Italian language

Italian language
Italiano, Lingua italiana or Idioma Italiano
Pronunciation [itaˈljano]
Spoken in  Italy
 San Marino
 Vatican City
Regional in  Slovenia and  Croatia
Native speakers 62 million Italian proper, including L2 usage  (no date)[1]
80 million all varieties[2]
Language family
Writing system Latin (Italian alphabet)
Official status
Official language in  European Union
 San Marino
 Vatican City
 Croatia (Istria County)
 Slovenia (Slovenian Istria)
Regulated by not officially by Accademia della Crusca
Language codes
ISO 639-1 it
ISO 639-2 ita
ISO 639-3 ita
Linguasphere 51-AAA-q

Italian (About this sound italiano or lingua italiana) is a Romance language spoken mainly in Europe: Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, by minorities in Malta, Monaco, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia,[3] and by immigrant communities in the Americas and Australia. Many speakers are native bilinguals of both standardised Italian and other regional languages.[4]

According to the Bologna statistics of the European Union, Italian is spoken as a mother tongue by 65 million people in the EU (13% of the EU population), mainly in Italy, and as a second language by 14 million (3%).[2] Including the Italian speakers in non-EU European countries (such as Switzerland and Albania) and on other continents, the total number of speakers is more than 85 million.

In Switzerland, Italian is one of four official languages; it is studied and learned in all the confederation schools and spoken, as mother tongue, in the Swiss cantons of Ticino and Grigioni and by the Italian immigrants that are present in large numbers in German- and French-speaking cantons. It is also the official language of San Marino, as well as the primary language of Vatican City.[5] It is co-official in Slovenian Istria and in part of the Istria County in Croatia. The Italian language adopted by the state after the unification of Italy is based on the Tuscan dialect, which beforehand was only available to upper class Florentine society.[6] Its development was also influenced by other Italian dialects and by the Germanic language of the post-Roman invaders.

Italian derives diachronically from Latin. Unlike most other Romance languages, Italian retains Latin's contrast between short and long consonants. As in most Romance languages, stress is distinctive. In particular, among the Romance languages, Italian is the closest to Latin in terms of vocabulary.[7] Lexical similarity is 89% with French, 87% with Catalan, 85% with Sardinian, 82% with Spanish and Portuguese, 78% with Rhaeto-Romance, and 77% with Romanian.[3][8]



The standard Italian language has a poetic and literary origin, starting in the twelfth century, and the modern standard of the language was largely shaped by relatively recent events, but Italian as a language used in the Italian Peninsula has a longer history; in fact the earliest surviving texts that can definitely be called Italian (or more accurately, vernacular, as distinct from its predecessor Vulgar Latin) are legal formulae from the region of Benevento that date from 960–963.[9] What would come to be thought of as Italian was first formalized in the early fourteenth century through the works of Tuscan writer Dante Alighieri, written in his native Florentine. Dante's epic poems, known collectively as the Commedia, to which another Tuscan poet Giovanni Boccaccio later affixed the title Divina, were read throughout Italy and his written dialect became the "canonical standard" that all educated Italians could understand. Dante is still credited with standardizing the Italian language and, thus, the dialect of Florence became the basis for what would become the official language of Italy.

Italian often was an official language of the various Italian states predating unification, slowly usurping Latin, even when ruled by foreign powers (such as the Spanish in the Kingdom of Naples, or the Austrians in the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia), even though the masses spoke primarily vernacular languages and dialects. Italian was also one of the many recognised languages in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Italy has always had a distinctive dialect for each city, since the cities, until recently, were thought of as city-states. Those dialects now have considerable 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 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 [va ˈbːɛne] by a Roman (and by any standard-speaker, like a Florentine), [va ˈbene] by a Milanese (and by any speaker whose native dialect lies to the north of La Spezia-Rimini Line); a casa "at home" is [a ˈkːasa] for Roman and standard, [a ˈkaza] for Milanese and generally northern.

In contrast to the Northern Italian language, southern Italian dialects and languages were largely untouched by the Franco-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 language, 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 dialect weight, though the Venetian language remained widespread in medieval Italian commercial life, and 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 Medici's bank, Humanism, and the Renaissance made its dialect, or rather a refined version of it, a standard in the arts.


Starting with the Renaissance Italian became the language used in the courts of every state in the peninsula. The rediscovery of Dante's De vulgari eloquentia and a renewed interest in linguistics in the sixteenth century, sparked a debate that raged throughout Italy concerning the criteria that should govern the establishment of a modern Italian literary and spoken language. Scholars divided into three factions:

  • The 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 not dignified enough, because it used elements from non-lyric registers of the language.

A fourth faction claimed the best Italian was the one that the papal court adopted, which was a mix of Florentine and the dialect of Rome. 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 Floris italicae linguae libri novem in 1604 followed by the first Italian dictionary in 1612.

Modern era

An important event that helped the diffusion of Italian was the conquest and occupation of Italy by Napoleon in the early nineteenth 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 in the bourgeoisie.

Contemporary times

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 languages ("ciao" is derived from Venetian word "S-cia[v]o" (Slave), "panettone" come from Lombard word "panatton" etc.). Only 2.5% of Italy’s population could speak properly the Italian standardized language when the nation unified in 1861.[10]


Italian is related most closely to the other two Italo-Dalmatian languages, Sicilian and the extinct Dalmatian. The three are part of the Romance languages, which are a group of the Italic branch of Indo-European.

Geographic distribution

Knowledge of Italian in Europe
The geographic distribution of the Italian language in the world: large Italian-speaking communities are shown in green; light blue indicates areas where the Italian language was used officially during the Italian colonial period.
Use of the Italian language in Europe and Africa

The list below shows the geographical distribution of the Italian language around the world. The total number of native speakers of Italian is 62 million people according to Encarta[11] and Ethnologue.[3] But in the statistics of the European Union, Italian is spoken as a mother tongue by 13% of the EU population or 65 million people, mainly in Italy. Also in the EU, it is spoken as a second language by 3% of the population or by 14 million people.[2] Including the Italian speakers in non-EU European countries (such as Switzerland and Albania) and on other continents (especially in Argentina, Brazil, the US, Canada, Australia, Venezuela, as is shown below), the total number of speakers is more than 85 million.



  •  Somalia (Transitional Federal Parliament)
  •  Eritrea Although Eritrea has no official language, Italian is still well-diffused among older people and in administrative, commercial and teaching-related areas.
  •  Libya Although not official, Italian is still widely known among older populations and is used in the commercial and education sectors.
  •  Malta
  •  Kosovo
  •  Montenegro

Historically significant

Historically official

Used by some immigrant communities

Italian is the official language of Italy and San Marino, and one of the official languages of Switzerland, spoken in the cantons of Ticino and part of Graubünden (Grigioni in Italian), which together are a region referred to as Italian Switzerland. It is also the official language with Croatian and Slovenian in some areas of Istria, where an Italian minority exists. In the Brazilian cities of Santa Teresa and Vila Velha it enjoys official status alongside Portuguese, being "knighted" as an ethnic language. It is the primary language of the Vatican City and is widely used and taught in Monaco and Malta. It served as Malta's official language until the Maltese language was enshrined in the 1934 Constitution. It is also spoken to a significant extent in France, with over 1,000,000 speakers [24] (especially in Corsica and the County of Nice, areas that historically spoke Italian dialects before annexation to France), and it is understood by large parts of the populations of Albania, coastal Montenegro and western Slovenia, reached by many Italian television channels.

Italian is also spoken by some in former Italian colonies in Africa (Libya and Eritrea). However, its use has dropped sharply since the colonial period. In Eritrea, Italian is widely understood.[25] In fact, for fifty years, during the colonial period, Italian was the language of education, but as of 1997, there is only one Italian-language school remaining, with four hundred seventy pupils yearly. The name of the only Italian-language school in Eritrea is Scuola Italiana di Asmara,[26] which was also the only Italian-language school in Ethiopia, when Eritrea was a province of Ethiopia.[27] The number of Italian speakers may increase a little when the number of students at that school increases and because it is still spoken in commerce,[28] and Eritrea will be the only African nation where Italian is widely spoken and understood. In Libya, since 1969, Italian has been wiped out by the Libyan Revolution’s Arabization programmes in education and media. In Egypt and Tunisia, it is spoken mostly by Italian Egyptians, Italian Tunisians, and some professionals of non-Italian descent. In all of the above former Italian African colonies, most of the fluent Italian speakers are people who grew up in officially Italian-speaking nations, especially Italy, and returned to Africa.

Italian and Italian dialects are widely used by Italian immigrants and many of their descendants 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, the largest Italian-speaking populations are found in five cities: Boston (7,000),[29] Chicago (12,000),[30] the Miami region (27,000),[31] New York City (140,000),[32] and Philadelphia (15,000).[33] According to the United States Census in 2000, over 1 million Italian Americans spoke Italian at home, with the largest concentrations—and nearly half of the total—found in the states of New York (294,271) and New Jersey (116,365).[34] In Canada, Italian is the fourth most commonly spoken language, with 661,000 speakers (or about 2.1% of the population) according to the 2006 Census. Particularly large Italian-speaking communities are found in Montreal (c. 179,000) and Toronto (c. 262,000).[17] Italian is also strongly visible in the Hamilton area. 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.[35] In 2001 there were 130,000 Italian speakers in Melbourne,[36] and 90,000 in Sydney.[37]


Italian is widely taught in many schools around the world, but rarely as the first foreign language; in fact, Italian is considered the fourth- or fifth - most taught foreign language in the world.[38]

According to the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, every year more than 200,000 foreign students study Italian in 90 Institutes of Italian Culture in the world, 179 Italian schools abroad and 111 Italian sections in foreign schools.[39][clarification needed]

In the United States, Italian is the fourth most taught foreign language after Spanish, French and German, in that order (the fifth, considering also the American Sign Language).[40] In the anglophone Canada Italian is second after French but in the United Kingdom it is the fourth after French, Spanish and German.[41] In central-east Europe Italian is first in Albania and Montenegro, second in Austria, Slovenia, and Ukraine after English, and third in Hungary, Romania and Russia after English and German.[39] But throughout the world, Italian is the fifth most taught foreign language, after English, Spanish, French, and German.[42]

In the European Union statistics, Italian is spoken as a mother tongue by 13% of the population or 65 million people,[2] mainly in Italy. In the EU, it is spoken as a second language by 3% of the population or by 14 million people. In addition, among EU states, the Italian language is most likely to be learned as a second language in Malta by 61% of the population, as well as in Slovenia by 15% of the population, in Croatia by 14% of the population, Austria by 11% of the population, Romania by 8% of the population, and by France and Greece by 6% of the population.[2] Italian is also one of the national languages of Switzerland, which is not a part of the European Union.[43] The Italian language is well known and studied in Albania, another non-EU member, due to its historical and geographical proximity with Italy.

Influence and derived languages

From the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, thousands of Italians settled in Argentina, Uruguay, southern Brazil, and Venezuela, where they formed a strong physical and cultural presence.

In some cases, colonies were established where variants of regional (i.e. non-central) Italian languages were used, and some continue to use a derived dialect. Examples are Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, where Talian is used, and the town of Chipilo near Puebla, Mexico; each continues to use a derived form of 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.

Rioplatense Spanish, and particularly the speech of the city of Buenos Aires, has intonation patterns that resemble those of Italian dialects, because Argentina has had a continuous 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.

Lingua franca

Starting in late medieval times, Italian language variants replaced Latin to become the primary commercial language in much of Europe and the Mediterranean Sea (especially the Tuscan and Venetian variants). These variants were consolidated during the Renaissance with the strength of Italian and the rise of humanism in the arts.

During 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 should 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 in the curriculum. Yet Italian loanwords continue to be used in most other European languages in matters of art and music.

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. The presence of Italian as the primary language in the Vatican City indicates use, not only within the Holy See, but also throughout the world where an episcopal seat is present.[citation needed] It continues to be used in music and opera. Other examples where Italian is sometimes used as a means of communication are in some sports (sometimes in football[citation needed] and motorsports) and in the design and fashion industries.

Italian dialects

Italian languages

In Italy, almost all Romance languages spoken as the vernacular (other than standard Italian and other unrelated, non-Italian languages) are termed "Italian dialects". The only exceptions are Sardinian and Friulan, which the law recognises as official regional languages

Many Italian dialects may be considered historical languages in their own right.[44] These include recognized language groups such as, Neapolitan, Sardinian, Sicilian, Ligurian, Piedmontese, Venetian, and others, and regional variants of these languages such as Calabrian. The distinction between dialect and language has been made by scholars (such as Francesco Bruni): on the one hand are the languages that made up the Italian koine; and on the other, those that had little or no part in it, such as Albanian, Greek, German, Ladin, and Occitan, which some minorities still speak. The Corsican language is also related to Italian.

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, in informal situations the contraction annà replaces andare in the area of Rome for the infinitive "to go"; and nare is what Venetians say for the infinitive "to go").


Consonants of Italian[45]
Bilabial Labio-
Palatal Velar
Nasal m n ɲ
Plosive p b t d k ɡ
Affricate ts dz
Fricative f v s z ʃ
Trill r
Lateral l ʎ
Approximant j w

Italian has a typical Romance-language seven-vowel system, consisting of /a, ɛ, e, i, ɔ, o u/, as well as 23 consonants. Compared with most other Romance languages, Italian phonology is extremely conservative, preserving many words nearly unchanged from Vulgar Latin. Some examples:

  • Italian quattordici "fourteen" < Latin quattuordecim (cf. Spanish catorce, French quatorze /kaˈtɔʁz/)
  • Italian settimana "week" < Latin septimāna (cf. Spanish semana, French semaine /s(ǝ)ˈmɛn/)
  • Italian medesimo "same" < Vulgar Latin *medi(p)simum (cf. Spanish mismo, French même /mɛm/)
  • Italian guadagnare "to win, earn" < Vulgar Latin *guadanyāre < Germanic /waidanjan/ (cf. Spanish ganar, French gagner /gaˈɲe/)

The conservativeness 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 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, Catalan). Some of these features are also present in Romanian.

  • Little or no lenition of consonants between vowels, e.g. vīta > vita "life" (cf. Spanish vida [biða], French vie), pedem > piede "foot" (cf. Spanish pie, French pied /pje/).
  • Preservation of doubled consonants, e.g. annum > anno "year" (cf. Spanish año /aɲo/, French an /ɑ̃/).
  • Preservation of all Proto-Romance final vowels, e.g. pacem > pace "peace" (cf. Spanish paz, French paix /pɛ/), octō > otto "eight" (cf. Spanish ocho, French huit), fēcī > feci "I did" (cf. Spanish hice, French fis /fi/).
  • Preservation of 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.
  • Lack of various consonant "deformations", e.g. folia > Italo-Western /fɔʎʎa/ > foglia /fɔʎʎa/ "leaf" (cf. Spanish hoja /oxa/, French feuille /fœj/; but note Portuguese folha /fɔʎɐ/).

Compared with most other Romance languages, Italian has a large number of inconsistent outcomes, where the same underlying sound produces different results in different words, e.g. laxāre > lasciare and lassare, captiāre > cacciare and cazzare, (ex)dēroteolāre > sdrucciolare and druzzolare, rēgīna > regina and reina, -c- > /k/ and /g/, -t- > /t/ and /d/. This 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 dialects 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.)

Some other features that distinguish Italian from the Western Romance languages:

  • Latin ce-,ci- becomes /tʃe,tʃi/ rather than /(t)se,(t)si/.
  • Latin -ct- becomes /tt/ rather than /jt/ or /tʃ/: octō > otto "eight" (cf. Spanish ocho, French huit).
  • Vulgar Latin -cl- becomes cchi /kkj/ rather than /ʎ/: oclum > occhio "eye" (cf. Portuguese olho /oʎu/, French oeil /œj/ < /œʎ/).
  • Final /s/ is not preserved, and vowel changes rather than /s/ are used to mark the plural: amico, amici "male friend(s)", amica, amiche "female friend(s)" (cf. Spanish amigo(s) "male friend(s)", amiga(s) "female friends"); trēs, sex > tre, sei "three, six" (cf. Spanish tres, seis).

Standard Italian also differs in some respects from most nearby Italian dialects:

  • Perhaps most noticeable is the total lack of metaphony, a feature characterizing nearly every other Italian dialect.
  • No simplification of original /nd/, /mb/ (which often became /nn/, /mm/ elsewhere).

Writing system

The Italian alphabet has only 21 letters. The letters ⟨j, k, w, x, y⟩ are excluded, though they appear in loanwords such as jeans, whisky and taxi. The letter ⟨x⟩ has become common in standard Italian with the prefix extra-, although (e)stra-[46][47] is traditionally used. The letter ⟨j⟩ originated as an archaic orthographic variant of ⟨i⟩. It appears in the first name Jacopo and in some Italian place-names, such as Bajardo, Bojano, Joppolo, Jerzu, Jesolo, Jesi, Ajaccio, among numerous others. It also appears in Mar Jonio, an alternative spelling of Mar Ionio (the Ionian Sea). The letter ⟨j⟩ may appear in dialectal words, but its use is discouraged in contemporary standard Italian. The foreign letters can be substituted with phonetically equivalent native Italian letters and digraphs: ⟨gi⟩ or ⟨ge⟩ for ⟨j⟩; ⟨c⟩ or ⟨ch⟩ for ⟨k⟩ (including in the standard prefix kilo-); ⟨o⟩, ⟨u⟩ or ⟨v⟩ for ⟨w⟩; ⟨s⟩, ⟨ss⟩, ⟨z⟩, ⟨zz⟩ or ⟨cs⟩ for ⟨x⟩; and ⟨e⟩ or ⟨i⟩ for ⟨y⟩.

  • The acute accent is used over ⟨e⟩ to indicate a front close-mid vowel, as in perché "why, because". The grave accent is used over ⟨e⟩ to indicate a front open-mid vowel, as in "tea". The grave accent is used over any vowel to indicate word-final stress, as in gioventù "youth". The penultimate syllable is typically stressed. If the stressed vowel is the final letter of the word, the accent is mandatory, otherwise it is not mandatory (unlike in Spanish or in Greek) and virtually always omitted. When a word is potentially ambiguous, the accent is sometimes used for disambiguation, as for prìncipi "princes" and princìpi "principles". For monosyllabic words, the rule is different: when two identical monosyllabic words with different meanings exist, the accent is compulsory on one and forbidden on the other (example: è "is", e "and"). Rare, polysyllabic words can have doubtful stress. Istanbul can be accented on the first (Ìstanbul) or second syllable (Istànbul). The U.S. state name Florida is pronounced in Italian as in Spanish with stress on the second syllable (Florìda). Because of an Italian word with the same spelling but different stress (flòrida "flourishing") and because of the English pronunciation, most Italians pronounce Florida with stress on the first syllable. Dictionaries give the latter as an alternative pronunciation.[48]
  • The letter ⟨h⟩ 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 ⟨h⟩ in ho additionally marks the contrasting open pronunciation of the ⟨o⟩. The letter ⟨h⟩ is also used in combinations with other letters. No phoneme [h] exists in Italian. In nativised foreign words, the ⟨h⟩ is silent. For example, hotel and hovercraft are pronounced /oˈtɛl/ and /ˈɔverkraft/ respectively.
  • The letters ⟨s⟩ and ⟨z⟩ can symbolize voiced or voiceless consonants. ⟨z⟩ symbolizes /dz/ or /ts/ depending on context, with few minimal pairs. For example: zanzara /dzanˈdzaːra/ "mosquito" and nazione /natˈtsjoːne/ "nation". ⟨s⟩ symbolizes /s/ word-initially before a vowel, when clustered with a voiceless consonant (⟨p, f, c, ch⟩), and when doubled; it symbolizes /z/ when between vowels and when clustered with voiced consonants. Intervocalic ⟨s⟩ varies regionally between /s/ and /z/.
  • The letters ⟨c⟩ and ⟨g⟩ vary in pronunciation between plosives and affricates depending on following vowels. The letter ⟨c⟩ symbolizes /k/ when word-final and before the back vowels ⟨a, o, u⟩. It symbolizes // as in chair before the front vowels ⟨e, i⟩. The letter ⟨g⟩ symbolizes /ɡ/ when word-final and before the back vowels ⟨a, o, u⟩. It symbolizes /dʒ/ as in gem before the front vowels ⟨e, i⟩. French, Spanish, Romanian and, to a lesser extent, English have similar variations for ⟨c, g⟩. Compare hard and soft C, hard and soft G. (See also palatalization.)
  • The digraphs ⟨ch⟩ and ⟨gh⟩ indicate or preserve hardness (/k/ and /ɡ/) before ⟨i, e⟩. The digraphs ⟨ci⟩ and ⟨gi⟩ indicate or preserve softness (/tʃ/ and /dʒ/) before ⟨a, o, u⟩. For example:
Before back vowel (A, O, U) Before front vowel (I, E)
Plosive C caramella /karaˈmɛlla/ candy CH china /ˈkina/ India ink
G gallo /ˈɡallo/ rooster GH ghiro /ˈɡiro/ edible dormouse
Affricate CI ciaramella /tʃaraˈmɛlla/ shawm C Cina /ˈtʃina/ China
GI giallo /ˈdʒallo/ yellow G giro /ˈdʒiro/ round, tour
Note: ⟨h⟩ is silent in the digraphs ⟨ch⟩, ⟨gh⟩; and ⟨i⟩ is silent in the digraphs ⟨ci⟩ and ⟨gi⟩ before ⟨a, o, u⟩ unless the ⟨i⟩ is stressed. For example, it is silent in ciao /ˈtʃa.o/ and cielo /ˈtʃɛ.lo/, but it is pronounced in farmacia /ˌfar.maˈtʃi.a/ and farmacie /ˌfar.maˈtʃi.e/.

Italian has geminate, or double, consonants, which are distinguished by length. Length is distinctive for all consonants except for /ʃ/, /ts/, /dz/, /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. There is only one vibrant phoneme /r/ but the actual pronunciation depends on context and regional accent. Generally one can find a flap consonant [ɾ] in unstressed position while [r] 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 /r/ as [ʀ], [ʁ], or [ʋ].[49]

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.

The voiced postalveolar fricative /ʒ/ is only present in loanwords: for example, garage [ɡaˈraːʒ].


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 with hiatus (i.e., the vowel sounds will be pronounced separately). Italian phonotactics do not usually permit verbs and polysyllabic nouns to end with consonants, excepting poetry and song, so foreign words may receive extra terminal vowel sounds.


Italian grammar is typical of the grammar of Romance languages in general. Cases exist for pronouns (nominative, objective, accusative, dative), but not for nouns. There are two genders (masculine and feminine). Nouns, adjectives, and articles inflect for gender and number (singular and plural). Adjectives are sometimes placed before their noun and sometimes after. Subject nouns generally come before the verb. Subjective pronouns are usually dropped, their presence implied by verbal inflections. Noun objects come after the verb, as do pronoun objects after imperative verbs and infinitives, but otherwise pronoun objects come before the verb. There are numerous contractions of prepositions with subsequent articles. There are numerous productive suffixes for diminutive, augmentative, pejorative, attenuating etc., which are also used to crate neologisms.

There are three regular sets of verbal 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.




English Italian IPA
One uno /ˈuno/
Two due /ˈdue/
Three tre /tre/
Four quattro /ˈkwattro/
Five cinque /ˈtʃiŋkwe/
Six sei /ˈsɛi/
Seven sette /ˈsɛtte/
Eight otto /ˈɔtto/
Nine nove /ˈnɔve/
Ten dieci /ˈdjɛtʃi/
English Italian IPA
Eleven undici /ˈunditʃi/
Twelve dodici /ˈdoditʃi/
Thirteen tredici /ˈtreditʃi/
Fourteen quattordici /kwatˈtorditʃi/
Fifteen quindici /ˈkwinditʃi/
Sixteen sedici /ˈsɛditʃi/
Seventeen diciassette /ditʃasˈsɛtte/
Eighteen diciotto /diˈtʃɔtto/
Nineteen diciannove /ditʃanˈnɔve/
Twenty venti /ˈventi/
English Italian IPA
Twenty-one ventuno /venˈtuno/
Twenty-two ventidue /ventiˈdue/
Twenty-three ventitre /ventiˈtre/
Twenty-four ventiquattro /ventiˈkwattro/
Twenty-five venticinque /ventiˈtʃinkwe/
Twenty-six ventisei /ventiˈsɛi/
Twenty-seven ventisette /ventiˈsɛtte/
Twenty-eight ventotto /venˈtɔtto/
Twenty-nine ventinove /ventiˈnɔve/
Thirty trenta /ˈtrenta/
English Italian
one hundred cento
one thousand mille
two thousand duemila
two thousand eleven {2011} duemilaundici

Days of the week

English Italian IPA
Monday lunedì /luneˈdi/
Tuesday martedì /marteˈdi/
Wednesday mercoledì /merkoleˈdi/
Thursday giovedì /dʒoveˈdi/
Friday venerdì /venerˈdi/
Saturday sabato /ˈsabato/
Sunday domenica /doˈmenika/

Italian words

Sample texts

There is a recording of Dante's Divine Comedy read by Lino Pertile available at

See also

References and notes

  1. ^ Italian language at Ethnologue
  2. ^ a b c d e Eurobarometer – Europeans and their languagesPDF (485 KB), February 2006
  3. ^ a b c 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
  4. ^ Languages of Italy - Ethnologue - Languages of the World - Copyright © 2010 SIL International.
  5. ^ Legge sulle fonti del diritto of 7 June 1929, laws and regulations are published in the Italian-language Supplemento per le leggi e disposizioni dello Stato della Città del Vaticano attached to the Acta Apostolicae Sedis.
  6. ^ Modern Italian The Italian Language Retrieved 2010-05-16
  7. ^ Grimes, Barbara F. (October 1996). Barbara F. Grimes. ed. Ethnologue: Languages of the World. Consulting Editors: Richard S. Pittman & Joseph E. Grimes (thirteenth ed.). Dallas, Texas: Summer Institute of Linguistics, Academic Pub. ISBN 1-55671-026-7. 
  8. ^ Brincat (2005)
  9. ^ "History of the Italian language.". Retrieved 2006-09-24. 
  10. ^ "Lewis, M. Paul (ed.), 2009. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Sixteenth edition". Retrieved 2010-04-21. 
  11. ^ "Languages Spoken by More Than 10 Million People". Languages Spoken by More Than 10 Million People. Microsoft Encarta 2006. Retrieved 2007-02-18. 
  12. ^ Associazioneitalianadikerc
  13. ^ "1,500,000 mother tongue Italian speakers in Brazil". Retrieved 2010-04-21. 
  14. ^ "1,500,000 mother tongue Italian speakers in Argentina". Retrieved 2010-04-21. 
  15. ^ "1,500,000 mother tongue Italian speakers in Uruguay". Retrieved 2010-04-21. 
  16. ^ American FactFinder, United States Census Bureau. "over 1 million Americans speak Italian at home".;ACS_2005_EST_G00_S0201PR:543;ACS_2005_EST_G00_S0201T:543;ACS_2005_EST_G00_S0201TPR:543&-qr_name=ACS_2005_EST_G00_S0201&-qr_name=ACS_2005_EST_G00_S0201PR&-qr_name=ACS_2005_EST_G00_S0201T&-qr_name=ACS_2005_EST_G00_S0201TPR&-ds_name=ACS_2005_EST_G00_&-TABLE_NAMEX=&-ci_type=A&-redoLog=false&-charIterations=031&-geo_id=01000US&-format=&-_lang=en. Retrieved 2010-04-21. 
  17. ^ a b "Statistics Canada 2006". 2010-04-08. Retrieved 2010-04-21. 
  18. ^ "548,000 mother tongue Italian speakers in Germany". Retrieved 2010-04-21. 
  19. ^ Vannini, Marisa. Italia y los Italianos en la Historia y en la Cultura de Venezuela. Oficina Central de Información (Ministerio del Interior). Caracas, 1966
  20. ^ "353,605 mother tongue Italian speakers in Australia". Retrieved 2010-04-21. 
  21. ^ "200,000 mother tongue Italian speakers in the UK". Retrieved 2010-04-21. 
  22. ^ "72,400 mother tongue Italian speakers in Egypt". Retrieved 2010-04-21. 
  23. ^ "2,25o mother tongue Italian speakers in Colombia". Retrieved 2010-04-21. 
  24. ^ "Ethnologue report for France". Retrieved 2010-04-21. 
  25. ^ Languages of Eritrea – Tigrinya[dead link]
  26. ^ "Scuola Italiana di Asmara (in Italian)". Retrieved 2010-04-21. 
  27. ^ Tekle M. Woldemikael, "Language, Education, and Public Policy in Eritrea," in African Studies Review, Vol. 46, No. 1. (Apr., 2003), pp. 117–136.
  28. ^ "Eritrea" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-04-21. 
  29. ^ Boston, Massachusetts, MLA Data Center
  30. ^ Chicago, Illinois, MLA Data Center
  31. ^ Data Center Results
  32. ^ New York, New York, MLA Data Center
  33. ^ Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, MLA Data Center
  34. ^ "Table 5. Detailed List of Languages Spoken at Home for the Population 5 Years and Over by State: 2000" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-04-21. 
  35. ^ Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2005, "Language other than English" (spreadsheet of figures from 2001 Census)[dead link]
  36. ^ Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2002, "A Snapshot of Melbourne"[dead link]
  37. ^ Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2002, "A Snapshot of Sydney"[dead link]
  38. ^ "9". Retrieved 2010-04-21. 
  39. ^ a b Dati del Ministero degli Affari Esteri
  40. ^ Language-learning trends in the United States VistaWide Retrieved 2010-05-16
  41. ^
  42. ^ "". Retrieved 2010-04-21. 
  43. ^ A language of Italy Ethnologue Retrieved 2010-06-05
  44. ^ "Ethnologue web reference for Italian". Retrieved 2010-04-21. 
  45. ^ Rogers & d'Arcangeli (2004:117)
  46. ^
  47. ^
  48. ^ (Italian) Dizionario d'ortografia e di pronunzia
  49. ^ Canepari, Luciano (January 1999). Il MªPI – Manuale di pronuncia italiana (second ed.). Bologna: Zanichelli. ISBN 88-08-24624-8. 


  • Rogers, Derek; d'Arcangeli, Luciana (2004). "Italian". Journal of the International Phonetic Association 34 (1): 117–121. doi:10.1017/S0025100304001628 
  • M. Vitale, Studi di Storia della Lingua Italiana, LED Edizioni Universitarie, Milano, 1992, ISBN 88-7916-015-X
  • S. Morgana, Capitoli di Storia Linguistica Italiana, LED Edizioni Universitarie, Milano, 2003, ISBN 88-7916-211-X
  • J. Kinder, CLIC: Cultura e Lingua d'Italia in CD-ROM / Culture and Language of Italy on CD-ROM, Interlinea, Novara, 2008, ISBN 978-88-8212-637-7

External links

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