Location: North-east Italy
Population: 600,000
% of population: 1% of Italian population
Religion: Catholic
Language: Friulian, also Venetian dialects of Italian

The Friulians live in the region of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia along Italy’s border with Austria and Yugoslavia. The Friulian language, like Romantsch and Ladin, is a member of the Rhaeto-Romanche family. Earliest books in the language date from 1150 and Friulian was used in law and government from the fourteenth century. It is now spoken by about 600,000 of the 800,000 inhabitants of Friuli. There is also a small community in the parish of Sauris in the Carnic Alps whose population amounts to less than one thousand and whose members speak Friulian in addition to an ancient German dialect, High German and Italian.

Known in Roman times as Patria Fori Julii, Friuli was a sovereign state throughout the Middle Ages. It was occupied by Napoleon in 1797 and came under Austrian rule between 1814 and 1866, when it became part of a reunited Italy. The region is economically rather backward. Farming and stock-raising are the principal occupations and there is some light industry and a hydro-electric installation.

Today the Venetian dialects of Italian are being increasingly used in the towns and also in the southern parts of Friuli. Friulian has only been taught in some schools since the 1970s and has not been used by the Church since World War II. There is a monthly newspaper which is published by Int Fur-lane, a society dedicated to promoting the Friulian language; two daily newspapers each carry one page of Friulian and there are 40 hours per week of Friulian-language radio broadcasts and a bilingual TV channel. Many Friulians feel that the regional government has done little to encourage the use of Friulian, however, apart from introducing it to the curriculum of the Theological Seminary at Udine, and the great majority of those attending Friulian language classes attend voluntary classes.

In 1963 Friuli-Venezia-Giulia was made the fourth region of Italy but Trieste, which is outside the Friulian-speaking area, was made the regional capital. It has been often felt by Friulians that their area should not have been incorporated into the new region. There have been calls for an adjustment in the Regional Statute to make Friuli an autonomous administrative unit, for the re-introduction of Friulian language teaching in schools and for the creation of a university at Udine.

(See also Ladins, Romantsch speakers of Switzerland)