Fading Voices: COVID-19, Language Death and the Case of Bergamasco in Italy

Simone De Cia, Giovanni Villa

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The chapter explores the impact of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic on language endangerment in Italy. Despite their misleading name, Italian Dialects (IDs) are sister languages of Italian and independently developed from Latin. Since the introduction of compulsory education in the 1960s and concurrent Italy’s sharp industrialisation, IDs are in decline, and a clear language shift is detectable towards the dominant national language: Italian. IDs are hence only discretely vital among the aging population with the younger generations having broken their intergenerational transmission. Given the higher mortality rates among the elderly and the strict intermittent national and regional lockdowns enforced by the Italian Government, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the process of language death across Italy. This is particularly noticeable in Bergamo, one of the Italian provinces most affected by COVID-19, where the disease caused a five-fold increase in excess mortality in March 2020. In the same period, COVID-19 was the attributable cause of death in half of those older than 50 and the mean age of those dying for COVID-19 was 80. The death toll of COVID-19 on the elderly population has left Bergamasco, the ancestral language of Bergamo, a step closer to extinction. By taking Bergamasco as a case study, the chapter denounces the vulnerability of IDs and the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their level of vitality. To this aim, the chapter presents a quantitative sociolinguistic study of the vitality of Bergamasco in relation to COVID-19 incidence and lethality rates in the province of Bergamo.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCOVID-19 and a World of Ad Hoc Geographies
EditorsStanley D. Brunn, Donna Gilbreath
PublisherSpringer Nature
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9783030943509
ISBN (Print)9783030943493
Publication statusPublished - 16 Sept 2022


  • excess mortality
  • Italian dialects
  • language endangerment
  • language vitality
  • lockdown
  • sociolinguistics


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