Linguistic minorities in Italy abound. Many Italians speak so-called standard, school-taught Italian (la lingua letteraria) as a second language; second, that is, to their spoken language, which is their local dialect. As late as 1945, 50 percent of Italians spoke only a dialect. Widespread exposure to films and television and longer school attendance have greatly reduced the influence of dialects on young Italians. Nevertheless, there remain several nonItalian linguistic groups scattered throughout the peninsula. Albanian and Greek are spoken by small communities in several regions of southern Italy, and there is a small Slovenian community in Friuli. The largest linguistic communities, however, are the Germans of Trentino-Alto Adige, the Sardinians, and the Ladini, who inhabit the eastern Alps and Friuli.
   In the last 20 years, these linguistic minorities have been surpassed in numbers by ethnic minorities created by immigration. Albanians, Arabs from North African nations such as Tunisia and Morocco, black Africans, Chinese, Poles, Romanians, Russians and Kurds all form sizeable ethnic groups within the general population. Historically, the German-speaking minority in Alto Adige (Sud Tirol) has been the source of the most political problems. Italy acquired the minority only as a result of its insistence, after World War I, on a frontier at the Brenner pass, instead of settling for the incorporation of the largely Italian Trentino alone. Only 3 percent of the population of Alto Adige was Italian speakers. Under Fascism, a policy of forcible Italianization was carried out. Place names were Italianized, tens of thousands of Italians were encouraged to migrate to the province, and German speakers were actively discriminated against in the public services. In 1939, Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler agreed to allow the German speakers a choice between staying under Italian domination or immigrating to the Third Reich. Those who chose to stay, the so-called Dableiber, were often condemned as traitors. Those who left, the Optanten, were regarded by many as Nazis. After World War II, the Italian Republic tried to solve the problems of Alto Adige by throwing money at them, but deep divisions still remain. The two linguistic communities are not integrated (there are even separate kindergartens for Germans and Italians), and all jobs in the public services are allocated proportionally in accordance with linguistic origin among Germans, Italians, and members of the Ladino community. Italians wishing to work for the state must also possess the patentino—a license proving linguistic competence in German.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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