Italian (''italiano'' or ) is a
Romance language
Romance language
of the Indo-European language family. Italian is, by most measures and together with Sardinian, the closest language to
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Republic, it became the ...
, from which it descends via
Vulgar Latin Vulgar Latin, also known as Popular or Colloquial Latin is a range of informal sociolects of Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally ...
. Italian is an official language in
Italy Italy ( it, Italia ), officially the Italian Republic ( it, Repubblica Italiana, links=no ), is a country consisting of a Northern Italy, continental part, delimited by the Alps, a Italian Peninsula, peninsula and List of islands of Italy, se ...
Switzerland ,german: Schweizer(in),french: Suisse(sse), it, svizzero/svizzera or , rm, Svizzer/Svizra , government_type = Federalism, Federal semi-direct democracy under a multi-party assembly-independent Directorial system, directorial republic , leader_t ...
Ticino Ticino (), sometimes Tessin (), officially the Republic and Canton of Ticino or less formally the Canton of Ticino,, informally ''Canton Ticino'' ; lmo, Canton Tesin ; german: Kanton Tessin ; french: canton du Tessin ; rm, chantun dal Tessin . ...
and the Grisons),
San Marino
San Marino
, and
Vatican City Vatican City (), officially the Vatican City State ( it, Stato della Città del Vaticano; la, Status Civitatis Vaticanae),—' * german: Vatikanstadt, cf. '—' (in Austria: ') * pl, Miasto Watykańskie, cf. '—' * pt, Cidade do Vaticano ...
. It has an official minority status in western
Istria Istria ( ; Croatian language, Croatian, Slovene language, Slovene: ''Istra''; Istriot language, Istriot: ''Eîstria''; ruo, Istrie, it, Istria; german: Istrien, ), formerly ''Histria'' (Latin), ''Ίστρια'' (Ancient Greek language, Ancient ...

Croatia :* french: link=no, République de Croatie :* hu, Horvát Köztársaság :* it, Repubblica di Croazia :* rue, Републіка Хорватія :* sr, Република Хрватска :* sk, Chorvátska republika :* sl, Republika H ...

and Slovenia). It formerly had official status in
Albania Albania ( ; sq, Shqipëri or Shqipëria), officially the Republic of Albania ( sq, Republika e Shqipërisë), is a country in Southeast Europe, Southeastern Europe. It is located on the Adriatic Sea, Adriatic and Ionian Sea within the Mediter ...
, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro ( Kotor), Greece ( Ionian Islands and Italian Islands of the Aegean, Dodecanese) and is generally understood in Corsica by Corsican language, Corsican speakers (in facts, many linguists classify it as an Italian dialect). It also used to be an official language in the former Italian East Africa and Italian North Africa, where it still plays a significant role in various sectors. Italian is also spoken by large Italian diaspora, expatriate communities in the Americas and Australia.Ethnologue report for language code:ita (Italy)
– Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (ed.), 2005. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth edition. Dallas, Tex.: SIL International. Online version
Italian is included under the languages covered by the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, European Charter for Regional or Minority languages in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Romania, although Italian is neither a co-official nor a protected language in these countries. Many speakers of Italian are native bilinguals of both Italian (either in its standard form or Regional Italian, regional varieties) and Languages of Italy, other regional languages. Italian is a major European language, being one of the official languages of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and one of the working languages of the Council of Europe. It is the second most widely spoken native Languages of the European Union, language in the European Union with 67 million speakers (15% of the EU population) and it is spoken as a second language by 13.4 million EU citizens (3%).Europeans and their Languages

Data for EU27
published in 2012.
Including Italian speakers in non-EU European countries (such as Switzerland, Albania and the United Kingdom) and on other continents, the total number of speakers is approximately 85 million. Italian is the main working language of the Holy See, serving as the lingua franca (common language) in the Roman Catholic hierarchy as well as the official language of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. Italian is known as the ''language of music'' because of its use in musical terminology and opera; numerous Italian words referring to music have become international terms taken into various languages worldwide. Its influence is also widespread in the arts and in the food and luxury goods markets. Italian was adopted by the state after the Italian unification, Unification of Italy, having previously been a literary language based on Tuscan dialect, Tuscan as spoken mostly by the upper class of Florentine society. Its development was also influenced by other Italian languages and, to some minor extent, by the Germanic languages of the Migration period, post-Roman invaders. The incorporation into Italian of learned words from its own ancestor language, Classical Latin, Latin, is another form of lexical borrowing through the influence of written language, scientific terminology and the liturgical language of the Church. Throughout the Middle Ages and into the early modern period, most literate Italians were also literate in Latin and thus they easily adopted Latin words into their writing—and eventually speech—in Italian. Unlike most other Romance languages, Italian retains Latin's contrast between short and consonant length, long consonants. Almost all native Italian words end with vowels, a factor that makes Italian words extremely easy to use in rhyming. Italian has a 7 vowel sound system ('e' and 'o' have mid-low and mid-high sounds); Classical Latin had 10, 5 with short and 5 with long sounds.



During the Middle Ages, the established written language in Europe was Latin, though the great majority of people were illiterate, and only a handful were well versed in the language. In the Italian peninsula, as in most of Europe, most would instead speak a local vernacular. These dialects, as they are commonly referred to, evolved from
Vulgar Latin Vulgar Latin, also known as Popular or Colloquial Latin is a range of informal sociolects of Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally ...
over the course of centuries, unaffected by formal standards and teachings. They are not in any sense "dialects" of standard Italian, which itself started off as one of these local tongues, but sister languages of Italian. Mutual intelligibility with Italian varies widely, as it does with Romance languages in general. The Romance dialects of Italy can differ greatly from Italian at all levels (phonology, Morphology (linguistics), morphology, syntax, lexicon, pragmatics) and are classified Linguistic typology, typologically as distinct languages. The standard Italian language has a poetic and literary origin in the writings of Tuscany, Tuscan writers of the 12th century, and, even though the grammar and core lexicon are basically unchanged from those used in Florence in the 13th century, the modern standard of the language was largely shaped by relatively recent events. However, Romance vernacular as language spoken in the Apennine peninsula has a longer history. In fact, the earliest surviving texts that can definitely be called vernacular (as distinct from its predecessor Vulgar Latin) are legal formulae known as the Placiti Cassinesi from the Duchy of Benevento, Province of Benevento that date from 960 to 963, although the Veronese Riddle, probably from the 8th or early 9th century, contains a late form of Vulgar Latin that can be seen as a very early sample of a vernacular dialect of Italy. The Commodilla catacomb inscription is also a similar case. The Italian language has progressed through a long and slow process, which started after the Roman Empire's fall in the 5th century. The language that came to be thought of as Italian developed in central Tuscany and was first formalized in the early 14th century through the works of Tuscan writer Dante Alighieri, written in his native Florentine dialect, Florentine. Dante's epic poems, known collectively as the ''Divine Comedy, Commedia,'' to which another Tuscan poet Giovanni Boccaccio later affixed the title ''Divina'', were read throughout the peninsula and his written dialect became the "canonical standard" that all educated Italians could understand. Dante is still credited with standardizing the Italian language. In addition to the widespread exposure gained through literature, the Florentine dialect also gained prestige due to the political and cultural significance of Florence at the time and the fact that it was linguistically an intermediate between the northern and the southern Italian dialects. Thus the dialect of Florence became the basis for what would become the official language of Italy. Italian was progressively made an official language of most of the Italian states predating unification, slowly replacing Latin, even when ruled by foreign powers (like Spain in the Kingdom of Naples, or Austria in the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia), even though the masses kept speaking primarily their local vernaculars. Italian was also one of the many recognised languages in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Italy has always had a distinctive dialect for each city because the cities, until recently, were thought of as city-states. Those dialects now have considerable variety (linguistics), variety. As Tuscan-derived Italian came to be used throughout Italy, features of local speech were naturally adopted, producing various versions of regional Italian. The most characteristic differences, for instance, between Rome, Roman Italian and Milanese Italian are the consonant length, 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 (and by any standard Italian speaker), by a Milanese (and by any speaker whose native dialect lies to the north of the La Spezia–Rimini Line); ''a casa'' "at home" is for Roman, or for standard, for Milanese and generally northern. In contrast to the Gallo-Italic languages, Gallo-Italic linguistic panorama of northern Italy, the Italo-Dalmatian languages, Italo-Dalmatian Neapolitan language, Neapolitan and its related dialects were largely unaffected by the Franco-Occitan language, Occitan influences introduced to Italy mainly by bards from France during the Middle Ages, but after the Norman conquest of southern Italy, Sicily became the first Italian land to adopt Occitan lyric moods (and words) in poetry. Even in the case of Northern Italian languages, however, scholars are careful not to overstate the effects of outsiders on the natural indigenous developments of the languages. The economic might and relatively advanced development of Tuscany at the time (Late Middle Ages) gave its language weight, though Venetian language, Venetian remained widespread in medieval Italian commercial life, and Ligurian language (Romance), Ligurian (or Genoese) remained in use in maritime trade alongside the Mediterranean. The increasing political and cultural relevance of Florence during the periods of the rise of the ''Medici bank, Banco Medici'', Humanism, and the Renaissance made its dialect, or rather a refined version of it, a standard in the arts.


The Renaissance era, known as ''("the Rebirth")'' in Italian, was seen as a time of "rebirth", which is the literal meaning of both (from French) and (Italian). During this time, long-existing beliefs stemming from the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church began to be understood from new perspectives as humanists—individuals who placed emphasis on the human body and its full potential—began to shift focus from the church to human beings themselves. Humanists began forming new beliefs in various forms: social, political, and intellectual. The ideals of the Renaissance were evident throughout the Protestant Reformation, which took place simultaneously with the Renaissance. The Protestant Reformation began with Martin Luther's rejection of the selling of indulgences by Johann Tetzel and other authorities within the Roman Catholic Church, resulting in Luther's eventual break-off from the Roman Catholic Church in the Diet of Worms. After Luther was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church, he founded what was then understood to be a sect of Catholicism, later referred to as Lutheranism. Luther's preaching in favor of faith and scripture rather than tradition led him to translate the Bible into many other languages. The Italian language was able to spread even more with the help of Luther and the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg. The printing press facilitated the spread of Italian because it was able to rapidly produce texts, such as the Bible, and cut the costs of books which allowed for more people to have access to the translated Bible and new pieces of literature. The Roman Catholic Church was losing its control over the population, as it was not open to change, and there was an increasing number of reformers with differing beliefs. Italian became the language used in the courts of every state in the Italian peninsula, as well as the Prestige (sociolinguistics), prestige variety used in the island of Corsica (but not in the neighboring Sardinia, which on the contrary underwent Italianization well into the late 18th century, under House of Savoy, Savoyard sway: the island's linguistic composition, roofed by the prestige of Spanish language, Spanish among the Sardinians, would therein make for a rather slow process of cultural assimilation, assimilation to the Italian cultural sphere). The rediscovery of Dante's , as well as a renewed interest in linguistics in the 16th century, sparked a debate that raged throughout Italy concerning the criteria that should govern the establishment of a modern Italian literary and spoken language. This discussion, known as (i. e., the ''problem of the language''), ran through the Italian culture until the end of the 19th century, often linked to the political debate on achieving a united Italian state. Renaissance scholars divided into three main factions: * The purism (language), purists, headed by Venetian Pietro Bembo (who, in his ''Gli Asolani'', claimed the language might be based only on the great literary classics, such as Petrarch and some part of Boccaccio). The purists thought the Divine Comedy was not dignified enough because it used elements from non-lyric registers of the language. * Niccolò Machiavelli and other Florence, Florentines preferred the version spoken by ordinary people in their own times. * The courtiers, like Baldassare Castiglione and Gian Giorgio Trissino, insisted that each local vernacular contribute to the new standard. A fourth faction claimed that the best Italian was the one that the papal court adopted, which was a mixture of the Tuscan dialect, Tuscan and Roman dialect, Roman dialects. Eventually, Bembo's ideas prevailed, and the foundation of the Accademia della Crusca in Florence (1582–1583), the official legislative body of the Italian language, led to publication of Agnolo Monosini's Latin tome in 1604 followed by the first Italian dictionary in 1612. The continual advancements in technology plays a crucial role in the diffusion of languages. After the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century, the number of printing presses in Italy grew rapidly and by the year 1500 reached a total of 56, the biggest number of printing presses in all of Europe. This enabled the production of more pieces of literature at a lower cost and as the dominant language, Italian spread.

Modern era

An important event that helped the diffusion of Italian 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 some decades after and pushed the Italian language into a lingua franca used not only among clerks, nobility, and functionaries in the Italian courts but also by the bourgeoisie.

Contemporary times

Italian literature's first modern novel, ''I promessi sposi'' (''The Betrothed (Manzoni novel), The Betrothed'') by Alessandro Manzoni, further defined the standard by "rinsing" his Milanese "in the waters of the Arno River, 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 languages—''ciao'' is derived from the Venetian language, Venetian word ''s-cia[v]o'' ("slave"), ''panettone'' comes from the Lombard language, Lombard word ''panetton'', etc. Only 2.5% of Italy's population could speak the Italian standardized language properly when the nation was unified in 1861.


file:Lenguas centromeridionales.png, Italian as part of the Italo-Dalmatian languages. Italian is a Romance language, a descendant of
Vulgar Latin Vulgar Latin, also known as Popular or Colloquial Latin is a range of informal sociolects of Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally ...
(colloquial spoken Latin). Standard Italian is based on Tuscan language, Tuscan, especially its Florentine dialect, and is therefore an Italo-Dalmatian languages, Italo-Dalmatian language, a classification that includes most other central and southern Italian languages and the extinct Dalmatian language, Dalmatian. According to many sources, Italian is the closest language to
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Republic, it became the ...
in terms of vocabulary. According to the Ethnologue, Lexical similarity is 89% with French language, French, 87% with Catalan language, Catalan, 85% with Sardinian, 82% with Spanish language, Spanish, 80% with Portuguese language, Portuguese, 78% with Ladin language, Ladin, 77% with Romanian language, Romanian. Estimates may differ according to sources. One study (analyzing the degree of differentiation of Romance languages in comparison to Latin (comparing phonology, inflection, discourse, syntax, vocabulary, and intonation (linguistics), intonation) estimated that distance between Italian and Latin is higher than that between Sardinian and Latin. In particular, its vowels are the second-closest to Latin after Sardinian. As in most Romance languages, stress (linguistics), stress is distinctive.

Geographic distribution

Italian is an official language of
Italy Italy ( it, Italia ), officially the Italian Republic ( it, Repubblica Italiana, links=no ), is a country consisting of a Northern Italy, continental part, delimited by the Alps, a Italian Peninsula, peninsula and List of islands of Italy, se ...
and and is spoken fluently by the majority of the countries' populations. Italian is the third most spoken language in
Switzerland ,german: Schweizer(in),french: Suisse(sse), it, svizzero/svizzera or , rm, Svizzer/Svizra , government_type = Federalism, Federal semi-direct democracy under a multi-party assembly-independent Directorial system, directorial republic , leader_t ...
(after German and French), though its use there has moderately declined since the 1970s. It is official both on the national level and on regional level in two canton of Switzerland, cantons:
Ticino Ticino (), sometimes Tessin (), officially the Republic and Canton of Ticino or less formally the Canton of Ticino,, informally ''Canton Ticino'' ; lmo, Canton Tesin ; german: Kanton Tessin ; french: canton du Tessin ; rm, chantun dal Tessin . ...
and the Grisons. In the latter canton, however, it is only spoken by a small minority, in the Italian Grisons.Italian is the main language of the valleys of Val Calanca, Calanca, Mesolcina, Valle Bregaglia, Bregaglia and val Poschiavo. In the village of , it is spoken by about half the population. It is also spoken by a minority in the village of Bivio. Ticino, which includes Lugano, the largest Italian-speaking city outside Italy, is the only canton where Italian is predominant. Italian is also used in administration and official documents in
Vatican City Vatican City (), officially the Vatican City State ( it, Stato della Città del Vaticano; la, Status Civitatis Vaticanae),—' * german: Vatikanstadt, cf. '—' (in Austria: ') * pl, Miasto Watykańskie, cf. '—' * pt, Cidade do Vaticano ...
. Due to heavy Italian influence during the Italian Empire, Italian colonial period, Italian is still understood by some in former colonies. Although it was the primary language in Libya since Italian Libya, colonial rule, Italian greatly declined under the History of Libya under Muammar Gaddafi, rule of Muammar Gaddafi, who expelled the Italian settlers in Libya, Italian Libyan population and made Modern Standard Arabic, Arabic the sole official language of the country. A few hundred Italian settlers returned to Libya in the 2000s. Italian was the official language of Eritrea during Italian Eritrea, Italian colonisation. Italian is today used in commerce and it is still spoken especially among elders; besides that, Italian words are incorporated as loan words in the main language spoken in the country (Tigrinya). The capital city of Eritrea, Asmara, still has several Italian schools, established during the colonial period. In the early 19th century, Eritrea was the country with the highest number of Italians abroad, and the Italian Eritreans grew from 4,000 during World War I to nearly 100,000 at the beginning of World War II. In Asmara there are two Italian schools: * Italian School of Asmara – Italian primary school with a Montessori education, Montessori department * Liceo Sperimentale "G. Marconi" – Italian international senior high school Italian was also introduced to Somalia through colonialism and was the sole official language of administration and education during the Italian Somaliland, colonial period but fell out of use after government, educational and economic infrastructure were destroyed in the Somali Civil War.
Albania Albania ( ; sq, Shqipëri or Shqipëria), officially the Republic of Albania ( sq, Republika e Shqipërisë), is a country in Southeast Europe, Southeastern Europe. It is located on the Adriatic Sea, Adriatic and Ionian Sea within the Mediter ...
and Malta have large populations of non-native speakers, with over half of the population having some knowledge of the Italian language. Although over 17 million Italian American, Americans are of Italian descent, only a little over one million people in the United States speak Italian at home. Nevertheless, an Italian language media market does exist in the country. Italian immigrants to South America have also brought a presence of the language to that continent. According to some sources, Italian is the second most spoken language in Argentina after the official language of Spanish, although its number of speakers, mainly of the older generation, is decreasing.


Italian is widely taught in many schools around the world, but rarely as the first foreign language. In the 21st century, technology also allows for the continual spread of the Italian language, as people have new ways to learn how to speak, read, and write languages at their own pace and at any given time. For example, the free website and application Duolingo has 4.94 million English speakers learning the Italian language. According to the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, every year there are more than 200,000 foreign students who study the Italian language; they are distributed among the 90 Italian Cultural Institute, Institutes of Italian Culture that are located around the world, in the 179 Italian schools located abroad, or in the 111 Italian lecturer sections belonging to foreign schools where Italian is taught as a language of culture.

Influence and derived languages

From the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, thousands of Italians settled in Argentina, Uruguay, Southern Brazil and Venezuela, as well as in Canada and the United States, where they formed a physical and cultural presence. In some cases, colonies were established where variants of regional languages of Italy were used, and some continue to use this regional language. Examples are Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, where Talian dialect, Talian is used, and the town of Chipilo near Puebla, Mexico; each continues to use a derived form of Venetian language, Venetian dating back to the nineteenth century. Another example is Cocoliche, an Italian–Spanish pidgin once spoken in Argentina and especially in Buenos Aires, and Lunfardo.

Lingua franca

Starting in late medieval times in much of Europe and the Mediterranean, Latin was replaced as the primary commercial language by Italian language variants (especially Tuscan and Venetian). These variants were consolidated during the Renaissance with the strength of Italy and the rise of Renaissance humanism, humanism and the arts. During that period, Italy held artistic sway over the rest of Europe. It was the norm for all educated gentlemen to make the Grand Tour, visiting Italy to see its great historical monuments and works of art. It thus became expected to learn at least some Italian. In England, while the classical languages
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Republic, it became the ...
and Greek language, Greek were the first to be learned, Italian became the second most common modern language after French, a position it held until the late eighteenth century when it tended to be replaced by German. John Milton, for instance, wrote some of his early poetry in Italian. Within the Catholic church, Italian is known by a large part of the ecclesiastical hierarchy and is used in substitution for Latin in some official documents. Italian loanwords continue to be used in most languages in matters of art and music (especially classical music including opera), in the design and fashion industries, in some sports like football (association), football and especially in culinary terms.

Languages and dialects

In Italy, almost all the Languages of Italy, other languages spoken as the vernacular—other than standard Italian and some languages spoken among immigrant communities—are often imprecisely called "Languages of Italy, Italian dialects", even though they are quite different, with some belonging to different linguistic branches. The only exceptions to this are twelve groups considered "Languages of Italy#Recognition by the Italian state, historical language minorities", which are officially recognized as distinct minority languages by the law. On the other hand, Corsican language, Corsican (a language spoken on the France, French island of Corsica) is closely related to medieval Tuscan dialect, Tuscan, from which Standard Italian derives and evolved. The differences in the evolution of Latin in the different regions of Italy can be attributed to the presence of three other types of languages: Stratum (linguistics), substrata, superstrata, and adstrata. The most prevalent were substrata (the language of the original inhabitants), as the Italian dialects were most likely simply Latin as spoken by native cultural groups. Superstrata and adstrata were both less important. Foreign conquerors of Italy that dominated different regions at different times left behind little to no influence on the dialects. Foreign cultures with which Italy engaged in peaceful relations with, such as trade, had no significant influence either. Throughout Italy, regional variations of Standard Italian, called Regional Italian, are spoken. Regional differences can be recognized by various factors: the openness of vowels, the length of the consonants, and influence of the local language (for example, in informal situations ', ' and ' replace the standard Italian ' in the area of Tuscany, Rome and Venice respectively for the infinitive "to go"). There is no definitive date when the various Italian variants of Latin—including varieties that contributed to modern Standard Italian—began to be distinct enough from Latin to be considered separate languages. One criterion for determining that two language variants are to be considered separate languages rather than variants of a single language is that they have evolved so that they are no longer mutually intelligible; this diagnostic is effective if mutual intelligibility is minimal or absent (e.g. in Romance, Romanian and Portuguese), but it fails in cases such as Spanish-Portuguese or Spanish-Italian, as native speakers of either pairing can understand each other well if they choose to do so. Nevertheless, on the basis of accumulated differences in morphology, syntax, phonology, and to some extent lexicon, it is not difficult to identify that for the Romance varieties of Italy, the first extant written evidence of languages that can no longer be considered Latin comes from the ninth and tenth centuries C.E. These written sources demonstrate certain vernacular characteristics and sometimes explicitly mention the use of the vernacular in Italy. Full literary manifestations of the vernacular began to surface around the 13th century in the form of various religious texts and poetry.Although these are the first written records of Italian varieties separate from Latin, the spoken language had likely diverged long before the first written records appear, since those who were literate generally wrote in Latin even if they spoke other Romance varieties in person. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the use of Standard Italian became increasingly widespread and was mirrored by a decline in the use of the dialects. An increase in literacy was one of the main driving factors (one can assume that only literates were capable of learning Standard Italian, whereas those who were illiterate had access only to their native dialect). The percentage of literates rose from 25% in 1861 to 60% in 1911, and then on to 78.1% in 1951. Tullio De Mauro, an Italian linguist, has asserted that in 1861 only 2.5% of the population of Italy could speak Standard Italian. He reports that in 1951 that percentage had risen to 87%. The ability to speak Italian did not necessarily mean it was in everyday use, and most people (63.5%) still usually spoke their native dialects. In addition, other factors such as mass emigration, industrialization, and urbanization, and internal migrations after World War II, contributed to the proliferation of Standard Italian. The Italians who emigrated during the Italian diaspora beginning in 1861 were often of the uneducated lower class, and thus the emigration had the effect of increasing the percentage of literates, who often knew and understood the importance of Standard Italian, back home in Italy. A large percentage of those who had emigrated also eventually returned to Italy, often more educated than when they had left. The Italian dialects have declined in the modern era, as Italy unified under Standard Italian and continues to do so aided by mass media, from newspapers to radio to television.


Italian has a seven-vowel system, consisting of , as well as 23 consonants. Compared with most other Romance languages, Italian phonology is conservative, preserving many words nearly unchanged from
Vulgar Latin Vulgar Latin, also known as Popular or Colloquial Latin is a range of informal sociolects of Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally ...
. Some examples: * Italian ' "fourteen" < Latin (cf. Spanish ', French ' , Catalan language, Catalan and Portuguese language, Portuguese ) * Italian ''settimana'' "week" < Latin (cf. Romanian ''săptămână'', Spanish and Portuguese ''semana'', French ''semaine'' , Catalan language, Catalan ''setmana'') * Italian ''medesimo'' "same" < Vulgar Latin * (cf. Spanish ''mismo'', Portuguese language, Portuguese ''mesmo'', French ''même'' , Catalan language, Catalan ''mateix''; note that Italian usually prefers the shorter ''stesso'') * Italian ''guadagnare'' "to win, earn, gain" < Vulgar Latin * < Germanic languages, Germanic (cf. Spanish ''ganar'', Portuguese ''ganhar'', French ''gagner'' , Catalan language, Catalan ''guanyar'') The conservative nature of Italian phonology is partly explained by its origin. Italian stems from a literary language that is derived from the 13th-century speech of the city of Florence in the region of Tuscany, and has changed little in the last 700 years or so. Furthermore, the Tuscan dialect is the most conservative of all Regional Italian, Italian dialects, radically different from the Gallo-Italian languages less than 100 miles to the north (across the La Spezia–Rimini Line). The following are some of the conservative phonological features of Italian, as compared with the common Western Romance languages (French, Spanish, Portuguese language, Portuguese, Galician language, Galician, Catalan language, Catalan). Some of these features are also present in Romanian language, Romanian. * Little or no Phoneme, phonemic lenition of consonants between vowels, e.g. > ''vita'' "life" (cf. Romanian ''viață'', Spanish ''vida'' , French ''vie''), > ''piede'' "foot" (cf. Spanish ''pie'', French ''pied'' ). * Preservation of geminate consonants, e.g. > "year" (cf. Spanish , French , Romanian , Portuguese ). * Preservation of all Proto-Romance final vowels, e.g. > "peace" (cf. Romanian , Spanish , French ), > "eight" (cf. Romanian , Spanish , French ), > "I did" (cf. Romanian dialectal , Spanish , French ). * Preservation of most intertonic vowels (those between the stressed syllable and either the beginning or ending syllable). This accounts for some of the most noticeable differences, as in the forms ''quattordici'' and ''settimana'' given above. * Slower consonant development, e.g. > Italo-Western > ''foglia'' "leaf" (cf. Romanian ''foaie'' , Spanish ''hoja'' , French ''feuille'' ; but note Portuguese ''folha'' ). Compared with most other Romance languages, Italian has many inconsistent outcomes, where the same underlying sound produces different results in different words, e.g. > ''lasciare'' and ''lassare'', > ''cacciare'' and ''cazzare'', > ''sdrucciolare'', ''druzzolare'' and ''ruzzolare'', > ''regina'' and ''reina''. Although in all these examples the second form has fallen out of usage, the dimorphism is thought to reflect the several-hundred-year period during which Italian developed as a literary language divorced from any native-speaking population, with an origin in 12th/13th-century Tuscan but with many words borrowed from Languages of Italy, languages farther to the north, with different sound outcomes. (The La Spezia–Rimini Line, the most important isogloss in the entire Romance-language area, passes only about 20 miles to the north of Florence.) Dual outcomes of Latin /p t k/ between vowels, such as > ''luogo'' but > ''fuoco'', was once thought to be due to borrowing of northern voiced forms, but is now generally viewed as the result of early phonetic variation within Tuscany. Some other features that distinguish Italian from the Western Romance languages: * Latin becomes rather than . * Latin becomes rather than or : > ''otto'' "eight" (cf. Spanish ''ocho'', French ''huit,'' Portuguese ''oito''). * Vulgar Latin becomes ''cchi'' rather than : > ''occhio'' "eye" (cf. Portuguese ''olho'' , French ''oeil'' < ); but Romanian ''ochi'' . * Final is not preserved, and vowel changes rather than are used to mark the plural: ''amico'', ''amici'' "male friend(s)", ''amica'', ''amiche'' "female friend(s)" (cf. Romanian ''amic'', ''amici'' and ''amică'', ''amice''; Spanish ''amigo(s)'' "male friend(s)", ''amiga(s)'' "female friend(s)"); → ''tre, sei'' "three, six" (cf. Romanian ''trei'', ''șase''; Spanish ''tres'', ''seis''). Standard Italian also differs in some respects from most nearby Italian languages: * Perhaps most noticeable is the total lack of metaphony (Romance languages), metaphony, though metaphony is a feature characterizing nearly every other Languages of Italy, Italian language. * No simplification of original , (which often became elsewhere).


Italian phonotactics do not usually permit verbs and polysyllabic nouns to end with consonants, except in poetry and song, so foreign words may receive Epenthetic vowel#Epenthesis of a vowel, or anaptyxis, extra terminal vowel sounds.

Writing system

Italian has a Phonemic orthography, shallow orthography, meaning very regular spelling with an almost one-to-one correspondence between letters and sounds. In linguistic terms, the writing system is close to being a phonemic orthography. The most important of the few exceptions are the following (see below for more details): * The letter c represents the sound at the end of words and before the letters a, o, and u but represents the sound (as the first sound in the English word ''chair'') before the letters e and i. * The letter g represents the sound at the end of words and before the letters a, o, and u but represents the sound (as the first sound in the English word ''gem'') before the letters e and i. * The letter n usually represents the sound , but it represents the sound (as in the English word ''sink'') before the letter k and before the letter g when this is pronounced , and it represents the sound when the letter g is pronounced . So the combination of two letters ng is pronounced either or (never as in the English word ''singer''). * The letter ''h'' is always silent: ''hotel'' /oˈtɛl/; ''hanno'' 'they have' and ''anno'' 'year' both represent /ˈanno/. It is used to form a Digraph (orthography), digraph with ''c'' or ''g'' to represent /k/ or /g/ before ''i'' or ''e'': ''chi'' /ki/ 'who', ''che'' /ke/ 'what'; ''aghi'' /ˈagi/ 'needles', ''ghetto'' /ˈgetto/. * The spellings ''ci'' and ''gi'' represent only /tʃ/ (as in English ''church'') or /dʒ/ (as in English ''judge'') with no /i/ sound before another vowel (''ciuccio'' /ˈtʃuttʃo/ 'pacifier', ''Giorgio'' /ˈdʒɔrdʒo/) unless ''c'' or ''g'' precede stressed /i/ (''farmacia'' /farmaˈtʃia/ 'pharmacy', ''biologia'' /bioloˈdʒia/ 'biology'). Elsewhere ''ci'' and ''gi'' represent /tʃ/ and /dʒ/ followed by /i/: ''cibo'' /ˈtʃibo/ 'food', ''baci'' /ˈbatʃi/ 'kisses'; ''gita'' /ˈdʒita/ 'trip', ''Tamigi'' /taˈmidʒi/ 'Thames'.* The Italian alphabet is typically considered to consist of 21 letters. The letters j, k, w, x, y are traditionally excluded, though they appear in loanwords such as ''jeans'', ''whisky'', ''taxi'', ''xenofobo'', ''xilofono''. The letter has become common in standard Italian with the prefix ''extra-'', although ''(e)stra-'' is traditionally used; it is also common to use the Latin particle ''ex(-)'' to mean "former(ly)" as in: ''la mia ex'' ("my ex-girlfriend"), "Ex-Jugoslavia" ("Former Yugoslavia"). The letter appears in the first name ''Jacopo'' and in some Italian place-names, such as Bajardo, Bojano, Joppolo, Jerzu, Jesolo, Jesi, Ajaccio, among others, and in ''Mar Jonio'', an alternative spelling of ''Mar Ionio'' (the Ionian Sea). The letter may appear in dialectal words, but its use is discouraged in contemporary standard Italian. Letters used in foreign words can be replaced with phonetics, phonetically equivalent native Italian letters and digraph (orthography), digraphs: , , or for ; or for (including in the standard prefix ''kilo-''); , or for ; , , , or for ; and or for . * The acute accent is used over word-final to indicate a stressed Close-mid front unrounded vowel, front close-mid vowel, as in ''perché'' "why, because". In dictionaries, it is also used over to indicate a stressed Close-mid back rounded vowel, back close-mid vowel (''azióne''). The grave accent is used over word-final and to indicate a Open-mid front unrounded vowel, front open-mid vowel and a Open-mid back rounded vowel, back open-mid vowel respectively, as in ''tè'' "tea" and ''può'' "(he) can". The grave accent is used over any vowel to indicate word-final stress, as in ''gioventù'' "youth". Unlike , which is a ''close''-mid vowel, a stressed final is almost always a Open-mid back rounded vowel, back open-mid vowel (''andrò''), with a few exceptions, like ''metró'', with a stressed final close-mid back rounded vowel, back close-mid vowel, making for the most part unnecessary outside of dictionaries. Most of the time, the penultimate syllable is stressed. But if the stressed vowel is the final letter of the word, the accent is mandatory, otherwise it is virtually always omitted. Exceptions are typically either in dictionaries, where all or most stressed vowels are commonly marked. Accents can optionally be used to disambiguate words that differ only by stress, as for ''prìncipi'' "princes" and ''princìpi'' "principles", or ''àncora'' "anchor" and ''ancóra'' "still''/''yet". For monosyllabic words, the rule is different: when two orthographically identical monosyllabic words with different meanings exist, one is accented and the other is not (example: ''è'' "is", ''e'' "and"). * The letter distinguishes ''ho'', ''hai'', ''ha'', ''hanno'' (present indicative of ''avere'' "to have") from ''o'' ("or"), ''ai'' ("to the"), ''a'' ("to"), ''anno'' ("year"). In the spoken language, the letter is always silent. The in ''ho'' additionally marks the contrasting open pronunciation of the . The letter is also used in combinations with other letters. No phoneme exists in Italian. In nativized foreign words, the is silent. For example, ''hotel'' and ''hovercraft'' are pronounced and respectively. (Where existed in Latin, it either disappeared or, in a few cases before a back vowel, changed to : ''traggo'' "I pull" ← Lat. .) * The letters and can symbolize voice (phonetics), voiced or voicelessness, voiceless consonants. symbolizes or depending on context, with few minimal pairs. For example: ''zanzara'' "mosquito" and ''nazione'' "nation". symbolizes word-initially before a vowel, when clustered with a voiceless consonant (), and when doubled; it symbolizes when between vowels and when clustered with voiced consonants. Intervocalic varies regionally between and , with being more dominant in northern Italy and in the south. * The letters and vary in pronunciation between plosives and affricates depending on following vowels. The letter symbolizes when word-final and before the back vowels . It symbolizes as in ''chair'' before the front vowels . The letter symbolizes when word-final and before the back vowels . It symbolizes as in ''gem'' before the front vowels . Other Romance languages and, to an extent, English have similar variations for . Compare hard and soft C, hard and soft G. (See also Palatalization (sound change), palatalization.) * The digraph (orthography), digraphs and indicate ( and ) before . The digraphs and indicate "softness" ( and , the affricate consonants of English ''church'' and ''judge'') before . For example: : :Note: is silent letter, silent in the digraphs ''ch (digraph), '', ''gh (digraph), ''; and is silent in the digraphs and before unless the is stressed. For example, it is silent in ''ciao'' and cielo , but it is pronounced in ''farmacia'' and ''farmacie'' . Italian has geminate, or double, consonants, which are distinguished by Consonant length, length and intensity. Length is distinctive for all consonants except for , , , , , which are always geminate when between vowels, and , which is always single. Geminate plosives and affricates are realized as lengthened closures. Geminate fricatives, nasals, and are realized as lengthened continuants. There is only one vibrant phoneme but the actual pronunciation depends on context and regional accent. Generally one can find a flap consonant in unstressed position whereas is more common in stressed syllables, but there may be exceptions. Especially people from the Northern part of Italy (Parma, Aosta Valley, South Tyrol) may pronounce as , , or . Of special interest to the linguistic study of Regional Italian is the ''Tuscan gorgia, gorgia toscana'', or "Tuscan Throat", the weakening or lenition of :wiktionary:intervocalic, intervocalic , , and in the Tuscan language. The voiced postalveolar fricative is present as a phoneme only in loanwords: for example, ''garage'' . Phonetic is common in Central and Southern Italy as an intervocalic allophone of : ''gente'' 'people' but ''la gente'' 'the people', ''ragione'' 'reason'.


Italian grammar is typical of the grammar of Romance languages in general. Grammatical case, Cases exist for personal pronouns (Nominative case, nominative, Oblique case, oblique, Accusative case, accusative, Dative case, dative), but not for nouns. There are two basic classes of nouns in Italian, referred to as Grammatical gender, genders, masculine and feminine. Gender may be natural gender, natural (''ragazzo'' 'boy', ''ragazza'' 'girl') or simply grammatical with no possible reference to biological gender (masculine ''costo'' 'cost', feminine ''costa'' 'coast'). Masculine nouns typically end in ''-o'' (''ragazzo'' 'boy'), with plural marked by ''-i'' (''ragazzi'' 'boys'), and feminine nouns typically end in ''-a'', with plural marked by ''-e'' (''ragazza'' 'girl', ''ragazze'' 'girls'). For a group composed of boys and girls, ''ragazzi'' is the plural, suggesting that ''-i'' is a general plural. A third category of nouns is Marker (linguistics), unmarked for gender, ending in ''-e'' in the singular and ''-i'' in the plural: ''legge'' 'law, f. sg.', ''leggi'' 'laws, f. pl.'; ''fiume'' 'river, m. sg.', ''fiumi'' 'rivers, m. pl.', thus assignment of gender is arbitrary in terms of form, enough so that terms may be identical but of distinct genders: ''fine'' meaning 'aim', 'purpose' is masculine, while ''fine'' meaning 'end, ending' (e.g. of a movie) is feminine, and both are ''fini'' in the plural, a clear instance of ''-i'' as a non-gendered default plural marker. These nouns often, but not always, denote Animacy, inanimates. There are a number of nouns that have a masculine singular and a feminine plural, most commonly of the pattern m. sg. ''-o'', f. pl. ''-a'' (''miglio'' 'mile, m. sg.', ''miglia'' 'miles, f. pl.'; ''paio'' 'pair, m. sg., ''paia'' 'pairs, f. pl.'), and thus are sometimes considered neuter (these are usually derived from Grammatical gender, neuter Latin nouns). An instance of neuter gender also exists in pronouns of the third person singular. Examples: Nouns, adjectives, and articles Inflection, inflect for gender and number (singular and plural). Like in English, common nouns are capitalized when occurring at the beginning of a sentence. Unlike English, nouns referring to languages (e.g. Italian), speakers of languages, or inhabitants of an area (e.g. Italians) are not capitalized. There are three types of adjectives: descriptive, invariable and form-changing. Descriptive adjectives are the most common, and their endings change to match the number and gender of the noun they modify. Invariable adjectives are adjectives whose endings do not change. The form changing adjectives "buono (good), bello (beautiful), grande (big), and santo (saint)" change in form when placed before different types of nouns. Italian has three degrees for comparison of adjectives: positive, comparative, and superlative. The order of words in the phrase is relatively free compared to most European languages. The position of the verb in the phrase is highly mobile. Word order often has a lesser grammatical function in Italian than in English language, English. Adjectives are sometimes placed before their noun and sometimes after. Subject nouns generally come before the verb. Italian is a null-subject language, so that nominative pronouns are usually absent, with subject indicated by verbal inflections (e.g. ''amo'' 'I love', ''ama'' '(s)he loves', ''amano'' 'they love'). Noun objects normally come after the verb, as do pronoun objects after imperative verbs, infinitives and gerunds, but otherwise pronoun objects come before the verb. There are both indefinite and definite Article (grammar), articles in Italian. There are four indefinite articles, selected by the gender of the noun they modify and by the phonological structure of the word that immediately follows the article. ''Uno'' is masculine singular, used before ''z'' ( or ), ''s+consonant'', ''gn'' (), or ''ps'', while masculine singular ''un'' is used before a word beginning with any other sound. The noun ''zio'' 'uncle' selects masculine singular, thus ''uno zio'' 'an uncle' or ''uno zio anziano'' 'an old uncle,' but ''un mio zio'' 'an uncle of mine'. The feminine singular indefinite articles are ''una'', used before any consonant sound, and its abbreviated form, written ''un','' used before vowels: ''una camicia'' 'a shirt', ''una camicia bianca'' 'a white shirt', ''un'altra camicia'' 'a different shirt'. There are seven forms for definite articles, both singular and plural. In the singular: ''lo'', which corresponds to the uses of ''uno''; ''il'', which corresponds to the uses with consonant of ''un''; ''la,'' which corresponds to the uses of ''una''; ''l','' used for both masculine and feminine singular before vowels. In the plural: ''gli'' is the masculine plural of ''lo and l'''; ''i'' is the plural of ''il''; and ''le'' is the plural of feminine ''la'' and ''l'''. There are numerous Contraction (grammar), contractions of prepositions with subsequent Article (grammar), articles. There are numerous productive suffixes for Italian diminutive, diminutive, Augmentative#Italian, augmentative, pejorative, attenuating, etc., which are also used to create neologisms. There are 27 pronouns, grouped in clitic and tonic pronouns. Personal pronouns are separated into three groups: subject, object (which take the place of both direct and indirect objects), and reflexive. Second person subject pronouns have both a polite and a familiar form. These two different types of address are very important in Italian social distinctions. All object pronouns have two forms: stressed and unstressed (clitics). Unstressed object pronouns are much more frequently used, and come before the verb (''Lo vedo''. 'I see him.'). Stressed object pronouns come after the verb, and are used when emphasis is required, for contrast, or to avoid ambiguity (''Vedo lui, ma non lei''. 'I see him, but not her'). Aside from personal pronouns, Italian also has demonstrative, interrogative, possessive, and relative pronouns. There are two types of demonstrative pronouns: relatively near (this) and relatively far (that). Demonstratives in Italian are repeated before each noun, unlike in English. There are three regular sets of verbal Grammatical conjugation, conjugations, and various verbs are irregularly conjugated. Within each of these sets of conjugations, there are four simple (one-word) verbal conjugations by person/number in the indicative mood (present tense; past tense with imperfective aspect, past tense with perfective aspect, and future tense), two simple conjugations in the subjunctive mood (present tense and past tense), one simple conjugation in the conditional mood, and one simple conjugation in the imperative mood. Corresponding to each of the simple conjugations, there is a compound conjugation involving a simple conjugation of "to be" or "to have" followed by a past participle. "To have" is used to form compound conjugation when the verb is transitive ("Ha detto", "ha fatto": he/she has said, he/she has made/done), while "to be" is used in the case of verbs of motion and some other intransitive verbs ("È andato", "è stato": he/she has gone, he/she has been). "To be" may be used with transitive verbs, but in such a case it makes the verb passive ("È detto", "è fatto": it is said, it is made/done). This rule is not absolute, and some exceptions do exist.



Note: the plural form of verbs could also be used as an extremely formal (for example to Nobility, noble people in Monarchy, monarchies) singular form (see royal we).

Question words



Days of the week

Months of the year

See also

* Languages of Italy * Accademia della Crusca * CELI * CILS (Qualification) * ''Enciclopedia Italiana'' * Italian alphabet * Italian dialects * Italian exonyms * Italian grammar * Italian honorifics * List of territorial entities where Italian is an official language * The Italian Language Foundation (in the United States) * Italian language in Croatia * Italian language in Slovenia * Italian language in the United States * Italian language in Venezuela * Italian literature * Italian music terminology, Italian musical terms * Italian phonology * Italian profanity * Italian Sign Language * Italian Studies * Italian Wikipedia * Italian-language international radio stations * Lessico etimologico italiano * Sicilian School * Veronese Riddle * Languages of the Vatican City * Talian dialect, Talian * List of English words of Italian origin * List of Italian musical terms used in English




* * * * * * * * * M. Vitale, ''Studi di Storia della Lingua Italiana'', LED Edizioni Universitarie, Milano, 1992, * S. Morgana, ''Capitoli di Storia Linguistica Italiana'', LED Edizioni Universitarie, Milano, 2003, * J. Kinder, ''CLIC: Cultura e Lingua d'Italia in CD-ROM / Culture and Language of Italy on CD-ROM'', Interlinea, Novara, 2008, * (with a similar list of other Italian-modern languages dictionaries)

External links

Il Nuovo De Mauro
* * :wikt:Appendix:Italian Swadesh list, Swadesh list in English and Italian * :wikiquote:Italian proverbs, Italian proverbs *
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