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|Italiano, lingua italiana|
|Native to||Italy, Switzerland, San Marino and Vatican City|
|Region||Slovene Istria (Slovenia) and Istria County (Croatia)|
|65 million native speakers in the EU. (ca. 2012)
85 million, total number of speakers.
|Latin (Italian alphabet)
|Italiano segnato "Signed Italian"
italiano segnato esatto "Signed Exact Italian"
Official language in
Sovereign Military Order of Malta
|Regulated by||Accademia della Crusca (de facto)|
|Part of a series on the|
|Literature and other|
Italian ( italiano (help·info) [itaˈljaːno] or lingua italiana [ˈliŋɡwa itaˈljaːna]) is a Romance language, the closest to Latin in terms of vocabulary. It is an official language in Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City and Istria (in Slovenia and Croatia). Italian used to have official status in Albania, Malta and Monaco, all countries where it is still widely spoken, and in former Italian East Africa and Italian North Africa, regions where the language plays a significant role in various sectors. Italian is spoken by large expatriate communities in the Americas and by small minorities in areas such as Crimea, Corsica and Montenegro. Many speakers are native bilinguals of both standardised Italian and other regional languages.
Italian is a major European language, being one of the official languages of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and one of the working languages of the Council of Europe. Italian is the third most widely spoken first language in the European Union with 65 million native speakers (13% of the EU population) and it is spoken as a second language by 14 million EU citizens (3%). Including Italian speakers in non-EU European countries (such as Switzerland and Albania) and on other continents, the total number of speakers is around 85 million.
Italian is the main working language of the Holy see, serving as the lingua Franca in the 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. Its influence is also widespread in the arts and in the luxury goods market. Italian has been reported as the fourth or fifth most frequently taught foreign language in the world.
The Italian language adopted by the state after the unification of Italy is based on Tuscan, which beforehand was a language spoken mostly by the upper class of Florentine society. Its development was also influenced by other Italian languages and by the Germanic languages of the post-Roman invaders. Italian is descended 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.
- 1 History
- 2 Classification
- 3 Geographic distribution
- 4 Dialects
- 5 Phonology
- 6 Writing system
- 7 Grammar
- 8 Examples
- 9 See also
- 10 Notes
- 11 References
- 12 Bibliography
- 13 External links
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The standard Italian language has a poetic and literary origin in the writings of Tuscan writers of the twelfth 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, Italian as a language used in Italy and some surrounding regions 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 known as the Placiti Cassinesi from the Province of Benevento that date from 960–963, although the Veronese Riddle contains a late form of Vulgar Latin that can be seen as a very early Italian dialect. 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 replacing 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, because 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), [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 Gallo-Italic languages of northern Italy, the Italo-Dalmatian Neapolitan language and its dialects were largely unaffected 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 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 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 the Banco Medici, 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.
- Niccolò Machiavelli and other 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 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.
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.
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" comes from Lombard word "panetton" etc.). Only 2.5% of Italy's population could speak the Italian standardized language properly when the nation unified in 1861, centered mainly in northwestern Italy.
Italian is a Romance language, and is therefore a descendant of Vulgar Latin. Standard Italian is based on Tuscan, especially its Florentine dialect, and is therefore an Italo-Dalmatian language, to which Sicilian and the extinct Dalmatian also belong, among a few others.
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. Lexical similarity is 89% with French, 88% with Catalan, 85% with Sardinian, 82% with Spanish and Portuguese, 78% with Rhaeto-Romance, and 77% with Romanian.
One study analyzing the degree of differentiation of Romance languages in comparison to Latin (comparing phonology, inflection, discourse, syntax, vocabulary, and intonation) estimated that among the languages analyzed the distance between Italian and Latin is only higher than that between Sardinian and Latin.
Italian is the official language of Italy and San Marino and is spoken fluently by the majority of the countries' populations. Italian is official, together with French, German and Romansch in Switzerland, with most of the 0.5 million speakers concentrated in the south of the country, in the cantons of Ticino and southern Graubünden (predominately in Italian Grigioni). Italian is the third most spoken language in Switzerland (after German and French), and its use has modestly declined since the 1970s. Italian is also used in administration and official documents in Vatican City.
Italian is widely spoken in Malta, where nearly two-thirds of the population can speak it fluently. Italian served as Malta's official language until 1934, while it is also recognized as an official language in Istria County, Croatia and Slovenian Istria, where there are significant and historic Italian populations.
It is used as the official language of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, a Roman Catholic chivalric order which, while not a nation per se, is still recognized as a sovereign subject of international law.
Due to heavy Italian influence during the Italian colonial period, Italian is still understood by some in former colonies. Although it was the primary language since colonial rule, Italian greatly declined under the rule of Muammar Gaddafi, who expelled the Italian Libyan population and made Arabic the sole official language of the country. Nevertheless, Italian is sometimes used in economic sectors in Libya. In Eritrea, Italian is at times used in commerce and the capital city Asmara still has one Italian-language school. Italian was also introduced to Somalia through colonialism and was the sole official language of administration and education during the colonial period but fell out of use after government, educational and economic infrastructure were destroyed in the Somali Civil War. Italian is still understood by some elderly and other people. The official languages of the Somali Republic are Somali (Maay and Maxaatiri) and Arabic. The second languages of the Transitional Federal Government are English.
Although over 17 million 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.
In Canada, Italian is the second most spoken non-official language when varieties of Chinese are not grouped together, with over 660,000 speakers (or about 2.1% of the population) according to the 2006 Census.
In Australia, Italian is the second most spoken foreign language after Chinese, with 1.4% of the population speaking it as their home language.
Italian immigrants to South America have also brought a presence of the language to that continent. Italian is the second most spoken language in Argentina after the official language of Spanish, with over 1 million (mainly of the older generation) speaking it at home, and Italian has also influenced the dialect of Spanish spoken in Argentina and Uruguay, mostly in phonology, as well as the Portuguese prosody of the Brazilian state of São Paulo which itself has 15 million Italian descendants. This form of Spanish is known as Rioplatense Spanish. Italian bilingual speakers can be found in the Southeast of Brazil as well as in the South. The Venetian language, specifically the Vèneto or Talian dialect, is spoken by over 700,000 people in the southern states. In 2009, the Brazilian city of Serafina Corrêa, in the State of Rio Grande do Sul, gave Talian joint official status, alongside Portuguese. Smaller Italian-speaking minorities on the continent are also found in Venezuela, Paraguay and Ecuador.
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 Institutes of Italian Culture that are located around the world, or 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.
In the United States, Italian is the fourth most taught foreign language after Spanish, French and German, in that order (or the fifth if American Sign Language is considered). In central-east Europe Italian is first in Montenegro, second in Austria, Croatia, Slovenia, and Ukraine after English, and third in Hungary, Romania and Russia after English and German. But throughout the world, Italian is the fifth most taught foreign language, after English, French, German, and Spanish.
In the European Union statistics, Italian is spoken as a native language by 13% of the EU population, or 65 million people, mainly in Italy. In the EU, it is spoken as a second language by 3% of the EU population, or 14 million people. Among EU states, the percentage of people able to speak Italian well enough to have a conversation is 66% in Malta, 15% in Slovenia, 14% in Croatia, 8% in Austria, 5% in France and Luxembourg, and 4% in the former West Germany, Greece, Cyprus, and Romania. Italian is also one of the national languages of Switzerland, which is not a part of the European Union. The Italian language is well-known and studied in Albania, another non-EU member, due to its historical ties and geographical proximity to Italy and to the diffusion of Italian television in the country.
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 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 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 languages, 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.
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 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 and 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. The primacy of Italian as a language in the Vatican City indicates use, not only within the Holy See, but throughout the world wherever an episcopal seat is present.
Italian loanwords continue to be used in most languages in matters of art and music (especially opera), in the design and fashion industries, and in some sports (football and motorsports), and especially culinary terms.
Throughout Italy, regional variations of Standard Italian, called Regional Italian, are spoken. In Italy, almost all Romance languages spoken as the vernacular—other than standard Italian and distantly-related, non-Romance languages spoken in border regions or among immigrant communities—are often imprecisely called "Italian dialects", even though they are quite different, with some belonging to different branches of the Romance language family. The only exceptions to this are Sardinian, Ladin, and Friulian, which the law recognises as official regional languages. On the other hand, the Corsican language is closely 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 language (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").
- Between two vowels, or between a vowel and an approximant or liquid (/l r/ or /w j/), consonants can be either single or geminated. Geminated consonants shorten the preceding vowel (or block phonetic lengthening) and the first geminated element is unreleased. For example, /fato/ [ˈfaː.to] ~ /fatto/ [ˈfat.to] (first one means "fate, destiny" and the second means "fact", see "fato" and "fatto"). However, /ɲ/, /ʃ/, /ʎ/, are always geminated word-internally. Similarly, nasals, liquids, and sibilants are pronounced slightly longer before medial consonant clusters.
- /z/ is the only consonant that cannot be geminated.
- /t d t͡s d͡z s z/ are denti-alveolar, while /l n/ are alveolar.
- The trill /r/ is sometimes reduced to a single vibration when not geminated, but it is not a flap *[ɾ][clarification needed].
- Nasals assimilate to the point of articulation of whatever consonant they precede. For example, /nɡ/ is realized as [ŋɡ].
- The distinction between /s/ and /z/ is neutralized before consonants and at the beginning of words: the former is used before voiceless consonants and before vowels at the beginning of words; the latter is used before voiced consonants (meaning [z] is an allophone of /s/ before voiced consonants). The two are only contrasted between two vowels within a word. According to Canepari, though, the traditional standard has been replaced by a modern neutral pronunciation which always prefers /z/ when intervocalic, except when the intervocalic s is the initial sound of a word or a morpheme, if the compound is still felt as such: for example, presento /preˈsɛnto/ ('I foresee', with pre meaning 'before' and sento meaning 'I see') vs. presento /preˈzɛnto/ ('I present'). There are many words in which dictionaries now indicate that both pronunciations with /z/ and with /s/ are acceptable. The two phonemes have merged in many regional varieties of Italian, either into /z/ (Northern-Central) or /s/ (Southern-Central). Geminate /ss/ can be pronounced as single [s].
Italian has a 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 conservative, preserving many words nearly unchanged from Vulgar Latin. Some examples:
- Italian quattordici "fourteen" < Latin quattuordecim (cf. Romanian paisprezece/paișpe, Spanish catorce, French quatorze /kaˈtɔʁz/, Catalan and Portuguese catorze)
- Italian settimana "week" < Latin septimāna (cf. Romanian săptămână, Spanish and Portuguese semana, French semaine /s(ǝ)ˈmɛn/, Catalan setmana)
- Italian medesimo "same" < Vulgar Latin *medi(p)simum (cf. Spanish mismo, Portuguese mesmo, French même /mɛm/, Catalan mateix; note that Italian usually uses the shorter stesso)
- Italian guadagnare "to win, earn, gain" < Vulgar Latin *guadanyāre < Germanic /waidanjan/ (cf. Spanish ganar, Portuguese ganhar, French gagner /ɡaˈɲe/, Catalan guanyar)
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, Galician, Catalan). Some of these features are also present in Romanian.
- Little or no lenition of consonants between vowels, e.g. vīta > vita "life" (cf. Romanian viață, Spanish vida [βiða], 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. Romania pace, Spanish paz, French paix /pɛ/), octō > otto "eight" (cf. Romanian opt Spanish ocho, French huit /ɥi(t)/), fēcī > feci "I did" (cf. Spanish hice, French fis /fi/).
- 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. folia > Italo-Western /fɔʎʎa/ > foglia /ˈfɔʎʎa/ "leaf" (cf. Romanian foaie /ˈfo̯aje/, Spanish hoja /ˈoxa/, French feuille /ˈfœj/; but note Portuguese folha /ˈfoʎɐ/).
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, druzzolare and ruzzolare, rēgīna > regina and reina, -c- > /k/ and /ɡ/, -t- > /t/ and /d/. 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 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/); but Romanian ochi /okʲ/.
- 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. Romanian amic, amici,amică, amice, Spanish amigo(s) "male friend(s)", amiga(s) "female friends"); trēs, sex → 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, though metaphony is a feature characterizing nearly every other Italian language.
- No simplification of original /nd/, /mb/ (which often became /nn/, /mm/ elsewhere).
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- is traditionally used (but the word extra alone, used as a noun or adjective, is written with an ⟨x⟩); it is now common to use of the Latin particle ex(-) to mean "former(ly)" as in: la mia ex ("my ex-girlfriend"), "Ex-Jugoslavia" ("Former Yugoslavia"). 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 replaced 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 stressed front close-mid vowel, as in perché "why, because". In dictionaries, it is also used over ⟨o⟩ to indicate a stressed back close-mid vowel (azióne). The grave accent is used over ⟨e⟩ to indicate a front open-mid vowel, as in tè "tea". The grave accent is used over any vowel to indicate word-final stress, as in gioventù "youth". Unlike ⟨é⟩, a stressed final ⟨o⟩ is always a back open-mid vowel (andrò), making ⟨ó⟩ 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 not (unlike in Spanish) and virtually always omitted. Exceptions are typically either in dictionaries, where all stressed vowels are commonly marked if they are either in a syllable other than the penultimate, or are an e or an o. Alternatively, accents could be included 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 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.
- 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. (Where ⟨h⟩ existed in Latin, it either disappeared or, in a few cases before a back vowel, changed to [ɡ]: traggo "I pull" ← Lat. trahō.)
- 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 /tʃ/ 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⟩. Other Romance languages and, to an 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 /ˈkiːna/ India ink G gallo /ˈɡallo/ rooster GH ghiro /ˈɡiːro/ edible dormouse Affricate CI ciambella /tʃambɛlla/ donut C Cina /ˈtʃiːna/ China GI giallo /ˈdʒallo/ yellow G giro /ˈdʒiːro/ 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 /ˈtʃaː.o/ and cielo /ˈtʃɛː.lo/, but it is pronounced in farmacia /ˌfar.maˈtʃiː.a/ and farmacie /ˌfar.maˈtʃiː.e/.
Italian has geminate, or double, consonants, which are distinguished by length and intensity. Length is distinctive for all consonants except for /ʃ/, /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 whereas [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].
The voiced postalveolar fricative /ʒ/ is only present in loanwords: for example, garage [ɡaˈraːʒ].
There are two genders (masculine and feminine), however there is a number of nouns that change their gender from the singular to plural, having a masculine singular and a feminine plural, and thus are sometimes considered neuter (those are derived from neuter Latin nouns). An instance of neuter gender also exists in pronouns of the third person singular.
Nouns, adjectives, and articles inflect for gender and number (singular and plural).
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 has a lesser grammatical function in Italian than in English. Adjectives are sometimes placed before their noun and sometimes after. Subject nouns generally come before the verb. Italian is a null-subject language, 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 create neologisms. There are 27 pronouns, grouped in clitic and tonic pronouns.
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. "To have" is used to form compound conjugation when the verb is transitive ("Hai detto", "hai fatto": you have said, you have made), while "to be" is used when the verb is intransitive ("Sei andato", "sei stato": you have gone, you have been). "To be" may be used with transitive verbs, but in such a case it makes the verb passive ("Sei detto", "Sei fatto": you are said, you are made). This rule is not absolute, and some exceptions do exist.
|English (inglese)||Italian (italiano)||Pronunciation|
|Of course!||Certo! / Certamente! / Naturalmente!||/ˈt͡ʃɛrto/ /ˌt͡ʃɛrtaˈmente/ /ˌnaturalˈmente/|
|How are you?||Come stai? (informal) / Come sta? (formal) / (Loro) Come stanno? (formal plural) / Come state? (plural) / Come va? (general)||/ˈkome ˈstai/; /ˈkome ˈsta/ /ˈkome ˈstaːte/ /ˈkomevˈva/|
|Good morning!||Buongiorno! (= Good day!)||/bwɔnˈd͡ʒorno/|
|Good night!||Buonanotte! (for a good night sleeping) / Buona serata! (for a good night awake)||/ˌbwɔnaˈnɔtte/ /ˈbwɔna seˈraːta/|
|Have a nice day!||Buona giornata! (formal)||/ˈbwɔːna d͡ʒorˈnaːta/|
|Enjoy the meal!||Buon appetito!||/ˈbwɔn‿appeˈtiːto/|
|Goodbye!||Arrivederci (general) / ArrivederLa (formal) / Ciao! (informal)||(listen) /arriveˈdert͡ʃi/|
|Good luck!||Buona fortuna! (general)||/ˈbwɔːna forˈtuːna/|
|I love you||Ti amo (between lovers only) / Ti voglio bene (in the sense of "I am fond of you", between lovers, friends, relatives etc.)||/ti ˈvɔʎʎo ˈbɛːne/; /ti ˈaːmo/|
|Welcome [to...]||Benvenuto/-i (for male/males or mixed) / Benvenuta/-e (for female/females) [a / in...]||/beɱveˈnuːto/|
|Please||Per favore / Per piacere / Per cortesia||(listen) /per faˈvoːre/ /per pjaˈt͡ʃeːre/ /per korteˈzia/|
|Thank you!||Grazie! (general) / Ti ringrazio! (informal) / La ringrazio! (formal) / Vi ringrazio! (plural)||(listen) /ˈɡratt͡sje/ /ti riŋˈɡratt͡sjo/|
|You are welcome!||Prego!||/ˈprɛːɡo/|
|Excuse me / I am sorry||Mi dispiace (only "I am sorry") / Scusa(mi) (informal) / Mi scusi (formal) / Scusatemi (plural) / Sono desolato ("I am sorry", if male) / Sono desolata ("I am sorry", if female)||(listen) /ˈskuːzi/; /ˈskuːza/; /mi disˈpjaːt͡ʃe/|
|What?||Che cosa? / Cosa? / Che?||/kekˈkɔːsa/ /ˈkɔːsa/ /ke/|
|Why / Because||perché||/perˈke/|
|Again||di nuovo / ancora||/di ˈnwɔːvo/; /aŋˈkoːra/|
|How much? / How many?||Quanto? / Quanta? / Quanti? / Quante?||/ˈkwanto/|
|What is your name?||Come ti chiami? (informal) / Qual è il suo nome? (formal) / Come si chiama? (formal)||/ˈkoːmetti ˈkjaːmi/ /kwal ˈɛ il ˈsuːo ˈnoːme/|
|My name is ...||Mi chiamo ...||/mi ˈkjaːmo/|
|This is ...||Questo è ... (masculine) / Questa è ... (feminine)||/ˈkwesto ˈɛ/ /ˈkwesta ˈɛ/|
|Yes, I understand.||Sì, capisco. / Ho capito.||/si kaˈpisko/ /ɔkkaˈpiːto/|
|I do not understand.||Non capisco. / Non ho capito.||(listen) /noŋ kaˈpisko/ /non‿ɔkkaˈpiːto/|
|Do you speak English?||Parli inglese? (informal) / Parla inglese? (formal) / Parlate inglese? (plural)||(listen) /parˈlaːte iŋˈɡleːse/|
|I do not understand Italian.||Non capisco l'italiano.||/noŋ kaˈpisko litaˈljaːno/|
|Help me!||Aiutami! (informal) / Mi aiuti! (formal) / Aiutatemi! (plural) / Aiuto! (general)||/aˈjuːtami/ /ajuˈtaːtemi/ /aˈjuːto/|
|You are right/wrong!||(Tu) hai ragione/torto! (informal) / (Lei) ha ragione/torto! (formal) / (Voi) avete ragione/torto! (plural)|
|What time is it?||Che ora è? / Che ore sono?||/ke ˈoːra ˈɛ/ /ke ˈoːre ˈsono/|
|Where is the bathroom?||Dov'è il bagno?||(listen) /doˈvɛ (i)l baɲɲo/|
|How much is it?||Quanto costa?||/ˈkwanto ˈkɔsta/|
|The bill, please.||Il conto, per favore.||/il ˈkonto per faˈvoːre/|
|The study of Italian sharpens the mind.||Lo studio dell'italiano aguzza l'ingegno.||/loˈstuːdjo dellitaˈljaːno aˈɡutt͡sa linˈd͡ʒeɲɲo/|
|two thousand and sixteen (2016)||duemilasedici||/dueˌmiːlaˈsɛːdit͡ʃi/|
Days of the week
Months of the year
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