The Stura Valley of Demonte is one of the Occitan Valleys of Piedmont officially recognized as a minority linguistic community by Law 482 of 1999 ““Rules on the protection of historical linguistic minorities”. Occitan is a Gaul-Romance language present, as well as in some valleys of Piedmont, southern France and the Spanish Val d’Aran.
Occitan is widespread throughout the valley and has strong roots among the local population despite some causes that have reduced its presence during the late half of the last century. Firstly, the Stura Valley, like other Piedmont valleys, has experienced a strong depopulation since the second World Conflict which has, as a result, caused a greater dispersion of its speakers whilst simultaneously decreasing their numbers. Secondly, family transmission has very often failed, causing a decrease in younger speakers. Today, in fact, Occitan turns out to be a language mostly spoken by the elderly, despite also knowing a good diffusion among subsequent generations, those born at the turn of the seventies and eighties. However, the level of young people able to speak Occitan is still quite high, although it has declined in recent years.
Over the centuries, the “piemontese”, widespread in the surrounding plain, has gradually climbed the valley contaminating the local varieties of Occitan and today this makes it very difficult to precisely establish the distinction between hamlets where Occitan is spoken and those where a form of “Occitanized piemontese” is spoken. The various research carried out over the years has led to the general consideration of a border between these two “parlari” located between the district of Roccasparvera and Gaiola (Ravera: 2019). The latter, together with the district of Moiola and that of Valloriate – although linguistically much more conservative than the other two, probably due to its geographical position – would represent the so-called Occitan of the lower valley, still strongly influenced by “piemontese”. As for the district of Rittana, on the other hand, also located in a side valley and composed of several hamlets, the language is certainly “Piemontese” with strong Occitan influences in the concentric and in the hamlets positioned lower, while maintaining Occitan characters in those positioned higher, although obviously, characterized by strong “piemontese” influences given by the proximity to the surrounding plain.
Continuing along the valley, you can find a second linguistic border which divides the Occitan of the lower valley from that of the middle valley, between the district of Moiola and that of Demonte, more precisely with the hamlet of Festiona, since “piemontese” has always prevailed in the capital as a language of traditional communication. The Occitan of the middle valley reaches the district of Aisone, already influenced by the Occitan of the upper valley. In fact, between the third border and in this situation Aisone stands as a link between Vinadio, upstream, and the hamlets of Demonte, downstream (Grassi: 1958; Jordan: 2013).
Finally, a sort of fourth border can be traced between the districts of Pietraporzio and that of Argentera, which maintains strong linguistic affinities with the variants of the nearby valleys of Tinée and Ubaye, disappeared or non-existent in the remaining districts of Cuneo: the use of the links <cl-, gl-, pl-, fl, bl> (claou, key; gleisa, church; plasa, square; flour, flower; blanc, white); the personal pronoun iou (I), production of an intervocalic -i to avoid the hiatus caused by the fall of Latin -t (cantatam→ chantaia) and part of the lexicon.
The macro-differences between the different variants
The Occitan of the Stura Valley, like the Occitan of all the other valleys of Piedmont or in general like all the local languages, knows some internal variations also very pronounced between districts and sometimes also between hamlet and hamlet and this makes it possible to advance a kind of “classification” based on some distinctive characteristics between variants of the upper valley, the middle valley and the lower valley.
First, the female nouns end in <a> (vacha, cow) in Rittana, Gaiola, Valloriate, Moiola, Demonte, Bagni di Vinadio, Sambuco, Bersezio and Argentera; while ending in <o> (vacho, cow) in Aisone, Vinadio, Pietraporzio, Pontebernardo and Ferrere.
The female voiced plurals are found only in the upper parts of the valley starting from the district of Vinadio, while they are absent in the lower and middle part of the valley where it is only the article used that allows them to be distinguished from the singular ones (e.g la vacha/o, les vacha/o). In the Occitan of the upper valley are several situations depending on the different districts: in Vinadio and hamlets –ous (la vacho, 'es vàchous) and in the case of some nouns in -es (the feo, les fées) or in -as, but only for the hamlet of Bagni di Vinadio (the fea, les féas); in Sambuco in -as (la fea, las féas); in Pietraporzio and hamlets -os(la feo, les féos); in Argentera and hamlets -as (la fea, les féas), while only in Ferrere in -os (la feo, les féos).
The male plurals, on the other hand, are absent in the district of Vinadio, with the exception of the Bagni of Vinadio valley, and begin from Sambuco to reach the district of Argentera. On the other hand, they are completely absent in the lower and middle part of the valley, so much so that they behave like the female ones.
From a morphological point of view in the upper valley the forms are found: lou (the), les (the), nel/iel (he), nie/nelo/iela (she), neli (them), manjar (eat), etc.; while: ël (lower valley); (i a Moiola); quiel (lower valley); here (lower valley); lour (medium and lower valley and Vinadio); manjàa (lower valley), etc.
From a phonetic point in the upper valley, you will find the forms: cubert (roof); chasaire (hunter); pouòrto (door), fouòrt (strong), etc.; while: cuvert (lower valley), chasadour (low and middle valley), door, fort (low and middle valley), etc.
From a syntactic point of view, we find in the upper valley the forms: lou far (do it), vai rèn (it does not go), etc.; while: fa-lou (low and middle valley); go nen, nin (low valley), etc.
Finally, from a lexical point of view in the upper valley you will find the forms: mizhoun (house), neou (snow), parìer (so), caouzo (what), carcaren (something), me (with), quiavèl (nail), amòouso (strawberry), etc.; while: cà (lower valley)/caza (middle valley); dim (low and medium valley); parei (low and medium valley); coza/caicosa (lower valley)/carcoza (mid-valley); coun (low and medium valley); cho (lower valley)/quioi (middle valley); frola (lower valley)/maiola (mid-valley), etc.
In this sense it is possible to understand the extreme variability of the local language depending on the village and often of the hamlets and districts themselves.
Giordano S., Preservation of the lexicon and vitality of a minority language. An investigation into the Occitan of Stura Valley in "Rivista italiana di dialettologia. Lingue, dialetti e società", Edizioni Pendragon, 2013.
Grassi C., Currents and contrasts of language and culture in the Cisalpine Valleys of Provencal and Franco-Provencal spoken. Part I “Le Valli del Cuneese e del Saluzzese”, Giappichelli Editore, 1958.
Ravera M., Metaphony and vocalism in the “pimontese” linguistic area. Master's Thesis, University of Turin, 2018-2019.