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© Michael Alesi

The official language of Monaco is French. Yet the traditional language is munegascu: “a lenga d’i nostri avi”, the tongue of our ancestors.

Historically, the Monegasque language has its roots in Genoese. When the Genoese took possession of the Rock of Monaco in June 1191 and settled there in 1215, “they brought with them their native language, which would gain a lasting foothold on this piece of land”, explains historian Claude Passet, secretary-general of the Académie des langues dialectales, which promotes Monegasque language and culture. Over time, the language spoken in Monaco would gradually move away from Genoese, as it absorbed influences from new arrivals from the valleys of Nice, Italy, Piedmont, and Liguria, especially with the creation of Monte-Carlo in 1860. Each brought their own dialect, enriching the common language, which became a veritable “patois” associated with a clear identity.

Monaco was a bilingual country. In the 15th century, popular Monegasque existed alongside Italian, which the language of the political power (generally used in official documents, in the same way as Latin), but also Catalan, at the time of the occupation by the Spanish armed forces. It was not until 1793 and the annexation of Monaco by France, that the French language began to establish itself as the dominant tongue. Since the Restoration of the Grimaldis in 1814, French has been the only language used in official documents and Sovereign Ordinances in the Principality. The 1962 Constitution recognises French as the country’s sole official language.

© Stephane Danna
© Stéphane Danna

Until the 20th century, Monegasque was exclusively a spoken language. Founded in 1924 by representatives of the old Monegasque families, the National Committee for Monegasque Traditions, whose roles include preserving and promoting the Monegasque language, made it a written language. In 1927, Louis Notari became the father of Monegasque literature with “A Leganda de Santa Devota”, the first literary work written in the Monegasque language. In 1960, Louis Frolla codified the language with the publication of his “Monegasque Grammar”, followed by the first ever “ Monegasque–French Dictionary”.

To preserve this distinctive heritage, Prince Rainier III ordered that the teaching of Monegasque be mandatory in public primary schools from 1976. The requirement was extended to include private schools from 1988 onwards. The language is now taught until middle school level, and pupils may opt to study it as part of the French high school baccalaureate.

Find out more: https://www.traditions-monaco.com

Monaco, despite – and doubtless because of – the vicissitudes of the turbulent history that shaped it  over the eight centuries of its existence, has succeeded in preserving on its isolated Rock a sacralised cultural identity, crystalised around the language of its origins, Genoese, which became Monegasque.

Claude Passet, author of Bibliographie de la langue monégasque (1927-2018).

© DR
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