Italian Language

Italian (italiano, or lingua italiana) is a Romance language spoken by about 63 million people as a first language, primarily in Italy. In Switzerland, Italian is one of four official languages. It is also the official language of San Marino, as well as the primary language of the Vatican City. Standard Italian, adopted by the state after the unification of Italy, is based on Tuscan (in particular on the dialects of the cities of Florence, Pisa and Siena) and is somewhat intermediate between the Italo-Dalmatian languages of the South and Northern Italian languages of the North. Its development was also influenced by the other Italian dialects and by the Germanic language of the post-Roman Barbaric invaders but first and foremost it has been directly and heavily influenced by Latin.

Unlike most other Romance languages, Italian has retained the contrast between short and long consonants which existed in Latin. As in most Romance languages, stress is distinctive. Of the Romance languages, Italian is considered to be the closest to Latin in terms of vocabulary.

Italian dialects

In Italy, all Romance languages spoken as the vernacular, other than standard Italian and other unrelated, non-Italian languages, are termed “Italian dialects”. Many Italian dialects may be considered as historical languages in their own right. These include recognized language groups such as Friulian, Neapolitan, Sardinian, Sicilian, 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 which had very little or no part in it, such as Albanian, Greek, German, Ladin, and Occitan, which are still spoken by minorities.

Non-standard dialects are not generally used for mass communication and are usually limited to native speakers in informal contexts. In the past, speaking in dialect was often deprecated as a sign of poor education. The younger generations, especially those under 35 (though it may vary in different areas), speak almost exclusively dialects of standard Italian in all situations, usually with local accents and idioms. Regional differences can be recognized by various factors: the openness of vowels, the length of the consonants, and influence of the local dialect (for example, annà replaces andare in the area of Rome for the infinitive “to go”).

Languages Spoken

The official and common language is Italian. Officially recognized minority language groups are:



Population Language Spoken Region



4,000,000 Venetian Veneto



1,269,000 Sardinian Sardinia



526,000 Friulian Friuli-Venezia Giulia



southern Italy, Sicily



290,000 German Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol



178,000 Occitan
Piedmont, Liguria, Calabria



130,000 Romany
the whole country



125,000 Sassarese North-west Sardinia



100,000 Gallurese
North-east Sardinia



90,000 Franco-Provençal
Piedmont, Aosta Valley, Apulia



Friuli-Venezia Giulia



55,000 Ladin
Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, Veneto



20,000 French
Aosta Valley



20,000 Griko (Greek)
Calabria, Apulia



18,000 Alguerese(Catalan) Sardinia



2,600 Croatian Molise



2,000 German Friuli-Venezia Giulia



1,400 Friulian Friuli-Venezia Giulia


Italian has seven vowel phonemes: /a/, /e/, /ɛ/, /i/, /o/, /ɔ/, /u/, represented by five letters: “a, e, i, o, u”. The pairs /e/-/ɛ/, and /o/-/ɔ/ are seldom distinguished in writing and often confused, even though most varieties of Italian employ both phonemes consistently. Compare, for example: “perché” [perˈkɛʔ] (why, because) and “senti” [ˈsenti] (you hear) , employed by some northern speakers, with [perˈkeʔ] and [ˈsɛnti], as pronounced by most central and southern speakers (the latter are the standard forms). As a result, the usage is strongly indicative of a person's origin. The standard (Tuscan) usage of these vowels is listed in vocabularies, and employed outside Tuscany mainly by specialists, especially actors and very few (television) journalists. These are truly different phonemes, however: compare /ˈpeska/ (fishing) and /ˈpɛska/ (peach), both spelled pesca ( listen (help·info)). Similarly /ˈbotte/ ('barrel') and /ˈbɔtte/ ('beatings'), both spelled botte, discriminate /o/ and /ɔ/ ( listen (help·info)).

In general, vowel combinations usually pronounce each vowel separately. Diphthongs exist (e.g. uo, iu, ie, ai), but are limited to an unstressed u or i before or after a stressed vowel. The unstressed u in a diphthong approximates the English semivowel w, and the unstressed i approximates the semivowel y. E.g.: buono [ˈbwɔːno], ieri [ˈjɛːri].

Triphthongs exist in Italian as well, like “continuiamo” (“we continue”). Three vowel combinations exist only in the form semiconsonant (/j/ or /w/), followed by a vowel, followed by a desinence vowel (usually /i/), as in miei, suoi, or two semiconsonants followed by a vowel, as the group -uia- exemplified above, or -iuo- in the word aiuola.

Mobile diphthongs
Many Latin words with a short e or o have Italian counterparts with a mobile diphthong (ie and uo respectively). When the vowel sound is stressed, it is pronounced and written as a diphthong; when not stressed, it is pronounced and written as a single vowel. So Latin focus gave rise to Italian fuoco (meaning both “fire” and “optical focus”): when unstressed, as in focale (“focal”) the “o” remains alone. Latin pes (more precisely its accusative form pedem) is the source of Italian piede (foot): but unstressed “e” was left unchanged in pedone (pedestrian) and pedale (pedal). From Latin iocus comes Italian giuoco (“play”, “game”), though in this case gioco is more common: giocare means “to play (a game)”. From Latin homo comes Italian uomo (man), but also umano (human) and ominide (hominid). From Latin ovum comes Italian uovo (egg) and ovaie (ovaries). (The same phenomenon occurs in Spanish: juego (play, game) and jugar (to play), nieve (snow) and nevar (to snow)).

Nasals undergo assimilation when followed by a consonant, e.g., when preceding a velar (/k/ or /g/) only [ŋ] appears, etc. Italian has geminate, or double, consonants, which are distinguished by length. Length is distinctive for all consonants except for /ʃ/, /ʦ/, /ʣ/, /ʎ/ /ɲ/, which are always geminate, and /z/ which is always single. Geminate plosives and affricates are realised as lengthened closures. Geminate fricatives, nasals, and /l/ are realized as lengthened continuants. The flap consonant /ɾ/ is typically dialectal. The correct standard pronunciation is [r].
Of special interest to the linguistic study of Italian is the Gorgia Toscana, or “Tuscan Throat”, the weakening or lenition of certain intervocalic consonants in Tuscan dialects.
The voiced postalveolar fricative /ʒ/ is only present in loanwords. For example, /garage/ [gaˈraːʒ].
Italian has few diphthongs, so most unfamiliar diphthongs that are heard in foreign words (in particular, those beginning with vowel “a”, “e”, or “o”) will be assimilated as the corresponding diaeresis (i.e., the vowel sounds will be pronounced separately). Italian phonotactics do not usually permit verbs and polysyllabic nouns to end with consonants, excepting poetry and song, so foreign words may receive extra terminal vowel sounds.

Common Italian Words and Phrases
    1.    Cheers: “Salute!” /saˈlute/
    2.    English: inglese /iŋˈglese/
    3.    Good-bye: arrivederci /arriveˈdertʃi/
    4.    Hello: ciao /ˈtʃao/
    5.    Good day: buon giorno /bwɔnˈdʒorno/
    6.    Good evening: buona sera /bwɔnaˈsera/
    7.    Yes: sì /si/
    8.    No: no /nɔ/
    9.    How are you? : Come stai? /ˈkome ˈstai/ (informal); Come sta? /ˈkome 'sta/ (formal)
    10.    Sorry: mi dispiace /mi disˈpjatʃe/
    11.    Excuse me: scusa /ˈskuza/ (informal); scusi /ˈskuzi/ (formal)
    12.    Again: di nuovo, /di ˈnwɔvo/; ancora /aŋˈkora/
    13.    Always: sempre /ˈsɛmpre/
    14.    When: quando /ˈkwando/
    15.    Where: dove /'dove/
    16.    Why/Because: perché /perˈke/
    17.    How: come /'kome/
    18.    How much is it?: quanto costa? /ˈkwanto 'kɔsta/
    19.    Thank you!: grazie! /ˈgrattsje/
    20.    Bon appetit: buon appetito /ˌbwɔn appeˈtito/
    21.    You're welcome!: prego! /ˈprɛgo/
    22.    I love you: Ti amo /ti ˈamo/, Ti voglio bene /ti ˈvɔʎʎo ˈbɛne/

    1.    One: uno /ˈuno/
    2.    Two: due /ˈdue/
    3.    Three: tre /tre/
    4.    Four: quattro /ˈkwattro/
    5.    Five: cinque /ˈʧiŋkwe/
    6.    Six: sei /ˈsɛi/
    7.    Seven: sette /ˈsɛtte/
    8.    Eight: otto /ˈɔtto/
    9.    Nine: nove /ˈnɔve/
    10.    Ten: dieci /ˈdjɛʧi/
    11.    Eleven: undici /ˈundiʧi/
    12.    Twelve: dodici /ˈdodiʧi/
    13.    Thirteen: tredici /ˈtrediʧi/
    14.    Fourteen: quattordici /kwat'tordiʧi/
    15.    Fifteen: quindici /ˈkwindiʧi/
    16.    Sixteen: sedici /ˈsediʧi/
    17.    Seventeen: diciassette /diʧas'sɛtte/
    18.    Eighteen: diciotto /di'ʧɔtto/
    19.    Nineteen: diciannove /diʧan'nɔve/
    20.    Twenty: venti /'venti/
    21.    Twenty-one: “ventuno”
    22.    Twenty-two: “ventidue”
    23.    Twenty-three: “ventitre”
    24.    Twenty-four: “ventiquattro”
    25.    Twenty-five: “venticinque”
    26.    Twenty-six: “ventisei”
    27.    Twenty-seven: “ventisette”
    28.    Twenty-eight: “ventotto”
    29.    Twenty-nine: “ventinove”
    30.    Thirty: “trenta”

Days of the week
    1.    Monday: lunedì /lune'di/
    2.    Tuesday: martedì /marte'di/
    3.    Wednesday: mercoledì /merkole'di/
    4.    Thursday: giovedì /dʒove'di/
    5.    Friday: venerdì /vener'di/
    6.    Saturday: sabato /ˈsabato/
    7.    Sunday: domenica /do'menika/


Above information adapted from: