How do dialects of Italy differentiate from each other?
I plan on learning Italian in the future and was wondering how dialects in Italy differentiate from each other. And if I were to use Standard Italian, would I be understandable throughout most dialects of Italy?
The bad news is that dialects can sound like completely different languages. Actually, they probably are... and there are lots of them!
The good news is that you don't have to worry about it, everyone understands (and speaks) standard Italian, otherwise they wouldn't even be able to read newspapers or watch television. In fact, there are many Italians who can't speak any dialect at all, and I'm one of them (although I do have a slight Tuscan accent).
Here's a fun video of northerners asking questions to southerners (about the way they speak, the things they do...). They have different accents, and in some cases they use different tenses, but they all speak Italian.
Yes, you will be fine with standard Italian. We live in the south, where there is still a lot of dialect spoken. Often we ask our neighbour about a plant or something, and he'll say "Oh, I don't what it is in Italian - we call it...." One day we were introduced to an old lady in the village, my wife said "I'm sorry, but I don't speak much Italian." to which our neighbour replied " Don't worry - neither does she.." (referring to the old lady).
Italian dialects differ from each other by overall sound, intonation, words used and/or how they are pronounced, in some cases by syntax too. They are grouped in 'languages', each of which includes a variable number of local dialects with linguistic similarities.
The number of people who speak a broad dialect is now only a very small minority compared to those who speak a mixture of Italian and dialect, in which dialect elements can range from very strong to barely perceivable. Broad dialect speakers are typically those who learned the local dialect as a first language, and often have a very low level of schooling (both conditions were frequent up to the mid 20th century), so most of them are now elderly people in their seventies and eighties.
Standard Italian is the official language and is fully understood all over the country.
Map of all the Italian dialects:
You know, the problem is also that people speaking normal Italian in different regions sound completely different because of accents :P my girlfriend lives in Piedmont and the accent is terrible to understand.