Introduction to the Sardinian language

The island of Sardinia lies of the west coast of Italy, and its inhabitants speak a unique native tongue known as Sardinian. Like Italian, Sardinian is a Romance language, which means that it developed from Latin. However, Sardinian developed separately from the rest of the continental Romance languages, a legacy that bequeathed it a distinct vocabulary, grammar and sound from Italian. In fact, linguistically, Sardinian is in many ways the closest living relative of Latin.

Nowadays, most Sardinians speak Standard Italian. Still, a bit of Sardinian will help you impress the locals, especially in the interior and the south of the island - this site will give you pronunciation tips, phrases and grammar tips to do just that.

Pronunciation tips

Sardinian has no standard spelling system, so there's quite a bit of variation. For example, some speakers write the sound "dz" (as in ads) as "z" - the way you would in Italian - while others write "dz". Fortunately, learning to pronounce Sardinian is straightforward, and the language tends to be spelled the way it sounds. There are many similarities between Sardinian and Italian pronunciation.

The pronunciation below reflects the central Sardinian dialects (Logudorese and, to an extent, Nuorese). Campidanese sounds similar, but Gallurese and Sassarese are quite distinct.

Vowels sounds like IPA pronunciation
namus father [a]
dzente hotel [ε]
limba thing [i]
pro lock [ɔ]
rughere moon [u]
Consonant clusters sounds like IPA pronunciation
chine chaos [k]
praghet spaghetti [g]
pronuntzia lets [ts]
dzente ads [dz]
petha thought [θ]

Other features of Sardinian include a lack of diphthongs and metathesis involving r (e.g. britzichetta bicycle, from *bitzicretta). A more detailed account of Sardinian pronunciation would consider the lenition of p/b, t/d & c/g, the progressive contiguous assimilation of s and the raising of e & o when they occur immediately before a syllable with i or u.

Phrases

su sardu
Sardinian
sa pronuntzia
pronunciation
s'ingresu
English
Bonas dies! [-nar di-ε-zε] Hello! / Hi!
Pro praghere. [po pra--rε] Please.
Gratzias. Thanks.
Gratzias meda. [gra-tsiar -ða] Thanks a lot.
De nudda. You're welcome.
Bona tarde. Good afternoon.
Bona notte. Good evening/night.
faeddo I speak
faeddas you speak
a faeddas do you speak
A faeddas s'ingresu? Do you speak English?
non faeddo su sardu I don't speak
isco I know
ischis [iskis] you know
non isco I don't know
unu pagu a bit
unu pagu de a bit of
unu pagu de sardu a bit of Sardinian
meda a lot
Ite ti nas? What's your name?
Mi naro ____. My name is ____.
Praghere. [pra--rε] Nice to meet you.
unu, duos, tre one, two, three
battor, chimbe, ses [ba-tɔ-rɔ, kim-bε, -zε] four, five, six
sete, oto, nove, deghe seven, eight, nine, ten
Inuve est...? Where is...?
su ristorante the restaurant
s'albergu the hotel
su caffè the café
A b'est...? Is there...?
B'est... There is...
s'abba water
su binu wine
sa petha meat
Adiosu! Goodbye!

Grammar tips

Sardinian grammar works a lot like other Romance languages.

Nouns are masculine or feminine, and take either a masculine or feminine article: su binu (the) wine, sa petha (the) meat. This is true for plural nouns, too: sos ristorantes (the) restaurants, sas citades (the) cities.

Verbs do much of the heavy lifting in a sentence, and do not require a subject to express a complete thought: naro I say (but you can use the pronoun for emphasis: dego naro I say). This is because, as in other Romance languages, verbs have six forms that plainly show the person performing the action. For example:

mandicare   to eat
mandico I eat mandicamus we eat
mandicas you eat mandicadzis all of you eat
mandicat he/she/it eats mandìcanta they eat

The endings vary depending on the verb's type (-are/-ere/-ire) and the tense/mood of the verb (e.g. if the verb's action happened in the past). Sardinian uses verb phrases to express many tense/moods - the past tense is structured like apo mandicatu I ate (lit. "I have eaten") and the future as deo mandicare I will eat (lit. "I ought to eat").

Also, not all verbs take regular endings. Here's a useful example of an irregular Sardinian verb:

essere   to be
soe I am semus we are
ses you are sedzis all of you are
est he/she/it is suntu they are

Again, notice that subject pronouns are optional and add stress/emphasis if you include them: nois semus WE are vs. semus we are; tue ses YOU are vs. ses you are. Sardinian also has a wide range of clitic object pronouns, which build around the verb: lu mandico "I eat it"; nde mandico tres "I eat three of it/them"; bi nde sun tres "there are three of them".

Sentences follow the basic word order subject (optional) + verb + object, although word order is less fixed than in English. When asking a question, Sardinian speakers use a question word (Chine ses? Who are you?; Ite est? What is it?) or use the question particle "a" (A lu mandicas? Do you eat it?; A nde cheres? Do you want some?).

References

Much of my understanding of the language comes from the growing body of Sardinian websites accessible on the internet (that is, websites in Sardinian rather than about Sardinian). If you already have a sturdy knowledge of Italian and some grammar smarts, and want to learn more, I highly recommend that you search for and read through Sardinian webpages. Start by typing in some of the words and phrases you learned on this page.

Still, I am indebted to the wonderful but out-of-print The Romance Languages (Routledge) for my foundation in the language.