METM22 Chronicles: Hayley Smith

Fathoming Friulian and the unexpected gains in my work as a translator

Hayley Smith’s very personal presentation took us on a journey into Friulian, a minority Romance language with around 600,000 speakers in north-eastern Italy. Most live in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, where Hayley has been based since 2015.

Hayley began her introduction to Friulian by showing us a brief video of the language’s characteristics, narrated in Friulian. As an Italian speaker, I was able to follow the video (handily also subtitled in English!) reasonably closely in a way that brought home Friulian’s similarities to Italian. The video explained that it is not derived from Italian, but evolved from a version of Latin spoken in Aquileia, an ancient Roman city on the Adriatic.

After introducing us to the language, Hayley explained how she had first come into contact with it before signing up for a Friulian course in 2016 – such classes are offered free of charge in the region to anyone who wants to learn, and Hayley was apparently quite the novelty as a foreigner!

Hayley explained that she has a trilingual homelife with her partner, whose mother tongue is Friulian. She revealed that they usually communicate in Italian, with both of them reverting to their first language on the rare occasion that voices are raised! Hayley also picked up Friulian in more informal settings, such as at amateur football matches and food festivals, mostly frequented by locals.

After this overview, Hayley delved into the particular linguistic features of Friulian; she also took pains to point out that Friulian is a language, not a dialect. It has its own grammar, which is more complex than that of Italian, is protected by language policy associations, has its own TV and radio channels, is offered as an “opt-in” in the education system, boasts its own literature and is legally protected at a national, regional and international level.

As a native English speaker, Hayley found things about Friulian that were actually easier than Italian: its use of phrasal verbs, the plural “s” and phonology, for example. In the last of these three, she warned us of the potential for embarrassment in the similarity between the word for “ugly” (brut) and “daughter-in-law” (brût)…

From here Hayley looked at some tricky toponyms and the potential for confusion when place names appear in texts in the local variants of their Friulian names, such as Goricizza (IT), Guriciz (FUR) or Gurissìs (local FUR). Potential for confusion was also highlighted in the area of flower names, with “rose” being the generic name for flowers in Friulian but specifically used for roses in standard Italian.

Fathoming Friulian

Hayley then moved on to the measures being taken to protect Friulian, which is happily still being spoken in school playgrounds across the region, and the potential threats it faces in an increasingly globalised world.

Finally, Hayley looked at the benefits her knowledge of Friulian has brought her both professionally and personally. She is not yet confident enough to offer Friulian as a source language, but lists background knowledge, text comprehension, networking, a new specialisation in local tourism, relationship building and a USP among the advantages it gives her.

Hayley’s passion and enthusiasm for Friulian was clear throughout and she concluded her talk with a challenge for us all to consider whether there are any minority languages in our own areas that we might want to think about learning. As someone who was born and brought up in Cornwall but, embarrassingly, doesn’t speak a word of Cornish, this has certainly given me food for thought!

This METM22 presentation was chronicled by Laura Bennett.

Featured image by METM22 photographer Jone Karres, embedded photo by the author.

2 thoughts on “METM22 Chronicles: Hayley Smith

  1. Fascinating article! I learnt so much about Friulian. Had no idea that it was so actively spoken in the area; and 600,000 speakers in an area so close to multilingual borders, makes me think, wow, respect! Interesting to know about some differences between Friulian and Italian. Thanks, Hayley, and Laura for sharing this event!

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