Turning Gallurese

Every morning I head to the local coffee shop and it goes something like this … with the exception of the ‘beddu,’ that happened when I first arrived, a lot.


There’s been a lot of talk recently about the local dialects here in Sardinia and I have to admit that a good majority of people in my small town, do not speak Italian. Well, they know how to speak Italian but when conversing with others from town they speak strictly Gallurese. If I happen to be within the group and they direct a comment or question my way it’s in Italian, but the moment their head turns to their local companion it’s back to dialect.

Can you imagine what it was like in the beginning?

When I didn’t even speak Italian. Let alone this secretΒ Italo-Dalmatian Romance language known as Gallurese or Gadduresu.

It was difficult. It is difficult.

I find myself more often than not just zoning out of those group conversations. It gives me a headache. I understand a great dealΒ of Gallurese and sometimes mix up the two languages by using a word in Gallurese instead of Italian. You should see the looks on their faces when I do this. It’s a mix of surprised, soured faces. The locals have no idea what to say to me when I make this error.

Yesterday while out for my daily coffee I bumped into a few acquaintances from town, we sat down and ordered coffee. The entire conversation was in Gallurese and I followed along just fine. Then it was my turn to speak, to add to the growing excitement of our silly conversation. I started to tell my story, opening up in Italian and slowly but surely throwing in the odd word in dialect. Now, I wasn’t doing this on purpose, it just came naturally. They all looked at me in that flabbergasted way people usually do when I spill forth their language, and I said: “Ma,Β Γ¨ tutta colpa vostra. Tutti parlano dialetto.” They all shook their heads in agreement stating that it’s not easy for an outsider here, in small town Sardinia.


Are you an expat in Italy? What is it like in your town? Do the locals speak Italian or dialect?

40 thoughts on “Turning Gallurese

  1. It’s interesting for me to know that the problems I face in my husband’s village are shared and understood. I studied Italian and hoped that I would improve each year over time. However, when the locals only speak Italian when addressing ‘gli stranieri’, I felt I was wasting my time and gave up. I am now retired and able to stay for longer periods of time, so once again studying Italian. I have picked up the odd Anglona word, but not enough to follow a conversation. I am interested to know how you picked up Gallurese – just by listening with Italian translations?

    • It’s not easy being ‘gli stranieri’ in a town where two languages (Italian and Dialect) are spoken frequently. I picked up Gallurese because it’s my husbands first language. Among his friends it’s the language they speak, even in front of gli stranieri. So, I just listened, for many years and asked all sorts of questions. I’m certainly not fluent in speaking Gallurese, but am pretty fluent on listening and understanding. I like to throw a few words out to my husband once in a while to make him laugh. πŸ™‚

  2. yes…dialects..here in italy a vast choice! just move to another area and it’s all “different” i speak regularly (most of the time) marchigiano dialect with the older people and all my old farming companions/friends/aquaintances..whilst depite having been with my wife now for 30 years i’ve hardly ever understood a word my MIL says she speaks ONLY a dialect from the area of Etna near to Catania (Sicily).Whilst resident in Milano i was on a working trip to Indonesia and had to explain to the Italian vice consul what some people from Bergamo wanted from him!he was Roman,as i could understand (then) Milanese dialect it was easier for me to understand what they were saying than for him(!?)…

  3. I live up in the mountains in Piemonte and have the same situation. Here the locals speak Piemontese which is not just a simple dialect but an entirely different language. Luckily I understand French as well as Italian and can understand what they are saying (it is francophonic). We kept this secret from them for a while as it was always interesting for us to hear what they said about us even when we were present. It was a great shock and quite embarrassing for some when they realised that I could understand.
    After a few years here I became a volunteer for 118 and that was when I really had to learn the language. We have an ageing population where a lot of the patients we get called out to speak Piemontese as a first language and Italian second. Obviously when stressed or confused they use their first language. I needed to be able to understand their symptoms.
    The language barrier is never simple and there is this habit of creating them to exclude outsiders. However all barriers can be got round in the end.

    • Hello and thank you for your comment. I finally understand our local language, it sure took some time, but like you I wanted to know what everyone was saying. Wishing you health and happiness.

  4. I am constantly amazed by the sheer amount of languages in this world.! Besides learning Spanish in Mexico, the Riviera Maya is also home to Yucatec Mayans. So I learned a little Mayan too.!! Good luck πŸ™‚

  5. same here in Shanghai… they speak Shanghanese. We were so proud learning Chinese (mandarin) only to find out later it only works with locals. If you get a taxi driver from another region it can be tricky… after all we only speak taxi language anyway πŸ˜‰

  6. I don’t speak Italian or Sard, but I can understand quite a few words. My cousins can speak both their dialect and Italian, like my father did. But their first use of language is their own unique dialect and I love it all. You have done amazing in the time that you are there and I am blown away by that. You are fitting in with the locals, they have accepted you and that is just wonderful! I just love the cartoon! This was very interesting, do some more on your everyday local routines, it is very enjoyable to hear how one lives in another country and how their day goes! Have a wonderful day!
    The Sard/American

  7. I’m gallurese and, back in the days, when I did my civil service year in Villanovaforru, halfway between Oristano and Cagliari, I could barely understand a word in the local dialect. For the first couple of months I could figure out somebody was talking about us whenever I used to overhear the word “obbiettorisi”, us being conscience objectors. Still, I became somewhat able to speak their dialect (language that is), and today I do enjoy whenever I can understand locals or reply in their language whenever I’m in Cagliari or elsewhere south.

    • It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to chatter on with the locals and understand their language. It’s like a secret society, but for a non-native speaker of Italian it does get difficult to fully follow along. Thanks for stopping by, I appreciate your comment.

  8. I wonder about the older people… is it that they CAN speak Italian and just don’t want to, or does it refuse to come out of their mouths? My grandmother, for instance (and many of her generation), understand High German perfectly well (that’s what’s spoken on TV), but they just can’t quite muster speaking anything but Bavarian. They can tone it down, to a certain extent, but it’s still Bavarian. She’s not doing it to be difficult….

    • I think for the older generation, it’s just harder for them to speak Italian, most of them have never left the island let alone the village. Like I speak English, they speak dialect, it’s their first language.

      • TV, books and mags are all in Italian. There is a local magazine that comes out 4 times a year, I noticed it today in the shop and had a peek. There was a section translating several words in Gallurese to Italian.

      • Yes, they are. Gallurese is the first language spoken in the home … I can only speak for my little town, I have no idea what it’s like in other small towns in Sardinia. It’s the language the kids use on the street, when friends meet for coffee and for doing business.

      • I’d also like to say that I’ve no problems like this where I’m living now, standard Castilian is spoken – but I moved to this town/region specifically because of that. I’d quite like to move somewhere else now, but what’s holding me back is precisely the issue you’re having!

  9. It still amazes me how many dialects there are in Sardegna! I’ve yet to learn any but I have to say that I actually understood the comic strip (I’m so proud of myself, lol!) I never learnt Italian growing up…my dad only spoke in Logodurese!!!! No wonder!

    • I’m glad you understood the strip, it wasn’t easy but I had fun making it. I learnt Italian just in the last 6 years and again, it wasn’t easy. In the first year I’d study for 3 hours, every afternoon. I’d use cds, excersie books, pictures, I read kids books and watched TV with subtitles. Then when I realized that all my background noise, linguistically speaking, was all in dialect, I stopped studying Italian. I decided to just let the language come to me naturally and it has even if I can only speak in the present and simple past!! πŸ™‚

    • Yes, my comperehencion is 100% though I get maid fun on in the office bc I still butcher some phrases and also have missed out on 15 yrs of colloquial expressions. Basically I still think ‘American’ but speak Russian. Just the other day while working on a ‘Year in News’ review, I said something (in Russian) about how the world media couldn’t rip off Little Prince Georgie’s eyes – when I meant ‘the couldnt take their eyes off of him’. Russian is hard even for a native speaker!

      • I could not even imagine learning Russian, Italian was hard enough. Now I find myself between three linguistic worlds: English, Italian and Gallurese. The latter is slowly creeping into my vocabulary whether I like it or not.

  10. I’m like the sole Russian who does not understand anything said by the Ukrainians in the Crimea or Kiev (ethnically and linguistically parts of Ukraine). I’m still adjusting to the non-American English around me in Russia πŸ™‚

    • Ciao Kathy,

      It’s not like I want to take on the dialect, I have no other choice. The worst thing about it is that there are no books to study it by. Wikipedia offers a few verbs, number and the months that’s it! If there was a book, I would study it.

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