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Sardinian (Sardu) is the main language spoken in the island of Sardinia, Italy, and is one of the most conservative Romance languages.
The history of the Sardinia island, practically isolated from the Continent for thousands of years, and only in recent times allowed to easily communicate with the mainland, allows us to see quite vividly the distinct traces of the linguistic invasions or influences on the Sardinian language. These external influences presumably came in contact with language of the Nuragici people, the island's original inhabitants, and interacted with it to build the essential structure of Sardinian.
The basic origins of the Sardinian language (sometimes called Paleosardinian) are still obscure, due mostly to the lack of documents, as Sardinian appeared as a written form only in the Middle Ages. Thus, the research done cannot rely only on linguistic investigation, but must use other scientific resources to research contacts between Sardinia and other peoples: the result will be a common study in structural comparison. It must be underlined that substantial differences distinguish the many theories about the development of Sardinian, so opposite results are sometimes produced. Many studies have attempted to discover the origin of some obscure roots that today could legitimately be defined as endemic. First of all, the root of sard, present in many toponyms and distinctive of the ethnic group, is supposed to have come from a mysterious people known as the Shardana, "the people of the sea" (this name is shown in Egyptian inscriptions of the 9th-8th c.BC, and is perhaps of Middle-East or Eastern Mediterranean origins). Prof. Massimo Pittau identifies the Shardana's original home as being in Lydia, basing his theory on several notable archaeological and religious analogies with the central regions of Anatolia; others stress the strange similarity of development of archaic costumes and rites between inner Sardinia and some areas in the Balkan region. However, this connection is difficult to support ex post facto; that is, after the influence of Caucasican and Balkan emigration to the Iberian peninsula. The work of Pittau is also interesting because in a famous 1984 work he claims to have found in the Etruscan language the etymology of many other Latin words, after comparison with the Nuragic language. If true, one could conclude that, having evidence of a deep influence of Etruscan culture in Sardinia, the island could have directly received from Etruscan many elements that are instead usually considered to be of Latin origin. Pittau then indicates that both the Etruscan and Nuragic languages are descended from the Lydian language, therefore being both Indo-European languages, as a consequence of the alleged provenance of Etruscans/Tirrenii from that land (as in Herodotus), where effectively the capital town was Sardis. Pittau also suggests, as a historical point, that the Tirrenii landed in Sardinia, whereas the Etruscans landed in modern-day Tuscany; this idea requires much further investigation, although it has been initially well-received. As for Sardinian contact with other peoples (here referring mainly to the Iberian peninsula), it has been said that Paleosardinian should be expected to have notable similarities with the Iberian language and the Sicilian language: the suffix -'ara, for example, in proparoxitones (Bertoldi and Terracini proposed it indicated plural forms). The same would happen (according to Terracini) for suffixes in -/àna/, -/ànna/, -/énna/, -/̣nna/ + /r/ + paragogic vowel (as in the surname Bonnànnaro). Rohlfs, Butler and Craddock add the suffix -/ini/ (as in the surname Barùmini) as a peculiar element of Paleosardinian. At the same time, suffixes in /a, e, o, u/ + -rr- seem to find a correspondence in northern Africa (Terracini), in Iberia (Blasco Ferrer), in southern Italy and in Gascony (Rohlfs), with some closer relation to Basque (Wagner, Hubschmid). Suffixes in -/ài/, -/éi/, -/̣i/, and -/ùi/ are common to Paleosardinian and northern African languages (Terracini). Pittau underlined that this concerns terms originally ending in an accented vowel, with an attached paragogic vowel; the suffix resisted Latinization in some toponyms, which show a Latin body and a Nuragic desinence. On this point, some toponyms ending in -/ài/ and in -/asài/ were thought to show Anatolic influence (Bertoldi). The suffix -/aiko/, widely used in Iberia, and perhaps of Celtic origins, as well as the ethnical suffix in -/itani/ and -/etani/ (as in the Sardinian Sulcitani) have been noted as other Paleosardinian elements (viz Terracini, Ribezzo, Wagner, Hubschmid, Faust, et al).
t is with the Phoenicians that the Nuragic/Sardinian language begins to split into two major families, eventually producing Logudorese and Campidanese, Phoenicians having avoided the areas of Barbagia (in the island's center) and Gallura. Logudoro and Gallura evolved quite differently, especially during the Era of the Giudicati (1000-1400) when their differences became especially marked, leading to what we now know as Sardo logudorese and Gallurese. Phoenicians probably arrived from Cyprus (Borsig-Lilliu-Fischer, Barreca, Wagner) and immediately organised for a long stay on the island, notably founding the town of Nora. Relations with the inner part of the island were extended mainly in the 9th century BC (retrievals of religious fetishes), and later when Sardinian grain became a vital resource for Carthage.
The Roman domination, beginning in 238 BC, obviously brought Latin to Sardinia, but Latin was not able to completely supplant the Sardinan language. Some obscure roots remained unaltered, and in many cases it was Latin that was made to accept the local roots, such as nur (in Nuraghe, as well as Nugoro and many other toponyms). Latin culture, on the other hand, was undoubtedly dominant; even the Barbagia, the rebellious inner area of the island, derives its name from the beards that Sardinians wore: their land officially became Barbaria (this name was attributed to other areas of the Roman empire too, for exactly the same reasons: it should be remembered that shaving was a Roman habit, and not widespread). Cicero, who called Sardinians latrones matrucati (thieves with rough sheep-woolcloaks) to emphasise Roman superiority, helped to spread this conception. Other Barbarians were on the northern side of Sardinia, in current Gallura, and Romans had to organise several expeditions to defeat the Balari (clearly coming from the Balearic Islands), Ilienses, Galillenses and Giddilotani. The importance of these conquests for the language is closely connected with the important construction of the Roman roads on the island: having conquered Sardinia in its entirety (1st century BC), and having gifted it with "modern" connectivity, Romans were able found Roman towns which they filled with Roman inhabitants from the mainland. Traces of these migrations were found in interesting ethnological studies of the 1920s (University of Bologna?), which found some ethnic features of the original Roman race (red hair, blue eyes, rosé skin and strong necks) in some smaller villages in the area of Bitti.
During this time period, there was a reciprocal influence between Corsica and a limited area of northern Gallura. On the southern side, though, the evidence favors contacts with Semitic and (later) Byzantine languages. In the 1st century AC, some relevant groups of Hebrews were deported to Sardinia, bringing various influences; the Christianisation of the island would have (probably) brought Hebrews to convert to a sort of independent cult of Sant'Antioco (perhaps a way to preserve their ethnicity under a Christian form), still present in Gavoi. This contact with Hebrews, followed by another deportation of Christians, presumedly lasted for a couple of centuries, and makes it likely that by the 3rd century AC, vulgar Latin began to dominate the island. This eventual Latin cultural domination thus makes Sardinian a Romance language, or better yet an archaic neo-Latin language, whose main characteristics are the lack of borrowings from the Greek language (especially for abstracts), an archaic kind of phonetic and morphosyntactic phenomena, and an eminently rural character of lexicon. The domination of the Vandals (5th century) lasted for only 80 years, and the presumed few German influences in Sardinian are not a result of this presence, but have rather been passed down indirectly through direct Latin-German relationships. After this domination, Sardinia passed under the control of the Eastern Roman Empire, and more interesting influences are derived from this culture. The Greek language that was the main reference of Byzantines did not, however, enter into the structure of Sardinian (still a Neolatin language) except for in some ritual or formal formulaes that are expressed in Latin using Greek structure. Much evidence for this can be found in the Condaghes, the first written documents in Sardinian. Some toponyms show Greek influence as well, such as Jerzu, commonly presumed to derive from the Greek khérsos (untilled), together with the personal names Mikhaleis, Konstantine, and Basilis.

Sardinian is spoken/used in Italy

Language Family
Family: Indo-European,
Subgroup: Romance


Copyright © Kenneth Katzner, The Languages of the World, Published by Routledge.