Languages in South Tyrol

People of German, Italian, and Ladin heritage live in South Tyrol. On a daily basis, town dwellers and farmers converse in over 40 dialects characteristic of the south Bavarian vernacular. Italian is most commonly spoken in South Tyrol’s provincial capital city of Bolzano/Bozen as well as Merano/Meran and in the province’s south. Ladin, South Tyrol’s parent language, is over 1,000 years old and is still spoken by 18,000 people in the Val Badia and Val Gardena valleys. All three language groups in South Tyrol have their customs and stories to tell. Over time, however, the languages and cultures have commingled, resulting in the unique South Tyrolean way of life. 

Interesting facts and figures about languages in South Tyrol.

  • The native language breakdown in South Tyrol is as follows: 70% German, 25% Italian and 5% Ladin.
  • Ladin is a Romansh language spoken in the Dolomite valleys of Val Gardena and Alta Badia.
  • The school system in South Tyrol is separated into three languages. German or Italian is taught as the first foreign language. All three languages of instruction are used in Ladin-speaking valleys.
  • 98% of Italian speakers live in cities. 72% of the German-speaking population live in the countryside. 87% of the Ladin people live in the Val Badia and Val Gardena valleys.
  • 100% of the people in the municipality of Martello/Martell are amongst the German speaking group.
  • The municipality of Bolzano has the highest percentage of Italians at more than 70%.

German speakers account for the largest language group in South Tyrol. Approx. 70% of South Tyrolean's declare themselves part of this group. Historically, the significant distribution of the German language can be traced to the Germanic, Alemannic, and Bavarian tribes, a portion of whom settled in present-day South Tyrol. Many visitors will not immediately recognise the language as being German. On the street, South Tyrolean dialect is the primary lingua franca. This way of speaking noticeably differs from standard German.

The Italian language group of 26% is the second largest linguistic contingent in South Tyrol and is the most recent from a cultural history standpoint. The proportion of Italian speakers in the region markedly grew during the fascist regime of Mussolini due to the attempt to “Italianise” the population.

With a share of less than 5%, the Ladin people are the statistically smallest group in South Tyrol. The language is, however, the oldest. Ladin, also called Rhaeto-Romanic or Romansh, is a neo-Latin or Romanic language that originated from Vulgar Latin and the Rhaetian protolanguage when the Romans conquered the Alps in the first century BC. The majority of the Ladin people live in the Val Badia and Val Gardena valleys. Rhaeto-Romanic or Romansh languages are also spoken in Graubünden in Switzerland and certain valleys in Trentino.