What Is the Bresciano Language?

The forgotten language spoken by only a few thousand people (including me)

Antonello Zanini
5 min readJul 17, 2023
The city of Brescia, Italy [Photo by Luca Bravo on Unsplash]

I was recently interviewed by 🔘 Paulius Juodis for The Ink Well podcast and, during our chat, I was asked what my native languages are. As you can probably tell from my name, one is Italian, but only a few people know that I am also a native speaker of Bresciano (also known as Brescian). But hold on, what is Bresciano?

Bresciano is one of the many endangered languages of Italy. Specifically, it falls under the eastern group of the Lombard languages, belonging to the Gallo-Italic languages. The Bresciano language is spoken in and around the territory of the province of Brescia, Italy.

The province of Brescia [Source]

All in all, only a few thousand people know it, most of them over 70 years old.

Let’s now try to understand the history of this language, its current status, and its features. You will have the incredible privilege of listening to one of the world’s least popular languages!

Historical Background

Brescian has its origins in the Celtic tribes that originally occupied the territory. The language was slowly influenced by successive waves of invaders and colonizers, especially Romans. Most of the lexicon of Brescian has Latin origins, just as in the Italian language.

The Brescian territory was then invaded by the Lombards, a Germanic population originally from southern Scandinavia, who left numerous traces in the lexicon. These linguistic interactions transformed the language spoken in that portion of northern Italy into a unique blend of Latin, Lombard elements, and regional variations.

Bresciano slowly evolved into a lot of sub-dialects. In some cases, these are simple variations in pronunciation. Yet, some dialects are so different that mutual intelligibility is considerably reduced. Variants of the language can be encountered in the areas of Franciacorta, Alto Mantovano, Monte Isola, and Bassa Bresciana (the one I personally speak).

In later years, Bresciano welcomed terms from other languages, such as Italian and French. Almost all neologisms come from Italian, but some also derive from English.

Until the 1960s, it was the language to speak in the province of Brescia. The main reason is that few people knew correct Italian, which was imposed with the unification of Italy only in 1861. In addition, Brescian is mainly a bucolic language, and 70% of the local economy revolved around agriculture and animal husbandry in those years.

Today, the language has lost most of its original vocabulary and has become increasingly contaminated by Italian. It is still possible to hear some ancient vocabulary in the agricultural sphere, but only by elderly people (like my grandfather). Younger generations either use it while code-switching with Italian, or in most cases cannot speak it at all.

Linguistic Features of Bresciano

Dante, in De vulgari eloquentia, describes the Bresciano language as “Così villoso ed ispido di vocaboli e di accenti che per la sua rude asprezza non solo fa uscire dai limiti donna che parli, ma saresti in dubbio, o lettore, se sia un uomo.

“So hirsute and shaggy in its vocabulary and
accent that, because of its brutal harshness, it not only destroys the femininity of any
woman who speaks it, but, reader, would make you think her a man.” — Dante, De vulgari eloquentia

Well, a strong opinion to say the least. However, Brescian is not such a terrible language. Words are pronounced clearly and distinctly, making it a bit robotic and harsh, but it also has some French-sounding tones.

The grammar is similar to that of other Romance languages, especially Italian, but has much more complex rules in the use of pronouns. The syntax follows the subject-verb-object (SVO) word order. Nouns are declined according to number and gender, while adjectives must agree with the noun they refer to in both number and gender. Verbs are conjugated according to mode and tense, and must agree with the subject according to number and person.

Bresciano has 20 consonants and 9 phonetic vowels:

  • a (/a/)
  • é (/e/)
  • è (/ɛ/)
  • i (/i/)
  • ó (/o/)
  • ò (/ɔ/)
  • u (/u/)
  • ü (/y/)
  • ö (/ø/)

Note that it shares the first six vowels with Italian and the last two with French.

Since Bresciano is principally an oral language, a commonly accepted orthography has never been established.

Current Status and Challenges

Bresciano has served as a vital thread connecting the Brescian people to our cultural heritage for years. It encapsulates our values, traditions, and way of life, our history and emotions. The language also plays a crucial role in oral traditions, passed down through generations, from the elderly to the younger generations. You will not find schools that teach you Brescian, that is for sure.

Unfortunately, like most minority languages, the Bresciano language faces numerous challenges in the modern era. Globalization and societal changes have led to a decline in the number of fluent speakers. The most recent estimates speak of about 900,000 speakers, but only very few of them are fluent. Younger people prefer Italian as their primary language and tend to know only some words or expressions in Bresciano.

Even though recent efforts have been made to revitalize and preserve the language, it will probably be extinct in 100 years. Sad, and very hard to accept, but probably the naked truth.

Experience Bresciano!

Let’s now see and listen to some Bresciano words and expressions!

Word: “Bressà”
Meaning: Bresciano

Idiom: “Pötòst che niènt, l’è mèi pötòst.”
Literal translation
: Rather than nothing, it is better rather.
: It is better to have little than to have nothing.

Agricultural proverb: “Furmintù ciar, polenta spèssa.”
Literal translation: Light corn gives thicker polenta.
Meaning: Sowing corn plants by leaving space between plants leads to a better harvest.

Proverb: “I parèncc jè serpèncc.”
Literal translation: Relatives are snakes.
: The closer the blood relationship, the more likely it is to get hurt.

Proverb: “La belessa dè le fòmne l’è nèi öcc dei òm.”
Literal translation: The beauty of women lies in the eyes of men.
Meaning: Each human being determines the beauty of another human being based on their own subjective perceptions.

Tongue twister: “Ta fala mal amò la mà?”
Translation: Does your hand still hurt?


Brescian is a fascinating cultural gem that reflects the rich linguistic heritage of northern Italy. With its historical roots and deep cultural significance, this language is a testament to the identity of the region of Brescia, where I was born. Here, you saw what makes this language so unique, and had the opportunity to hear one of the few remaining natives speaking it.

Want to find out more about the Bresciano language and learn many other interesting things? Check out my podcast episode for the Ink Well podcast:

Thanks for reading! I hope that you found this article helpful. Feel free to leave down below any questions, comments, or suggestions.