Some people asked me to speak about Italian dialects.
By and large the questions were like these:
How do they differ from standard Italian?
Are they commonly used or not?
Are you able to understand other dialects?
Well... probably I'm not the best person to tell you about Italian dialects since I'm from the birthplace of the Italian language which is Florence, and we don't really have a dialect, just an accent and some words that are used nowhere else in the country, but not a real dialect as the Venetian, the Neapolitan or the Sicilian ones can be.
Nevertheless, first and foremost, I want to point out a thing: dialects are different from accents. When we speak about accents, we refer to different variants in the pronunciation of Italian... whereas dialects are a sort of different languages even though closely related to Italian.
Italy has an immensely huge variety of dialects... in some regions each single village, town and city has its own dialect! So yeah, it's like a sort of Tower of Babel... But of course everyone does speak Italian...
Are they commonly used?
I think it depends on the region... according to a study recently done by some researchers, the regions where dialects are more used are Veneto and Calabria and I believe that it is quite true, in fact if you walk around Venice, you will be able to see the streets name written both in Italian and Venetian...
Anyway, in my opinion, nowadays there is more and more a trend towards the replacement of dialects with Italian.
Are people able to understand other dialects? Well I think it depends... For instance, a people from Trento will be able to understand the Venetian dialect because they use an alike dialect, but he would understand nothing in Sicilian.
Personally I understand nothing in almost all dialects :-) I have much less problems to understand Spanish rather than Sicilian or Sardinian or any other one :-)
But I would like to highlight the fact that every Italian speaks Italian at a native level, and in addition to that, many of them also speak a dialect (so it's a sort of "bilingualism").
I can't tell you the features of the various Italian dialects since I myself have no idea of them. Maybe you will be able to get some info on wikipedia.
Well... That's all! If you have other questions, let me know! And if other Italians in this group have something to add or to correct or have personal experiences to share about this issue, feel free to do that!
It is true that there is a huge variety of dialects in some parts of Italy. In my region (Abruzzo), for example, nearly every town and village has its own dialect, locally spoken by quite a few people.
In Italy older people from certain towns or villages (and also from the countryside) tend to speak their own dialect in everyday life. Young people instead, tend to speak Italian more often than their dialect; yet a certain influence of the native dialect may be noticed in their speeches (especially if they hear their family and friends speaking dialect most of the time!) In a big city of the north like Milan, the local dialect is normally spoken only by the elders, as far as I know.
A dialect from the north might sound like a foreign language to a person from the south, as well as Northeners find southern dialects very misterious.
Sardinia has its own spoken language, Sardinian, with a variety of dialects; Italian is still the official language, anyway. Sardidian is quite different from Italian, as it was influenced by Catalan and Spanish and had its own development within an island; it is very hard (I would say impossible) to understand for most Italians. Calabria and Sicily also have quite hard dialects, since these regions were invaded by several people in the past (the Greeks and the Phoenicia, just to say a couple of them).
Dialects are very expressive and meaningful, and can connect people to their roots. A dialect can often express concepts that are impossibile to translate into Italian, unless they are written in a twisted way, thus sounding inaccurate or cold. Dialects have this unique power: they spread emotions quickly and effectively, using just few words.