Location: Italian island in western Mediterranean
Population: 1,586,000 (1981)
Percentage of population: 2.7% of Italian population
Religion: Catholic
Language: Sardinian, Italian, Catalan

The Sardinians are the indigenous inhabitants of Sardinia, a large island in the western Mediterranean which has been an autonomous region of Italy with a Special Statute since 1948. Historically it is considered to be the most isolated area within the Italian federation.

Sardinia has been ruled by Pisa, Aragon, Castile (Spain) and Piedmont, and the language of each ruling power has contributed to the romance language spoken by the island’s people. There are several varieties of the Sardinian language, most notably “Campidanese” in the south and “Logudorese” in the north, along with “Nuorese/Barbaricino” in the central mountains and “Gallurese” and “Sassarese” in Gallura. Two other languages are also present; Catalan in the city of Alghero and “Tabarchino” in Carloforto and Calasetta. Castillian was used by officials and educators up to 1764 when the Pietmontese made Italian the official language.

The Sardinian language, unlike some other minority languages in Italy, does not enjoy any official recognition. Nevertheless it does appear to be widely diffused among the population. There are varying estimates as to the numbers of speakers but one estimate from the 1970s indicates that perhaps 1.2 million of the 1.6 million population speak Sardinian, most strongly in rural areas and much less in cities where it is confined to the domestic setting. Probably about 450,000 people speak Logudorese and about 600,000 Campidanese. Non-Sardinian immigrants from other areas of Italy only rarely know the language.

The immediate focus of most Sardinian cultural and political movements is to gain the same status for Sardinian as the other recognized minority languages. In 1977/78 and 1983 proposals were put forward in favour of Sardinian/Italian bilinguism but as yet this has not been recognized. Several movement exist, on both a political and academic level, for the protection and promotion of Sardinian. A major problem remains the lack of a unified Sardinian language and scholars are working on a common orthography. Education is almost entirely in Italian but in the 1980s Sardinian was introduced on an experimental basis as a separate subject in elementary and secondary schools.

There have been a number of movements aimed at gaining either greater autonomy or political independence for Sardinia. The oldest of these is the Partito Sardo di Azione (Sardinian Action Party) founded in 1921, which supports the ideal of an independent state, possibly in a European Mediterranean Federation. During the 1970s and 1980s many movements and associations (both on the right and the left) aiming at independence emerged. Sardinia is a relatively poor region compared to northern Italy and emigration has been high, but although economically backward and industrially undeveloped, Sardinia is not as poor or deprived as many areas in the south of Italy. Tourism has emerged as a major industry and there has been some conflict between the needs of tourists and locals.

(See also Corsicans; Greeks, Croatians and Albanians of Italy)