Unlike most other Romance languages, Italian has retained the contrast between short and long consonants which existed in Latin. As in most Romance languages, stress is distinctive. Of the Romance languages, Italian is considered to be one of the closest to Latin in terms of vocabulary. Lexical similarity is 89% with French, 87% with Catalan, 85% with Sardinian, 82% with Spanish, 78% with Rheto-Romance, 77% with Romanian, and 52% with Maltese.
|Before back vowel (A, O, U)||Before front vowel (I, E)|
|Plosive||C||caramella /kaɾaˈmɛlla/||CH||china /ˈkina/|
|G||gallo /ˈgallo/||GH||ghiro /ˈgiro/|
|Affricate||CI||ciaramella /ʧaɾaˈmɛlla/||C||Cina /ˈʧina/|
|GI||giallo /ˈʤallo/||G||giro /ˈʤiro/|
Italy has always had a distinctive dialect for each city since the cities were until recently thought of as city-states. The latter now has considerable variety, however. As Tuscan-derived Italian came to be used throughout the nation, features of local speech were naturally adopted, producing various versions of Regional Italian. The most characteristic differences, for instance, between Roman Italian and Milanese Italian are the gemination of initial consonants and the pronunciation of stressed "e", and of "s" in some cases (e.g. va bene "all right": is pronounced by a Roman, by a Milanese; a casa "at home": Roman , Milanese ).
In contrast to the dialects of northern Italy, southern Italian dialects were largely untouched by the Franco-Occitan influences introduced to Italy, mainly by bards from France, during the Middle Ages. Even in the case of Northern Italian dialects, however, scholars are careful not to overstate the effects of outsiders on the natural indigenous developments of the languages. (See La Spezia-Rimini Line.)
The economic might and relative advanced development of Tuscany at the time (Late Middle Ages), gave its dialect weight, though Venetian remained widespread in medieval Italian commercial life. Also, the increasing cultural relevance of Florence during the periods of 'Umanesimo (Humanism)' and the Rinascimento (Renaissance) made its volgare (dialect), or rather a refined version of it, a standard in the arts. The re-discovery of Dante's De vulgari eloquentia and a renewed interest in linguistics in the 16th century sparked a debate which raged throughout Italy concerning which criteria should be chosen to establish a modern Italian standard to be used as much as a literary as a spoken language. Scholars were divided into three factions: the purists, headed by Pietro Bembo who in his Gli Asolani claimed that the language might only be based on the great literary classics (notably, Petrarch, and Boccaccio but not Dante as Bembo believed that the Divine Comedy was not dignified enough as it used elements from other dialects), Niccolò Machiavelli and other Florentines who preferred the version spoken by ordinary people in their own times, and the courtiers like Baldassarre Castiglione and Gian Giorgio Trissino who insisted that each local vernacular must contribute to the new standard. Eventually Bembo's ideas prevailed, the result being the publication of the first Italian dictionary in 1612 and the foundation of the Accademia della Crusca in Florence (1582-3), the official legislative body of the Italian language.
Two notable defining moments in the history of the Italian language came between 1500 and 1850. Both events were invasions. The rulers of Spain (themselves members of the Habsburg dynasty) invaded and occupied Italy down to Rome and the Vatican in the mid-16th century (see the aftermath of the Italian Wars). This occupation left a lasting influence upon the formerly irregular Italian grammar, simplifying it to conform more with the dominant Spanish language. The second was the conquest and occupation of Italy by Napoleon in the early 19th century (who was himself of Italian-Corsican descent). This conquest propelled the unification of Italy and pushed the Italian language to a lingua franca, further reducing regional dialects in order to compensate for the increased united nature of the people.
Italian literature's first modern novel, I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed), by Alessandro Manzoni further defined the standard by "rinsing" his Milanese 'in the waters of the Arno" (Florence's river), as he states in the Preface to his 1840 edition.
After unification a huge number of civil servants and soldiers recruited from all over the country introduced many more words and idioms from their home dialects ("ciao" is Venetian, "panettone" is Milanese etc.).
Italian is most closely related to the other two Italo-Dalmatian languages, Sicilian and the extinct Dalmatian. The three are part of the Italo-Western grouping of the Romance languages, which are a subgroup of the Italic branch of Indo-European.
The total speakers of Italian as maternal language are between 60 and 70 million. The speakers who use Italian as second or cultural language are estimated around 110-120 million .
Italian is the official language of Italy and San Marino, and one of the official languages of Switzerland, spoken mainly in Ticino and Grigioni cantons, a region referred to as Italian Switzerland. It is also the second official language in some areas of Istria, in Slovenia and Croatia, where an Italian minority exists, just as in the Croatian city of Rijeka just outside Istria. It is the primary language of the Vatican City and is widely used and taught in Monaco and Malta. It is also widely understood in France with over one million speakers (especially in Corsica and the County of Nice, areas that historically spoke Italian dialects before annexation to France), and in Albania.
Italian is also spoken by some in former Italian colonies in Africa (Libya, Somalia and Eritrea). However, its use has sharply dropped off since the colonial period. In Eritrea, Italian is widely understood . In fact, for fifty years, during the colonial period, Italian was the language of education, but , there is only one Italian language school remaining, with 470 pupils. In Somalia Italian used to be a major language but due to the civil war and lack of education only the older generation still uses it.
Italian and Italian dialects are widely used by Italian immigrants and many of their descendants (see Italians) living throughout Western Europe (especially France, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Luxembourg), the United States, Canada, Australia, and Latin America (especially Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela).
In the United States, Italian speakers are most commonly found in four cities: Boston (7,000), Chicago (12,000), New York City (140,000), and Philadelphia (15,000). According to the United States Census in 2000, over 1 million Italian Americans spoke Italian at home, with the largest concentrations (nearly half) found in the states of New York (294,271) and New Jersey (116,365). In Canada, Italian is the fourth most commonly-spoken language with 661,000 speakers (or ~ 2.1% of the population) according to the 2006 Census. Particularly large Italian-speaking communities are found in Montreal (~ 179,000) and Toronto (~ 262,000). Italian is the second most commonly-spoken language in Australia, where 353,605 Italian Australians, or 1.9% of the population, reported speaking Italian at home in the 2001 Census. In 2001 there were 130,000 Italian speakers in Melbourne, and 90,000 in Sydney.
In anglophone parts of Canada, Italian is, after French, the third most taught language. In francophone Canada it is third after English. In the United States and the United Kingdom, Italian ranks fourth (after Spanish-French-German and French-German-Spanish respectively). Throughout the world, Italian is the fifth most taught non-native language, after English, French, Spanish, and German.
In the European Union, Italian is spoken as a mother tongue by 13% of the population (64 million, mainly in Italy itself) and as a second language by 3% (14 million); among EU member states, it is most likely to be desired (and therefore learned) as a second language in Malta (61%), Croatia (14%), Slovenia (12%), Austria (11%), Romania (8%), France (6%), and Greece (6%). It is also an important second language in Albania and Switzerland, which are not EU members or candidates.
In some cases, colonies were established where variants of Italian dialects were used, and some continue to use a derived dialect. An example is Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, where Talian is used and in the town of Chipilo near Puebla, Mexico each continuing to use a derived form of Venetian dating back to the 19th century. Another example is Cocoliche, an Italian-Spanish pidgin once spoken in Argentina and especially in Buenos Aires, and Lunfardo.
Rioplatense Spanish, and particularly the speech of the city of Buenos Aires, has intonation patterns that resemble those of Italian dialects, due to the fact that Argentina had a constant, large influx of Italian settlers since the second half of the nineteenth century; initially primarily from Northern Italy then, since the beginning of the twentieth century, mostly from Southern Italy.
Starting in late medieval times, Italian language variants replaced Latin to become the primary commercial language for much of Europe and Mediterranean Sea (especially the Tuscan and Venetian variants). This became solidified during the Renaissance with the strength of Italian banking and the rise of humanism in the arts.
During the period of the Renaissance, Italy held artistic sway over the rest of Europe. All educated European gentlemen were expected to make the Grand Tour, visiting Italy to see its great historical monuments and works of art. It thus became expected that educated Europeans would learn at least some Italian; the English poet John Milton, for instance, wrote some of his early poetry in Italian. In England, Italian became the second most common modern language to be learned, after French (though the classical languages, Latin and Greek, came first). However, by the late eighteenth century, Italian tended to be replaced by German as the second modern language on the curriculum. Yet Italian loanwords continue to be used in most other European languages in matters of art and music.
Today, the Italian language continues to be used as a lingua franca in some environments. Within the Catholic church Italian is known by a large part of the ecclesiastic hierarchy, and is used in substitution of Latin in some official documents. The presence of Italian as the primary language in the Vatican City indicates not only use within the Holy See, but also throughout the world where an episcopal seat is present. It continues to be used in music and opera. Other examples where Italian is sometimes used as a means of communication is in some sports (sometimes in football and motorsports) and in the design and fashion industries.
Dialects are generally not used for general mass communication and are usually limited to native speakers in informal contexts. In the past, speaking in dialect was often deprecated as a sign of poor education. Younger generations, especially those under 35 (though it may vary in different areas), speak almost exclusively standard Italian in all situations, usually with local accents and idioms. Regional differences can be recognized by various factors: the openness of vowels, the length of the consonants, and influence of the local dialect (for example, annà replaces andare in the area of Rome for the infinitive "to go").
In general, vowel combinations usually pronounce each vowel separately. Diphthongs exist (e.g. uo, iu, ie, ai), but are limited to an unstressed u or i before or after a stressed vowel.
The unstressed u in a diphthong approximates the English semivowel w, the unstressed i approximates the semivowel y. E.g.: buono [ˈbwɔno], ieri [ˈjɛri].
Triphthongs exist in Italian as well, like "continuiamo" ("we continue"). Three vowel combinations exist only in the form semiconsonant (/j/ or /w/), followed by a vowel, followed by a desinence vowel (usually /i/), as in miei, suoi, or two semiconsonants followed by a vowel, as the group -uia- exemplified above, or -iuo- in the word aiuola.
Many Latin words with a short e or o have Italian counterparts with a mobile diphthong (ie and uo respectively). When the vowel sound is stressed, it is pronounced and written as a diphthong; when not stressed, it is pronounced and written as a single vowel.
So Latin focus gave rise to Italian fuoco (meaning both "fire" and "optical focus"): when unstressed, as in focale ("focal") the "o" remains alone. Latin pes (more precisely its accusative form pedem) is the source of Italian piede (foot): but unstressed "e" was left unchanged in pedone (pedestrian) and pedale (pedal). From Latin iocus comes Italian giuoco ("play", "game"), though in this case gioco is more common: giocare means "to play (a game)". From Latin homo comes Italian uomo (man), but also umano (human) and ominide (hominid). From Latin ovum comes Italian uovo (egg) and ovaie (ovaries). (The same phenomenon occurs in Spanish: juego (play, game) and jugar (to play), nieve (snow) and nevar (to snow)).
Two symbols in a table cell denote the voiceless and voiced consonant, respectively.
|Plosive||p, b||t̪, d̪||k, g|
|Affricate||t̪s̪, d̪z̪||tʃ, dʒ|
|Fricative||f, v||s, z||ʃ|
Nasals undergo assimilation when followed by a consonant, e.g., when preceding a velar (/k/ or /g/) only [ŋ] appears, etc.
Italian has geminate, or double, consonants, which are distinguished by length. Length is distinctive for all consonants except for /ʃ/, /ʦ/, /ʣ/, /ʎ/ /ɲ/, which are always geminate, and /z/ which is always single. Geminate plosives and affricates are realised as lengthened closures. Geminate fricatives, nasals, and /l/ are realized as lengthened continuants. The flap consonant /ɾː/ is typically dialectal, and it is called erre moscia. The correct standard pronunciation is [r].
Of special interest to the linguistic study of Italian is the Gorgia Toscana, or "Tuscan Throat", the weakening or lenition of certain intervocalic consonants in Tuscan dialects. See also Syntactic doubling.
Italian has few diphthongs, so most unfamiliar diphthongs that are heard in foreign words (in particular, those beginning with vowel "a", "e", or "o") will be assimilated as the corresponding diaeresis (i.e., the vowel sounds will be pronounced separately). Italian phonotactics do not usually permit polysyllabic nouns and verbs to end with consonants, excepting poetry and song, so foreign words may receive extra terminal vowel sounds.
|Of course!||Certo! / Certamente! / Naturalmente!|
|Hello!||Ciao! (informal) / Salve! (general)|
|How are you?||Come stai? (informal) / Come sta? (formal) / Come state? (plural) / Come va? (general)|
|Good morning!||Buongiorno! (= Good day!)|
|Good afternoon!||Buon pomeriggio! (unusual) / Buonasera! (more usual)|
|Good night!||Buonanotte! (for a good night sleeping) / Buona serata! (for a good night awake)|
|I love you!||Ti amo! (between lovers only) / Ti voglio bene! (between friends, or everyone else)|
|Have a good lunch/dinner!||Le (plural, Vi) auguro un buon pranzo/una buona cena! (formal) / Buon appetito! (informal)|
|Welcome [to...]||Benvenuto/-i (for male/males or mixed) / Benvenuta/-e (for female/females) [a / in...]|
|Goodbye!||Arrivederci (formal) /Ciao!'' (informal)|
|Have a nice day!||Buona giornata! (formal)|
|Good luck! Thank you!||Buona fortuna! Grazie! (general) / In bocca al lupo! Crepi (il lupo)! (to wish s.o. to overcome a difficulty) (the call and response literally means: "Into the mouth of the wolf!" "May it die!"|
|Please||Per piacere / Per favore / Per cortesia|
|Thank you!||Grazie! (general) / Ti ringrazio! (informal) / La ringrazio! (formal) / Vi ringrazio! (plural)|
|You're welcome!||Prego! /|
|I'm sorry||Mi dispiace (general) / Scusa(mi) (informal) / Mi scusi (formal) / Scusatemi (plural) / Sono desolato (if male) / Sono desolata (if female)|
|Excuse me||Scusa(mi) (informal) / (Mi) scusi (formal) / Scusate(mi) (plural) / (Con) permesso! (in order to pass on, to advance)|
|What?||Che cosa? / Cosa? / Che?|
|What's your name?||Come ti chiami? (informal)/Come si chiama? (formal)|
|How much? / How many?||Quanto? / Quanti? / Quante?|
|I do not understand.||Non capisco. / Non ho capito.|
|Yes, I understand.||Sì, capisco. / Ho capito.|
|Help me!||Aiutami! (informal) / Mi aiuti! (formal) / Aiutatemi! (plural) / Aiuto! (general)|
|You're right/wrong!||(Tu) hai ragione/torto! (informal) / (Lei) ha ragione/torto! (formal) / (Voi) avete ragione/torto! (plural)|
|What time is it?||Che ora è? / Che ore sono?|
|Where is the bathroom?||Dov'è il bagno?|
|Do you speak English?||Parli inglese? (informal) / Parla inglese? (formal) / Parlate inglese? (plural)|
|I don't understand Italian.||Non capisco l'italiano. / Non comprendo l'italiano.|
|The check, please. (In restaurant)||Il conto, per favore.|
|The study of Italian sharpens the mind.||Lo studio dell'italiano acuisce l'ingegno.|
Counting to twenty:
The days of the week: