German-Romance Language Contact in the Italian Alps: documentation, explanation, participation

The AlpiLinK (Alpine Languages in Contact) project, developed in collaboration between the Universities of Verona, Trento, Bolzano-Bozen, Turin, and Aosta Valley, aims at promoting and investigating the Germanic, Romance and Slavic minority languages and dialects spoken across the Alpine regions of Italy: Piedmont, Aosta Valley, Lombardy, Veneto, Trentino-South Tyrol, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia. The project is funded by the Italian Research Ministry as ‘project of relevant national interest’ (Progetto di ricerca di rilevante interesse nazionale, PRIN, call 2020, project n.  2020SYSYBS).

AlpiLinK is a continuation and expansion of the VinKo (Varieties in Contact) project of the Universities of Verona, Trento, and Bolzano-Bozen, and it is from this project that the digital infrastructure was inherited. More information can be found in the VinKo project description and in Kruijt, Rabanus & Tagliani (2023).

AlpiLinK follows an Open Science Policy which includes the FAIR principles for the data management, e.g. guaranteeing the permanent accessibility of contents and the simple resusability of data thanks to open licenses. All data collected in AlpiLinK can be found in the AlpiLinK corpus (Rabanus et al. 2023) on Zenodo.


Crowdsourcing linguistic data

AlpiLinK aims to document cross-linguistically comparable data from the non-standard language varieties, e.g. dialects and minority languages, spoken in the alpine regions of Italy. The data collection in the project is done via online crowdsourcing on this website (go to the “Participate” section to participate). Any speaker of the investigated language varieties, e.g. Walser German or Venetan dialect (for full list go to “Our Varieties“), can register on the platform and participate in the linguistic survey by audio-recording their answers to a variety of linguistic tasks (e.g. translation, image description etc.).

The collected audio files will be made freely available on the interactive map “Listen & Explore” (currently hosting data from the preceding  VinKo project), which can be consulted by anyone interested in exploring the gathered data and learning more about the multilingual environment characterising the area under investigation. The data is also stored in an periodically updated online repository which constitutes a valuable open-access resource for both the researchers and the members of the communities involved (Rabanus et al. 2023).


Why my /s/ sounds different than yours

AlpiLinK investigates a selection of linguistic features through the comparative analysis of linguistic audio data collected via crowdsourcing. Linguistic research of the different features of a language can provide insight into a place’s history, culture, and social structure. To illustrate this, let’s have a brief look at the way that people pronounce <s> across Trentino-South Tyrol and Veneto. In the Tyrolean dialects, the pronunciation of the <s> depends on where it occurs in a word and by which sound it is followed. For example, when the <s> occurs word-initially before <p, t, k, m, n, l, w> it is pronounced like <sh>([ʃ] in the International Phonetic Alphabet). However, word-medially in front of <m> or <n>, it is pronounced as a “regular” <s>. Hear the difference yourself and compare the words speziell ‘special’ and Rosmarin ‘rosemary’.

Speziell ‘special’ (Tyrolean)


or <r>Rosmarin ‘rosemary’ (Tyrolean)


This difference in pronunciation is known as s-retraction. This phenomenon is common in German varieties, but not very common in Romance languages, e.g. Trentino and Venetan dialects. Interestingly, the Ladin languages, part of the (Rhaeto-)Romance family, form an exception to this rule. For example, in Gardenese Ladin, a very similar pattern to the Tyrolean dialects is found, where the <s> word-initially before <p, t, k, m, n, l, f, v> is pronounced as <sh> like in ‘fish’, i.e. [ʃ], and like a “regular” <s> word-medially in front of <m>. Listen to spiedl ‘mirror’ and rosmarin ‘rosemary’.

Spiedl ‘mirror’ (Gardenese Ladin)


Rosmarin ‘rosemary’ (Gardenese Ladin)


The difference between Ladin and the other Romance varieties most likely comes from a mix of language-internal changes and language-contact effects. For centuries Ladin speakers have interacted with and in German varieties, exposing them to their different <s> pronunciations and the system behind these different pronunciations. However, not only historic contact with other peoples can play a role, but also the internal structures of the language itself. Many dialect communities in Trentino have had similar long-term contacts with German varieties, but the Trentino dialects only have a single version of <s>. This is due to a structural difference between Ladin and the dialects of Trentino. Historically, Ladin developed a contrast between [ʃ] and [ś] (a sound half-way in between [s] and [ʃ]). Throughout time the intermediate [ś] was changed in its pronunciation. Depending on the context the old sound has been either retracted and merged with [ʃ] or fronted to the “regular” [s], resulting in the above described [s]-[ʃ] alternation in Ladin. Contrastingly, the Trentino dialects historically only had [ś] and not [ʃ]. Hence, they lacked the preconditions for the retraction of [ś] to [ʃ]. In this way the distribution of the <s> pronunciatons in Ladin is the result of a language-internal process supported by the intense contact with the German varieties (Alber, Kokkelmans & Rabanus 2021).


Community engagement with the project

Community engagement with the project and the collected data is an integral part of the crowdsourcing methodology and a way to further promote citizen science and demonstrate the value of scientific research for the preservation and validation of intangible cultural heritage. The cornerstone of  the terza missione aspect of AlpiLinK is the subproject VinKiamo. VinKiamo is is an activity for students from secondary schools, who actively participate in collecting linguistic data within their local communities by helping different generations of speakers from the various locations participate in the AlpiLinK questionnaire. In doing so, VinKiamo promotes an intergenerational dialogue that aims at bridging the gap between the advanced digital skills of younger generations and the rich cultural and linguistic knowledge of the elderly speakers. This collaboration ensures the safeguarding of local languages and multilingualism as part of the cultural heritage through the collection of oral sources that would otherwise go lost.


  • Alber, Birgit, Joachim Kokkelmans & Stefan Rabanus (2021): Preconsonantal s-Retraction in the Alps: Germanic, Romance, Slavic. STUF – Language Typology and Universals 74(1): 17–38.
  • Kruijt, Anne, Stefan Rabanus & Marta Tagliani (2023). The VinKo-Corpus: Oral data from Romance and Germanic local varieties of Northern Italy. In Marc Kupietz & Thomas Schmidt (eds.): Neue Entwicklungen in der Korpuslandschaft der Germanistik: Beiträge zur IDS-Methodenmesse 2022. (= Korpuslinguistik und interdisziplinäre Perspektiven auf Sprache (CLIP) 11). Tübingen: Narr, 203-212.
  • Rabanus, Stefan, Anne Kruijt, Birgit Alber, Ermenegildo Bidese, Livio Gaeta, & Gianmario Raimondi (2023). AlpiLinK Corpus 1.0.0. In collaboration with Paolo Benedetto Mas, Sabrina Bertollo, Jan Casalicchio, Raffaele Cioffi, Patrizia Cordin, Michele Cosentino, Silvia Dal Negro, Alexander Glück, Joachim Kokkelmans, Adriano Murelli, Andrea Padovan, Aline Pons, Matteo Rivoira, Marta Tagliani, Caterina Saracco, Emily Siviero, Alessandra Tomaselli, Ruth Videsott, Alessandro Vietti & Barbara Vogt. DOI:10.5281/zenodo.8360170.

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