Franco-provençal and the Park have a really deep link. The protected area is placed, indeed, right in the Franco-provençal culture and language area. It is included in the linguistic influence basin that goes from the area of Lyon in France to the canton of Geneva in Switzerland, including the Soana Valley and some other piedmont valleys included the Soana and the Orco Valley.
Visiting the Gran Paradiso National Park it will be easy to have contacts with the Franco-provençal language.
It happens to hear speaking it between the grumpy innkeeper and the young waitress in the typical restaurant where you stop to eat, or while they're joking with each other, guides or shepherds instructors ... without understanding one single word. Usually the visitor knows that it's an incomprehensible dialect. As a linguistic relict arrived from a previous era, such as the ibex and the edelweiss, witnesses of the ice age.
Franco-provençal as is heard today, descends from a language spoken and codified homogeneously since 1100. Although it has been influenced by the Latin language during the period of the Roman occupation in the Alps, it retains many traces of the Celtic language of indo/arian derivation that was spoken here.
It find a precise connotation and fame in 1400 when in Lyon the trouvères movement develops, they sang stories and myths in ''Langue d'oil” (Franco), in the purest form of oral tradition, on the opposite of the troubadours that spoke ''Langue d'Oc” or Occitan. As used for the preparation of acts and bull, it remained official language in the Lyon and Upper Savoy departments until 1493, when it was replaced by french and become a dialect, the Patois, for songs and popular comedies.
In Switzerland in the XVI and XVII century a good literary production develops, it becomes the language of independence from France, both in the V aux canton and in Geneva newspapers have birth and comedies and Holy Representations are represented in Franco-provençal. Between 1800 and '900 it is gradually replaced by french even if still today the Cantonal anthem of the French-speaking Switzerland has the Patois singing. In the most southern valleys of the alpin Italian side it is contaminated by the Piedmont dialect, while especially in the high Valle d'Aosta valleys it is particularly influenced by French. In Valle d'Aosta we find some publications in Franco-provençal mostly comedies and songs. Among the best representative writers in Patois, in the second half of '800, `Abbe` Cerlogne, author of Christmas songs and a lucky Almanacco that has been published for years. A consistent distribution of dialectal comedies, poems and songs keeps going still today, but moreover it is spoken by who lives in the valleys and that in Patois finds terms that suits better to his life.
The Gran Paradiso toponymy revels for sure the close connection that Franco-provençal has with the ancient Celtic languages. In all the Park Valleys a place called Lilla, Lillà, Lillet exists but none of this places has a Lilac perfume! The name derives from the Celtic word indicating those territories, placed in the anse rivers that, in the event of flooding, remains isolated becoming isles. From this the french word “ile”, isle, derives. The two rivers that ideally are borders between Franco-provençal and Italian, Dora Baltea and Dora Riparia, keep the Celtic term in their root Do in order to define the running water. Many hamlets such as Brenvà, Brenvey, Brevetto take their name by Bren, Celtic name for larch; while Chenevey, Ceneveri, Tcheneveri derives from the hemp, the area's main textile fibre. With the Italian translation many terms have been completely altered in meaning so, for example, the Carro glacier in Orco Valley has nothing to do with the mean of transport but rather means “isolated rock glacier”. His root Car, kar o ker is the same used for the Cervino mountain, to which suits the definition of stocking large isolated rock rather than deriving from deer, typical forest animal. Marzo mountain, the watershed between the Soana Valley and Valchiusella, is the mis-translation of marf/mars, which means rotten, term that identifies him as unstable mountain of loose rocks.
Franco-provençal is a language that is still spoken, even if by a small group of people. It was recognized as an official language only few years ago, and the people who use it are now considered a linguistic minority that has to be protected and whose traditions and memories have to be conserved.
It's also important to underline that the Alpines Valleys have been lands of migration since the early Middle Ages; for this reason, some linguistic islands of Franco-provençal were born, even far from the land of the origin: there is a big community in Puglia, next to S.Severo, and in Albania there are some small villages where people speak Patois. But if we consider extincts languages as languages that cannot develop new terms to define evolution and new discoveries anymore, then Patois is one of them; and , now that I'm here, writing in Italian on a PC, moving the mouse on the screen, I think it is dying in good company.
Donatella Steffenina (Park Interpreter)