AlpiLinK: documentation, explanation, participation

The AlpiLinK (Alpine Languages in Contact) project, developed in collaboration between the Universities of Verona, Trento, Turin, and Aosta Valley, and the Free University of Bozen/Bolzano, aims at promoting and investigating the Germanic and Romance minority languages and dialects spoken across the Alpine regions of Italy: Piedmont, Aosta Valley, Lombardy, Veneto, Trentino-South Tyrol, and Friuli Venezia Giulia.

The AlpiLinK project is a continuation and expansion of the VinKo (Varieties in Contact) project of the Universities of Verona, Trento, and Bozen, and it is from this project that the digital infrastructure was inherited. For more information on the VinKo project, see Kruijt, Tagliani and Rabanus (in press). The collected data is available in the  VinKo corpus, which can be downloaded from the repository of the Eurac Research Clarin Centre (ERCC).

Documentation: crowdsourcing linguistic data

The linguistic documentation in the project is done via crowdsourcing facilitated by the VinKo online platform. Any speaker of the investigated language 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. …). The collected audio files are made freely available on the interactive map “Listen & Explore” ,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 online database which constitutes a valuable open-access resource for both the researchers and the members of the communities involved (access granted on request, see below for contact details). The entire dataset will be archived at the Eurac Research Clarin Centre (ERCC) in Bozen/Bolzano, and will be periodically updated.

Explanation: why my <s> sounds different than yours

AlpiLinK investigates a selection of linguistic features through the analysis of the collected linguistic audio data.

Linguistic research into the different features of a language can provide insight in a place’s history, culture, and social connections and structures. To illustrate, let’s have a brief look at the way that people pronounce <s> across Trentino-South Tyrol and Veneto. In the Tyrolean dialects, where <s> is located in a word and which sound follows, determines the way that it sounds. For example, when the <s> occurs before a <k, p, t, m, or n> it is pronounced more like <sj>(ʃ in the International Phonetic Alphabet). However, in front of a <l or r> or in the middle of a word in front of <m or n>, it is pronounced as a “regular” <s>. Hear the difference yourself and compare the words Sponsor ‘sponsor’ and Rosmarin ‘rosemary’.

Sponsor ‘sponsor’ (F0155_tir_U07, Tomaselli et al. 2022)
Rosmarin ‘rosemary’ (F0169_tir_U07, Tomaselli et al. 2022)

This difference in pronunciation is known as ‘s-retraction’. This phenomenon is common in the German varieties, but not very common in Romance languages, like for example Trentino and Venetan dialects. However, interestingly, the Ladin languages form an exception. For example, in Gardenese Ladin, a very similar pattern to the Tyrolean dialects is found, where the <s> before <p, t, k, n or l> is pronounced as <sj> and like a “regular” <s> in the middle of a word in front of a <l or r>. Listen to spiedl ‘mirror’ and rosmarin ‘rosemary’.

spiedl ‘mirror’ (W0122_lldgh_U0543, Rabanus et al. 2022)
rosmarin ‘rosemary’ (W0159_lldgh_U0543, Rabanus et al. 2022)

The difference between Ladin and the other Romance varieties most likely comes from a mix of historic changes and language contact. For centuries Ladin speakers have interacted with and in German varieties, exposing them to their different <s> pronunciations and its system. However, the same is true for many Trentino-speaking communities and there we only find a single version of <s>. This is because, historically, Ladin had a third <s> pronunciation in [ś]. Throughout time this [ś] was lost and the gaps it left were filled with the <sj> (ʃ) sound, which is preserved to this day. While this change happened language internally, it is not unlikely that the intense contact with the German varieties supported this systematic change (Alber, Kokkelmans, and Rabanus 2021).

Participation: 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 carried out in collaboration with the Regional School office of the Veneto region, and it 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 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.

VinKiamo also aims to increase the awareness of the widespread multilingualism present in Northern Italy and to increase the perceived value of this linguistic competence. As is well-known, being multilingual enhances professional mobility. Research has shown that it also enriches the social and cognitive development of individuals and that it represents a fundamental aspect in the identity of a community. Multilingualism involves languages spoken within a single country as well as across the borders of different nations, and dialects and minority languages are often overlooked with respect to contributing positively to speakers’ linguistic biography.

How you can help

Take part in the survey

We would be very grateful if you helped us by taking part in our online survey. Your own data will make an important contribution to what we have gathered so far from other participants and will allow us to address some outstanding questions in this field of study: how does contact shape nearby languages? In what direction does language influence spread? Which phenomena are most subject to it?


Researchers interested in accessing the whole data set via the website are invited to write to