern Lombard also prefers prepositions over case marking.


The oldest known text written in Eastern Lombard consists of fragments of a laud known as Mayor gremeza il mund no pothevela ancor aver, a manuscript found in Bovegno (Trompia valley), and dating from the fourteenth century. Today, literary production has increased in volume and mainly consists in light comedies and poem collections (Angelo Canossi is an example for poetry in the Brescian dialect).


The following tale is in Brescian (the variety of Eastern Lombard spoken in city of Brescia):

La mèrla

I mèrli, 'na ólta i ghìa le pène biànche, ma chèl envéren lé l'éra stàt en bèl envéren e lé, la mèrla, la gà dìt: "Zenér de la màla gràpa per tò despèt gó i uzilì 'ndela gnàta". A lü, 'l Zenér, gh'è nìt adòs 'n pó de ràbia, e 'l gà dìt: "spèta mèrla che te la faró mé adès a té, e se te sét biànca mé te faró ègner négra". E pò dòpo 'l gà dit: "Dù ghe i ó e giü 'n prèstet el töaró e se te sét biànca, mé te faró ní négra". E alùra 'l gà fàt nì fò 'n frèt che se n'ìa mài vést giü compàgn.

Lé la mèrla la saìa piö che fà cói sò uzilì ndèla gnàta, e isé l'è nàda a rifügiàs endèla càpa del camì; dré al camì va sö 'l föm e lùr i uzilì i è déentàcc töcc négher, e quànche i è nicc fò de là, la mèrla la gh'ìa mìa piö le pène biànche, ma la ghe i éra négre. Alùra Zenér, töt sudisfàt, el gà dìt: "Tò mèrla, che te l'ó fàda mé staólta: se te se stàda biànca mé t'ó fàt ní négra e isé te làset lé de seghetà a tiràm en gìr.

Phonetic transcription

[iˈmɛrli naˈoltɔ iˈɡiɔleˌpɛneˈbjaŋke maˌkɛlɛmˌverɛnˈle lerɔˌstatɛmˈbɛlɛɱˌverɛn ɛˌlelaˈmɛrlɔlaɡaˈditː zeˈnerdelaˌmalɔˈɡrapɔ ˌpertɔdeˈspɛt ˌɡojuziˈliˌndelɔˈɲatɔ aˈly lzeˈner ˌɡɛnitaˈdɔsemˌpodeˈrabja ˌɛːlɡaˈdit ˈspɛtɔˌmɛrlɔ kɛtɛlafaˌroˈmeaˌdɛsaˈte ɛsɛtɛˌseˈbːjaŋkɔ ˌmetɛfaroˌɛɲɛrˈneɡrɔ ɛpɔˈdɔpolɡaˌditaˌmɔ ˌduɡɛˈjo ɛdʒymˌprɛstetɛltøaˈro ɛsɛtɛˌseˈbːjaŋkɔ ˌmetɛfaˌroniˈneɡrɔ ɛaˈlurɔ lɡaˌfaːniˌfɔɱˈfrɛt kɛsɛˌniamaiˌvesdʒycomˈpaɲ]

[ˌlelaˈmɛrlɔ lasaˌiɔpjøkeˈfakojˌsɔuziˌlindɛlɔˈɲatɔ, ɛiˈse ˌlɛnadɔˌarifyˈdʒasɛnˌdɛlɔˌkapɔdɛlkaˈmi ˌdrealkaˈmivasølˈføm ɛˈlurjuziˈli jɛdeɛnˈtajˌtøjˈneɡɛr ˌkwaŋkɛjɛˌnijfɔdeˈla laˈmɛrlɔlaˌɡiɔmiɔˌpjøleˌpɛneˈbjaŋke malaɡɛˌjerɔˈneɡre aˈlurɔ zeˈner tøsːudisˈfat elɡaˈdit ˈtɔˌmɛrlɔ kɛtɛloˌfadɔˈmestaˌoltɔ sɛtɛseˌstadɔˈbjaŋkɔ ˌmetofaˌnːiˈneɡrɔ ɛiˈse tɛlasɛˈlːe dɛseɡeˈta atiˌramenˈdʒir]

The she-blackbird

Once upon a time blackbirds had white feathers, but in that time the winter had been mild and a she-blackbird scorned January saying: "Bad-headed January, in spite of you I have got a brood in my nest. Hearing this, January got angry and he said: "Just wait a bit you she-blackbird, I will fool you and I will turn you from white into black" Then he said: "I have got two, and I will borrow one,[1] and I will turn you from white to black." And he brought forth a cold as never had been before.

The she-blackbird did not know how to cope with her brood in the nest, so she sheltered in the hood of a chimney, and the smoke turned all the birds black; so when they came out the blackbirds did not have white feathers anymore, but black ones. And January, very happy, said: "This time it was me to fool you, blackbird: you were white and I turned you black, this will teach you to stop teasing me.


  1. ^ "I have got two, and I will borrow one" refers to the days. After a popular tradition, January 30 and 31st and February 1 are called I dé de la Mèrla and are expected to be the most cold of the winter. Another version of the same tradition makes I dé de la Mèrla fall at the last three days of January. This last is actually a little more widespread and was also told to children to have them remember that February has 28 days explaining this with the fact that January borrowed one from February to be able to chill the blackbird.

See also

  • Bergamasque
  • Lombard languages
  • Western Lombard
  • Plural inflection in Eastern Lombard
  • Dialects of Italy

External links

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