Minervaplus survey on multilingualism: Italy

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MINERVAplus survey on multilingualism: Italy.

September 2005

Giuliana De Francesco – Ministero per i beni e le attività culturali

Marzia Piccininno – MINERVA project


An introduction to multilingualism in Italy can be basically structured around two different topics: the preservation of the cultural diversity of the minorities living in Italy, and the Italian culture in relation to the most used languages worldwide.

Cultural and linguistic minorities in Italy

Italy has a population of a 58.462.375 citizens (31 December 2004), including 1.990.159 foreigners. Italian is the official language of the Republic, but there are several cultural and linguistic minorities.

The Italian legislation (laws n. 482/1999 and n. 38/2001; effective decree of the President of the Republic n. 345/2001) states that the Italian Republic, according to the art. 6 of the Constitution, valorizes the non-dominant languages. According to the law, the following languages and cultures are preserved and promoted: Albanian, Catalan, Croatian, French, Franco-provençal, Friulian, German, Greek, Ladin, Occitan, Slovene, and Sardinian (totally 2,428,770 people).

The law 482/1999 decrees, among other things, that these languages and cultures can be taught in schools, that the official documents and acts are bilingual, and that the local language can be used for territorial broadcasting information.

The law 482/1999 doesn’t take into account other languages commonly spoken in Italy among immigrant communities, such as Arab or Chinese.

Some of the protected languages are commonly spoken but not frequently written. As far as the MINERVAplus survey’s objective is concerned, bilingual web sites are indeed not common. The exceptions are related in particular to borderland populations that speak Italian as second language, i.e. the German speaking areas of Trentino-Alto Adige region and the French speaking Val d’Aosta, whose official web sites are frequently bi- or multi-lingual, in particular those ones of public bodies that by law have to provide bilingual information.

For the same reason, to date, only four of the linguistic minorities in Italy are provided for with  programmes broadcast by the national public broadcaster RAI: the French speakers of the Aosta Valley, the German speakers of South Tyrol, the Ladin speakers in the Dolomites and the Slovenian speakers of Trieste.

Some quality examples:

  • German

http://www.bpi.claudiaugusta.it/ (Library Claudia Augusta of the provincial administration of Bolzano, Trentino-Alto Adige region. The Bolzano province is bilingual Italian-German and this web site is organised in 3 sections, Italian, English, and German; the catalogue is only in Italian and German)

http://www.provinz.bz.it/index_i.asp (web site of the civic network of South Tirol, available in Ladin, Italian, German, French)

  • Ladin

http://www.istladin.net/web/default.asp (web site of the Ladin Cultural Institute, available also in Italian, German, English)

  • Sardinian

http://www.ditzionariu.org/home.asp?lang=sar (on-line Sardinian dictionary with translation to Italian, French, English, German, Spanish)

  • Slovene

http://www.lscmt.univ.trieste.it/slori/Homepage.htm (web site of the Slovene research Institute of Trieste, available in Slovene, Italian, and English)

    • French

http://www.regione.vda.it/default_i.asp (official web site of the Region Valle d’Aosta, in Italian and, partially, in French)

Evaluation of the participation in the survey

The MINERVAplus survey about multilingual thesauri in Italy was conducted on a sample of 23 institutions that accepted to fill in the questionnaire upon the MINERVAplus call.

The answers gathered therefore represent only a sample and are not statistically relevant, although the institutions involved belong to different fields of the cultural sector (museums, libraries etc.) and have different status (both public and private bodies).

Institutions participants to MINERVAplus survey:

Universities and research institutes 5

Preservation offices 4

Archives 3

Local authorities 3

Museums 3

Cultural projects 2

Libraries 2

Working groups 1


Multilingual web sites

The analysis of the data emerged from the survey shows that 56.6% of the web sites of the Italian cultural institutions that answered the questionnaire are monolingual, although they contain much information that could be useful also for foreigners, in particular tour itineraries.

On the other hand, 39.1% of the web sites is translated into English, 8.7% in other European languages too, but only in their main parts. In fact, the details about the mission and the services of the cultural institution is usually given also in foreign languages, but the data bases of the web sites that provide concrete information about digital collections, tourism, library services and so on, are only in Italian.

Only 4.3 % of the web sites considered is completely translated into English in every single page.
A recent research showed that only 2% of the European citizens speak Italian as second language but this consideration seems not to be taken enough into account in building cultural web sites.

This definitely means that the Italian cultural institutions must become aware of the need for for multilingual information retrieval.

A further analysis about the 135 web sites of the museums, libraries, archives, and preservation offices of the Italian Ministry that are active at the moment, demonstrated that 25.2 % of them has multilingual options; furthermore, in many cases the information translated is only the basic one.

The second language of the web sites is regularly English; only 5.9% of the web sites are translated into 3 or more foreign languages, and almost all of the idioms used are European.

Controlled vocabularies and thesauri

The data gathered about controlled vocabularies are much more interesting.

The Central Institute for Catalogue and Documentation (ICCD) of the Italian Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities produced several mono- or multilingual controlled vocabularies for cataloguing purposes. They represent the national standards for all the cultural institutions, national, local, private, that are involved into the cataloguing of the cultural heritage. The domains covered are: architecture, art-history, archeological objects and sites, artistic objects, architectonical areas.

The ICCD presented 8 controlled vocabularies related to the description of the cultural areas, the authors, artistic technique, artistic objects; the last (one of the most used) is available also in English, German, French, Portuguese (and some specific sections in other languages), while that one related to the architectonical areas is available in English and French.

All these vocabularies are available upon request.

The ICCD pointed out that another important tool for multilingual classification for the iconography of the western art from medieval to contemporary art, ICONCLASS, is available also in Italian, besides English, German, French, and Finnish (www.iconclass.nl).

The ICONCLASS vocabulary is free to use; the complete software is commercially priced.

In cooperation with the Canadian Heritage Information Network-CHIN, the Getty Information Institute, and the French Ministry of Culture ICCD also produced the Multilingual Thesaurus of Religious Objects, available in English, French, and Italian. It is available on CD-rom (http://www.iccd.beniculturali.it/servizi/testo_cd5.html).

The MINERVAplus survey showed more interesting controlled vocabularies: one is ThIST (Italian Thesaurus of Earth Sciences), available in Italian and English, realized by the library of the national Agency for Environmental Protection and Technical Services (APAT); it covers the earth science domain and can be browsed on-line (opac.apat.it). This thesaurus respects the standard ISO 2788/1986 and was elaborated in cooperation with an international experts working group.

The other item is an Italian to English iconographic thesaurus elaborated by the largest private photographic archive in Italy, Alinari, in cooperation with the University of Florence. It contains about 8,000 entries organised in 61 classes alphabetically ordered (from Agriculture to Zoology). The system contains also a geographic thesaurus, thesauri for Periods and Styles, controlled lists for Events, People, Authors (artists) and Photographers. The Alinari thesaurus is a work in progress: about 10 words per months are added.

This thesaurus was translated also into Spanish, German, and French for the European project Orpheus.

The thesaurus can be rent; the price will be communicated.

Finally, it must be highlighted the activity of a working group about the semantic web made up of experts of various fields (universities, W3C consortium, libraries, private companies) that elaborated an Italian to English glossary about e-learning, available on line at the URL http://www.bdp.it/websemantico/.

More projects focused on mutlilingualism
It is worth to mention that several Italian cultural institutions are involved in international projects dealing with multilingual information retrieval.

The CNR (National Centre of Research) published the portal of EACHMED-The European and Mediterranean Agency for Cultural Heritage (www.eachmed.com); according the project’s goals, though this web site it will be possible to find out cultural information in 32 languages, including Latin. This is due to one of the results of a CNR project, Progetto Finalizzato Beni Culturali (www.pfbeniculturali.it), a multilingual (32) thesaurus about cultural heritage.

In the field of language processing technologies, the Istituto di Scienza e Tecnologie dell'Informazione, Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Pisa coordinates the Cross Language Evaluation Forum (CLEF) http://clef.iei.pi.cnr.it/ which develops an infrastructure for the testing, tuning and evaluation of information retrieval systems operating on European languages in both monolingual and cross-language contexts.

Furthermore, the Accademia Europea di Bolzano per la ricerca applicata e la formazione post-universitaria (www.eurac.edu) is member of the IST project SALT, Standards-based Access to multilingual Lexicons and Terminologies http://www.loria.fr/projets/SALT/, an open-source project creating open standards. Some of the results of the SALT project have been turned into ISO standards or have been integrated into revised ISO standards.

While ITC-IRST Trento, with its The Cognitive and Communication Technologies (TCC) division, takes part to the MEANING project (Developing multilingual web-scale language technologies), http://www.lsi.upc.es/~rigau/meaning/meaning.html concerned with automatically collecting and analysing language data from the WWW on a large scale, and building more comprehensive multilingual lexical knowledge bases to support improved word sense disambiguation.

Finally, some Italian private companies are partners in the IST funded project MIETTA II, A Multilingual Information Environment for Travel and Tourism Applications www.mietta.info/.

Good practices

Multilingual cultural web sites

www.soprintendenzave.beniculturali.it (web site of the Superintendence of Venice whose information are available in 8 European languages).
Multilingual tools for the information retrieval

The Multilingual Thesaurus of Religious Objects, the controlled vocabulary for artistic objects, and the translation into Italian of the ICONCLASS classification, all produced by the ICCD.

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