Upbringing in Fiuman: respecting one’s own cultural heritage

Author: Dr Gianna Mazzieri-Sanković

Published on 15 April 2016

Today Fiuman is used in the family environment and in the course of different social activities of the Italian national minority living in the Kvarner area. Since the number of speakers has been drastically reduced due to historical and political changes, Fiuman is now considered to be an endangered language. If we subscribe to this characterization, it is clear that the fate of the Fiuman dialect depends on the way in which its current few thousand speakers will use the dialect.

Since Italian primary schools in Rijeka are not institutions of a closed type, students whose mother tongue is Croatian and who only speak the Italian standard language can also enrol. This makes it difficult to impose the teaching of the Fiuman dialect as a compulsory subject in schools. Schools are, however, trying to respond to the needs of the Italian community and Fiuman families by including a course in the Fiuman dialect among students’ elective and extracurricular activities. The course Piccoli fiumani (Little Fiumans) is currently being offered in the Belvedere, Gelsi, and San Nicolò Italian primary schools, while the Dolac Primary School nurtures the Fiuman dialect in the context of school performances.

A commendable initiative that took place in 2015, sponsored by the Italian National Minority Council, gathered together all four Italian primary schools on the project of publishing a book in the Fiuman dialect titled Magnè con noi? (Will you eat with us?). It is a collection of traditional recipes from Rijeka, accompanied by drawings, commentary, proverbs and student compositions related to the subject. Aspects of Fiuman tradition are explained in the introduction: “It is well known that every Fiuman is a bonculovich (foody), so what better way is there to present what can be found on our table today than using recipes? ” (Ogni fiuman, se sa, xe un bonculovich, alora cossa mejo de ricete per presentar quel che se pol trovar ancora ogi in te le nostre tole?, p. 3).

In spite of the many school and community initiatives geared toward the preservation of the community’s linguistic heritage, there is still a certain scepticism present in many Fiuman families. In addition to the concerns that the use of the Fiuman dialect can lead to social isolation, there is also a concern that a Fiuman speaker will never fully learn the standard Italian language. Parents often wonder what language variety to use in daily communication with the child. All parents, not only those who belong to a national minority, think this way, especially when a dialect is one of the communicative options. The fear that the use of a dialect instead of standard Italian will slow down the learning or corrupt the use of the proper, standard language has today been refuted by scientific research. Recent studies have shown that the Italian standard language itself includes – especially in speech – variations that depend on the region the speaker comes from and on the interlocutors. It should be noted that Italy is one of the countries with the highest number of dialects. They are an expression of the wealth of cultural diversity and should be treasured. The Fiuman dialect is characteristic everyday speech and still actively used; its strength comes from a long tradition of multilingualism and respect for the many cultures in the Kvarner area.

As claimed by Antonella Sorace (Sorace, 2012), in the course of the development of an individual, a dialect acquires all the properties of a language and, although a minority variety, becomes equal to other languages the speaker uses. Therefore, it is not a ‘less valuable’ or ‘folk’ language, but a code that enables us to regard a person as a bilingual. Sorace presents the cognitive benefits of bilinguals, who, in addition to being better aware of different points of view, also show greater mental flexibility. The latter manifests itself in selective attention, in task switching, and in the ability to monitor their own behaviour. Although bilingual speakers cannot be described as more intelligent than monolinguals, they certainly have an advantage over them.

By dispelling the misconceptions about speaking in a dialect, we should encourage the ethnic Italian population of Rijeka to use their dialect, without fear of innovations or “contamination” with new words. Expressions from Croatian, the majority language, are being often introduced into the Fiuman dialect since recently. It is a natural phenomenon in which languages in contact borrow frequent expressions from each other.

Why keep a dialect alive? Why nurture and treasure it? It is an important part of identity, opposing the loss of uniqueness, and an additional means of communication in one’s personal repertoire. A dialect enriches and is a choice that implies deep cultural, psychological and autobiographical motivations. Its use passes on and preserves values, traditions, customs and, in particular, cultural diversity, the collective subconscious, our heritage. The Fiuman dialect will continue to exist if it is used and appreciated, that is, if people who use it from birth, in accordance with tradition and origin, continue to use it. This, after all, applies to all languages.



Sorace, A. (2012). “Una mente, due lingue, tanti vantaggi: perché il bilinguismo fa bene ai bambini”, a lecture held on 19 April 2012 in the Italian Community in Rijeka.

Translation from the Croatian language: Antonela Marjanušić


The Fiuman dialect

Authors: Dr Gianna Mazzieri-Sanković and Maja Đurđulov

Published: 22 October 2015

The Fiuman dialect belongs to the group of the Veneto Italian dialects and it is spoken in the city of Rijeka and its environs. One theory suggests that it evolved from the Latin used by the Romanised Illyrians in the 6th century. The linguistic and cultural influence of the Republic of Venice was crucial for the development of the Fiuman dialect, as it was for other Italian dialects spoken on the Adriatic coast. The actual Venetian rule in Rijeka was very brief, lasting from 1508 to 1511. However, from the 13th to the 15th century, during the reigns of the counts of Devinski and the Walsee family, Rijeka belonged to the Pula diocese, which was part of the Venetian Istria and, hence, the area of spread of the Veneto dialect.

In the 13th century, due to its strategic geographic position, Rijeka had already developed a successful economy based on trade and sea transport. The language of trade and administration was the Veneto dialect, and the east Adriatic coast was dominated by its Venetian variety, used by traders and officials doing business in the area. In addition to Italian, Croatian, Hungarian, German and French were also used in Rijeka. The importance of trade for the development of language is, among others, evidenced by the fact that Rijeka’s first written document, the so-called Fish Price List (It. Tariffa del pesce), drawn up in 1449, was written in Italian, or more precisely, in the Fiuman dialect. Venice imposed its customs and traditions in the entire area it ruled and traded with (in particular, on the eastern coast of the Adriatic, in Trieste, Istria and Dalmatia), bringing the local spoken language even closer to the Venetian dialect. 

Rijeka was still a bilingual city in the 15th century – the upper class used the Fiuman dialect while commoners used a hybrid language, i.e. a mixture of Italian, Croatian and Illyrian languages. The influence of Croatian, especially of its local Chakavian dialect, together with German and, to a much lesser degree, Hungarian and French, was very important for the development of the Fiuman dialect.

The Fiuman dialect belongs to the eastern branch of Venetian dialects, alongside Triestin, Istro-Venetian, and Dalmatian Venetian, but in its current form it also has a large number of characteristics coming from standard Italian. After the First World War, the influence of the Italian literary language on the Fiuman dialect increased. Today we distinguish between two Fiuman dialects: the dialect of ezuli, the people who, after emigrating to Italy, italianised their dialect and removed many non-Italian loanwords from it, and the dialect of ethnic Italians who remained in Rijeka, now quite different from the one spoken by the ezuli. Today, the Fiuman dialect is still actively used in families and in everyday life by the members of the Rijeka Italian minority, but it also has a presence in schools, due to the dedication of teachers who try to maintain and expand its use.

How can we study an uncodified and continually developing Fiuman dialect? We have to take into consideration the fact that proverbs, legends, and oral and written idiomatic expressions of a dialect belong to the people, and that dialects are subject to constant historical, political, and social changes in which old customs give way to new ways of experiencing the world. Other languages and cultures also keep influencing the Fiuman dialect. 

Today it is difficult to determine the exact number of speakers of Fiuman since many of its users moved from Rijeka to other cities and areas around Rijeka, like Kraljevica, Kastav, Viškovo, Opatija, Volosko, Mošćenička Draga and others. Be it as it may, there may be more than 9,269 of them (the number of members of the Italian Community in Rijeka), because not all members of the Fiuman population belong to the Italian Community, and many local Croatians (living in the part of town called Sušak) use the Fiuman dialect as well.

Translation from the Croatian language: Antonela Marjanušić


Minority languages in Rijeka and its environs with a particular focus on Italian: an overview and our goals

Author: Dr Gianna Mazzieri-Sanković

Published on 6 June 2014


In the City of Rijeka there are 22 registered ethnic minorities or ethnic communities, preserving and promoting their cultural heritage and languages. According to the 2011 census, the Serbian, Bosniak, Italian, Slovenian, Albanian and Roma ethnic minorities are the largest, making up 6.57%, 2.06%, 1.90%, 0.85%, 0.69% and 0.7% of the population respectively.

Our goal is to contribute to the fostering, promotion and preservation of minority languages and cultures in the wider Rijeka region through various activities aimed – not exclusively – at members of ethnic minorities. Initially we will focus on the language and culture of the Italian minority, and gradually broaden our remit to cover other minority languages and cultures. The Italian ethnic minority of this region has the special status of an autochthonous ethnic community. Ethnic Italians, as well as those who stated themselves to be speakers of Italian and members of the Italian culture, use Standard Italian and the local Fiuman idiom, one of the Venetian dialects.

Striving to preserve its cultural heritage, the Italian ethnic community fosters the Italian language and culture in pre-school education, in primary and secondary schools, at university level, and through the Italian Theatre and media such as Radio Rijeka/Radio Fiume, the EDIT publishing house, and its publications: La Voce del Popolo daily newspaper, the Panorama biweekly, La Battana literary journal and the Arcobaleno children's monthly. In Rijeka members of the Italian ethnic minority are catered to by a crèche and six kindergartens offering full-day programmes in Italian, as well as four primary and one secondary school where teaching is in Italian.

In 2011 a Department of Italian was founded at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of the University of Rijeka, offering a bachelor's degree programme in Italian Language and Literature. The Department is exceptionally active in organising talks and international conferences on topics related to the region's cultural and artistic heritage, and in supporting lifelong learning through running professional training programmes for teachers. The Department works with the Consulate General of the Republic of Italy in Rijeka and the Italian Cultural Institute of Zagreb in organising the twice-yearly Festival of Italian Cinema as well as launch events for books and other publications in the field of Italian language and literature. More details on the Department's activities can be found on its web page.

We aim to inform members of the Italian ethnic minority about the benefits of bilingualism and develop their awareness of the value and importance of using the Fiuman dialect on an equal footing with other languages spoken in the community, thus contributing to preserving the minority's language and culture. We wish to establish co-operation between bilingualism researchers and the community – Italian-language crèche, kindergarten, and school teachers, teachers from schools using other languages of instruction, bilingual families, parents, and other members of the Italian Community. We would also like to work with folkloric societies in the region that use the Italian language or dialect. By offering professional advice and various activities aimed at disseminating information, we would support parents and teachers in raising and educating bilingual children, as well as make older children and especially adolescents aware of the benefits conferred by bilingualism. We also wish to contribute to creating and implementing a regional strategy aimed at increasing early childhood bilingualism, and at preserving and valuing the Fiuman dialect and the region's cultural and artistic tradition and heritage.



Bilingualism Matters was founded by Professor Antonella Sorace at the University of Edinburgh.


Bilingualism Matters@Rijeka has been established within the „Advancing the European Multilingual Experience (AThEME)” project.


This project has received funding from the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no. 613465.