The precise extension of the Ladin language area is the subject of scholarly debates. A more narrow perspective includes only the dialects of the valleys around the Sella group, wider definitions comprise the dialects of adjacent valleys in the Province of Belluno and even dialects spoken in the northwestern Trentino.
A standard written variety of Ladin (Ladin Dolomitan) has been developed by the Office for Ladin Language Planning as a common communication tool across the whole Ladin-speaking region, but it is not popular among Ladin speakers.
Ladin should not be confused with Ladino (also called Judeo-Spanish), which, although also Romance, is derived from Old Spanish.
Ladin is recognized as a minority language in 54 Italian municipalities belonging to the provinces of South Tyrol, Trentino and Belluno. It is not possible to assess the exact number of Ladin speakers, because only in the provinces of South Tyrol and Trentino are the inhabitants asked to identify their native language in the general census of the population, which takes place every ten years.
In the 2011 census, 20,548 inhabitants of South Tyrol declared Ladin as their native language. Ladin is an officially recognised language, taught in schools and used in public offices (in written as well as spoken form). The following municipalities of South Tyrol have a majority of Ladin speakers:
In the 2011 census, 18,550 inhabitants of Trentino declared Ladin as their native language. It is prevailing in the following municipalities of Trentino in the Fassa Valley, where Ladin is recognized as a minority language:
The Nones language in the Non Valley and the related Solandro language found in the Sole Valley are Gallo-Romance languages and often grouped together into a single linguistic unit due to their similarity. They are spoken in 38 municipalities, but have no official status. Their more precise classification is uncertain. Both dialects show a strong resemblance to Trentinian dialect and Eastern Lombard, and scholars debate whether they are Ladin dialects or not.
About 23% of the inhabitants from Val di Non and 1.5% from Val di Sole declared Ladin as their native language at the 2011 census. The number of Ladin speakers in those valleys amounts to 8,730, outnumbering the native speakers in the Fassa Valley. In order to stress the difference between the dialects in Non and Fassa valleys, it has been proposed to distinguish between ladins dolomitiches (Dolomitic Ladinians) and ladins nonejes (Non Valley Ladinians) at the next census.
The name derives from Latin, because Ladin is originally a vulgar Latin language left over from the Romanized Alps. Ladin is often attributed to be a relic of vulgar Latin dialects associated with Rhaeto-Romance languages. Whether a proto-Romance language ever existed is controversially discussed amongst linguists and historians, a debate known as Questione Ladina. Starting in the 6th century, the Bavarii started moving in from the north, while from the south Gallo-Italic languages started pushing in, which further shrank the original extent of the Ladin area. Only in the more remote mountain valleys did Ladin survive among the isolated populations.
After the end of World War I in 1918, Italy annexed the southern part of Tyrol, including the Ladin areas. The Italian nationalist movement of the 19th and 20th centuries regarded Ladin as an "Italian dialect", a notion rejected by various Ladin exponents and associations, despite their having been counted as Italians by the Austrian authorities as well. The programme of Italianization, professed by fascists such as Ettore Tolomei and Benito Mussolini, added further pressure on the Ladin communities to subordinate their identities to Italian. This included changing Ladin place names into the Italian pronunciation according to Tolomei's Prontuario dei nomi locali dell'Alto Adige.
Following the end of World War II, the Gruber-De Gasperi Agreement of 1946 between Austria and Italy introduced a level of autonomy for Trentino and South Tyrol, but did not include any provisions for the Ladin language. Only in the second autonomy statute for South Tyrol in 1972 was Ladin recognized as a partially official language.
Ladin is officially recognised in Trentino and South Tyrol by provincial and national law. Italy signed the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages of 1991, but has not ratified it so far. The charter calls for minority rights to be respected and minority languages, to which Ladin belongs, to be appropriately protected and promoted. Starting in the 1990s, the Italian parliament and provincial assembly have passed laws and regulations protecting the Ladin language and culture. A cultural institute was founded to safeguard and educate in the language and culture. School curricula were adapted in order to teach in Ladin, and street signs are being changed to bilingual.
Ladin is recognized as a protected language also in the Province of Belluno in Veneto region according to State Law 482/1999. In comparison with South Tyrol and Trentino, the wishes of the Ladins have barely been addressed by the regional government. In a popular referendum in October 2007, the inhabitants of Cortina d'Ampezzo overwhelmingly voted to leave Veneto and return to South Tyrol. The redrawing of the provincial borders would return Cortina d'Ampezzo, Livinallongo del Col di Lana and Colle Santa Lucia to South Tyrol, to which they traditionally belonged when part of the County of Tyrol or the Bishopric of Brixen.
Trilingual traffic sign
Although the Ladin communities are spread out over three neighbouring regions, the Union Generala di Ladins dles Dolomites is asking that they be reunited. The Ladin Autonomist Union and the Fassa Association run on a Ladin list and have sought more rights and autonomy for Ladin speakers. Ladins are also guaranteed political representations in the assemblies of Trentino and South Tyrol due to a reserved seats system.
In South Tyrol, in order to reach a fair allocation of jobs in public service, a system called "ethnic proportion" was established in the 1970s. Every ten years, when the general census of population takes place, each citizen has to identify with a linguistic group. The results determine how many potential positions in public service are allocated for each linguistic group. This has theoretically enabled Ladins to receive guaranteed representation in the South Tyrolean civil service according to their numbers.
The recognition of minority languages in Italy has been criticised since the implementation of the State Law 482/1999, especially due to alleged financial benefits. This applies also to Ladin language, especially in the province of Belluno.
The names of the Ladin dialects spoken in the Fassa Valley in Trentino are Moenat, Brach, and Cazet. 82,8% of the inhabitants of Fassa Valley are natively Ladin speaking; the Ladin language in Fassa is influenced by Trentinian dialects.
In Western Trentino, in Non Valley, Val di Sole, Val di Peio, Val di Rabbi and part of Val Rendena, detached from the dolomitic area, dialects are spoken that are often considered as Ladin language (Anaunic Ladin), but enjoy strong influences from Trentinian an Eastern Lombard dialects.
^Giovan Battista Pellegrini: Ladinisch: Interne Sprachgeschichte II. Lexik. In: Lexikon der Romanistischen Linguistik, III. Tübingen, Niemeyer 1989, ISBN 3-484-50250-9, p. 667: È necessaria innanzi tutto una precisazione geografica circa l'estensione del gruppo linguistico denominato «ladino centrale», dato che le interpretazioni possono essere varie.
^Johannes Kramer: Ladinisch: Grammatikographie und Lexikographie. In: Lexikon der Romanistischen Linguistik, III. Tübingen, Niemeyer 1989, ISBN 3-484-50250-9, p. 757: Im folgenden sollen die Grammatiken und Wörterbücher im Zentrum stehen, die das Dolomitenladinische im engeren Sinne ([...] Gadertalisch [...], Grödnerisch, Buchensteinisch, Fassanisch [...]) behandeln, während Arbeiten zum Cadorinischen [...] und zum Nonsbergischen [...] summarisch behandelt werden.
^"La pruma valutazions del diretor de l'Istitut Cultural Ladin Fabio Ciocchetti". La Usc di Ladins, nr. 26 /06 de messel 2012, p. 25. 2012.Missing or empty |url= (help)
^ Italian Ministry of Education, contributions among others by Prof. Gabriele Jannaccaro, Univ. Milano-Bicocca, La ladinità bellunese è piuttosto etnica che linguistica, e le varietà parlate dei comuni ladini sono dei dialetti veneti alpini grammaticalmente non diversi da quelli dei comuni che non si sono dichiarati ladini (Ladinity in the province of Belluno is more ethnic than linguistic, and the varieties spoken by Ladin municipalities are Venetian alpine dialects grammatically identical to those spoken in the municipalities that did not declare themselves as Ladin)
^ Map showing similarity of dialects around Belluno, from "Dialectometric Analysis of the Linguistic Atlas of Dolomitic Ladin and Neighbouring Dialects (ALD-I & ALD-II)" by Prof. Dr. Roland Bauer, 2012, University of Salzburg
^"Die Ladiner betrachten sich seit jeher als eigenständige Ethnie" and "Wir sind keine Italiener, wollen von jeher nicht zu ihnen gezählt werden und wollen auch in Zukunft keine Italiener sein! (..) Tiroler sind wir und Tiroler wollen wir bleiben!" (The ladins view themselves as a distinct ethnic group: ... we are not Italians and since ever do not want to be considered as part of them! We are Tyroleans and we want to stay Tyroleans!) from Die questione ladina – Über die sprachliche und gesellschaftliche Situation der Dolomitenladiner by Martin Klüners, ISBN 9 783638 159159
^ Fiorenzo Toso, Univ. di Sassari: I benefici (soprattutto di natura economica) previsti dalla legge482/1999 hanno indotto decine di amministrazioni comunali a dichiarare una inesistente appartenenza a questa o a quella minoranza: col risultato, ad esempio, che le comunità di lingua ladina si sono moltiplicate nel Veneto (financial benefits provided by the law 482/1999 led dozens of municipalities to declare a non-existent affiliation to some minority, resulting e.g. in a multiplication of the Ladin-speaking communities in the Veneto region)
^Mário Eduardo Viaro, O reto-românico: unidade e fragmentação. Caligrama. Belo Horizonte, 14: 101–156, December 2009.
Rut Bernardi: Curs de gherdëina – Trëdesc lezions per mparé la rujeneda de Gherdëina/Dreizehn Lektionen zur Erlernung der grödnerischen Sprache. Istitut Ladin Micurà de Rü, St. Martin in Thurn 1999, ISBN 88-8171-012-9
Marco Forni: Wörterbuch Deutsch–Grödner-Ladinisch. Vocabuler tudësch–ladin de Gherdëina. Istitut Ladin Micurà de Rü, St. Martin in Thurn 2002, ISBN 88-8171-033-1
Günter Holtus, Michael Metzeltin, Christian Schmitt (ed.): Lexikon der Romanistischen Linguistik (LRL), Tübingen, Niemeyer, 1988–2005 (12 Bände); Band III: Die einzelnen romanischen Sprachen und Sprachgebiete von der Renaissance bis zur Gegenwart. Rumänisch, Dalmatisch / Istroromanisch, Friaulisch, Ladinisch, Bündnerromanisch, 1989.
Theodor Gartner: Ladinische Wörter aus den Dolomitentälern. Niemeyer, Halle 1913 (Online version)
Heinrich Schmid: Wegleitung für den Aufbau einer gemeinsamen Schriftsprache der Dolomitenladiner. Istitut Cultural Ladin Micurà de Rü, St. Martin in Thurn/Istitut Cultural Ladin Majon di Fascegn, San Giovanni 1994 (Online version)