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About Sardinian Language

Sardinian (Sardu, Limba Sarda) is the collective name of the vernacular linguistic varieties spoken in most of the island of Sardinia, Italy. It is considered the most conservative of the Romance languages in terms of phonology and is noted for its Paleosardinian substratum.


The Sardinian language can be divided into the following main subregional language groups clearly identified by isogloss bundles:

  • Sardinian proper, characterised by a plural in -s and definite articles derived from the Latin IPSUM
  • Northern, the most conservative dialect
    • sas limbas — 'the languages'
    • sas abbas — 'the waters'
  • Central, considered to be a transitional dialect between Northern and Southern Sardinian
    • is limbas — 'the languages'
    • is abbas — 'the waters'
  • Southern, more influenced by Spanish and continental Italian:
    • is linguas — 'the languages'
    • is acuas — 'the waters'

Corso-Sardinian dialects, spoken in the extreme north of Sardinia, are sometimes considered as independent languages or to be part of the Corsican language rather than Sardinian. They are characterised by a plural in -i and definite articles derived from the Latin ILLUM.

  • Sassarese (G-shape)
    • eba — 'water'
    • garri — 'meat'
    • eu digu — 'I say'
  • Gallurese (C-shape)
    • e'a — 'water'
    • carri — 'meat'
    • eu dicu — 'I say'

The survival of a dialect of Catalan in the town of Alghero is a consequence of the domination of the Crown of Aragon over Sardinia in the Middle Ages. (Spain did not exist at the time and only came into existence after the marriage of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabel of Castile in the XV Century).


Sassari's Republic medieval statutes: one of the most ancient document written in Sardinian Language (13-14th century A.D.).The early 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. There are substantial differences between the many theories about the development of Sardinian.

Many studies have attempted to discover the origin of some obscure roots that today could legitimately be defined as indigenous, pre-Romance roots. 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".

Massimo Pittau claimed in 1984 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. Massimo Pittau's views however are not representative of most Etruscologists.

It has been said that Paleosardinian should be expected to have notable similarities with Iberic languages and the Siculian language: the suffix -'ara, for example, in proparoxytones (Bertoldi and Terracini proposed it indicated plural forms). The same would happen (according to Terracini) for suffixes in -/àna/, -/ànna/, -/énna/, -/ònna/ + /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, Morvan). Suffixes in -/ài/, -/éi/, -/òi/, 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.).


The Roman domination, beginning in 238 BC, obviously brought Latin to Sardinia, but Latin was not able to completely supplant the Pre-Roman Sardinian 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 Nuoro and many other toponyms). Roman culture, on the other hand, was undoubtedly dominant; Barbagia derives its name from the Greek word Ό βάρβαρος-ου that means stuttering because its people couldn't speak Latin well. Cicero, who called Sardinians latrones matrucati (thieves with rough sheep-wool cloaks) to emphasise Roman superiority, helped to spread this conception.

Other influences

During this time period, there was a reciprocal influence between Corsica and a limited area of northern Sardinia. 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 Christianization of the island would probably have brought Hebrews to convert to a sort of independent cult of Sant'Antioco (perhaps a way to preserve some aspects of 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 more precisely an archaic neo-Latin language, whose main characteristics are an archaic phonetic and morphosyntactic phenomena.

After this domination, Sardinia passed under the control of the Eastern Roman Empire, and more 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 Romance language) except for in some ritual or formal formulas 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.

Cultural status

A no-smoking sign in both Sardinian and ItalianThe Sardinian language is one of the principal elements of Sardinian cultural heritage, and there is great activity of late dedicated to studying the language and acknowledging its importance. The recognition of the Sardinian language as a characteristic ethnic element is supported not only by independentist movements, but is also supported by a wide percentage of local population as a whole, as well as the international support of the Sardinian diaspora.

The Sardinian language has recently been recognised as an official regional language by the Sardinian Autonomous Region; it can therefore be used for official purposes on the island. The debate as to its legality had become quite dramatic by the 1980s: at Alghero's Fertilia international airport, in a Sardinian Catalan-speaking area, an employee was heard over the loudspeakers (provocatively) announcing the flights in Italian, English and Sardinian Catalan. The employee was fired and penally condemned, causing widespread Sardinian nationalist sentiment, sometimes including violent political disputes which finally led to the law officialising the language.In the last decade, the Sardinian language has been recognized officially from a legal point of view (law 482/1999 about minority languages in Italy), yet its actual acknowledgement in the present-day life is hard. For example in many Italian libraries and Universities the books about Sardinian language are still grouped under the labels Linguistica italiana (Italian linguistics), Dialetti italiani (Italian dialects) or Dialettologia italiana (Italian dialectology) since this language is perceived as a dialect despite its legal recognition as a language.

Sardinian in Italy

The national anthem of the Kingdom of Sardinia (and Piedmont) was the Hymnu Sardu (or Cunservet Deus su Re), the lyrics of which are in the Sardinian language. It was partially substituted by the Savoy's March when Italy was unified. During the Fascist period, especially the Autarchy campaign, foreign languages were banned. The restrictions went so far that even personal names and surnames were made to sound more "Italian-sounding". During this period, the Sardinian Hymn was the sole chance to speak in a foreign language in Italy without risking prison, because, as a fundamental part of the Royal Family's tradition, it could not be forbidden.

Sardinians took advantage of this possibility to express their opposition to Fascism by singing the Hymn, as did King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy on several official occasions, when the Crown needed to remind Mussolini of its superior position. To reduce this potentially dangerous bit of "propaganda" which was being "innocently" whistled and sung in Sardinian streets, Mussolini was forced to find urgent remedies: Achille Starace (national secretary of the Fascist party) "genially" imposed the use of Orbace (a poor Sardinian wool) as the national cloth for the uniforms of the Militia, while on a cultural level Mussolini himself officially recognised on repeated occasions the effective value of Sardinian poets and writers, still on the border of the limits of the law. These cautious attentions for the island also included the reclamation of wide areas of the region (bonifiche) and the implementation of commerce and industry.

The Catholic priests too, friendly to Fascism after the Concordato of 1929, started explaining that Latin (which was allowed), although very similar to Sardinian, was not Sardinian (the Holy Mass was still in Latin) and practiced a strict obstructionism against on-the-fly poetry, a genre of popular art expressed in public shows in Sardinia, in which two or more poets are assigned a surprise theme and have to develop it on the spur of the moment in rhymed quatrains.

In the Italian army, the infantry corps of Brigata Sassari (Sassari's Brigade) was the sole unit allowed to have a separate hymn in the Sardinian language (Dimonios - ancient local pagan devils), being the brigade composed exclusively by Sardinian soldiers, the only such brigade in Italy. As a form of respect to Brigata Sassari, who performed well in World War I, any military important operation in Sardinia is named after the last words of Dimonios: Fortza Paris (loosely, let's combine our strength).


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