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 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 form of school plays.

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 art work related to the subject. Aspects of Fiuman tradition are interpreted 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 concerns that the use of the Fiuman dialect can lead to social isolation, there is also a fear that a Fiuman speaker will never fully adopt 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 varieties they speak. The fear that the use of a dialect instead of standard Italian will slow down or corrupt proper use of the 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 still actively spoken; 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 finds proof in tasks that are based on selective attention, during task switching, and in the ability to monitor one’s behaviour. Although bilingual speakers cannot be described as more intelligent than monolinguals, they certainly have an advantage over them. By exposing the negative myth surrounding speaking in a dialect, we can encourage the population of Rijeka to use the Fiuman dialect, without fear of innovations or “contamination” with new words. Expressions from Croatian, the majority language, are being often introduced into the 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


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.