Val Canale German

The Val Canale, which borders Austria and Slovenia, is now part of the autonomous region of Friuli Venezia Giulia in the far northeast of Italy. The municipalities of Tarvisio/Tarvis, Malborgetto-Valbruna/Malborgeth-Wolfsbach and Pontebba/Pontafel in particular are plurilingual communities that are officially recognized as quadrilingual. In addition to the state language Italian and the regional official language Friulian, the population uses the historical dialect based on South Bavarian, which is a continuation of Carinthian, as well as Slovenian. Standard German is also widely spoken due to the border with Austria.

Until the end of the First World War, the area belonged to Austria, and therefore German was the official language. As such the overwhelming majority of the population was German-speaking. After the annexation of the valley to Italy, the influx of an Italian-speaking population led to plurilingual communities in which each of the three major European language groups (i.e. the Germanic, Romance and Slavic) was represented, so that the area was also referred to as “Little Europe” (cf. Hasenauer et al. 2020).

As a result of the Option Agreement negotiated by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany in 1939, which allowed non-Italian-speaking families to relocate to the neighboring country, this situation was reversed. The proportion of autochthonous German and Slovenian-speaking inhabitants of the valley in the total population fell sharply. A further decline in the population in recent years has also led to an ever decreasing number of speakers of the minority languages. Only a small proportion of the older population now uses up to four languages in interpersonal relationships, while this is no longer the case among the younger generation. Hasenauer et al. (2020, p. 37) register fewer than 100 people in the Val Canale who speak the Carinthian dialect, while only around 300 people still use a Slovene variety.

However, there are many cultural and commercial links with neighboring Austria. The same traditions and customs of the Carinthian cultural area are cultivated on both sides of the border, which prevents a complete change of language. The Kanaltaler Kulturverein was founded back in 1979 to promote the German language and culture. Among the younger generation, there is a clear awareness of the cultural and ethnolinguistic peculiarities, which reveal a new regional identity of the Kanaltaler.


Further reading

Website of the Val Canale community