Italian Language Facts

Italian

Classification

Italian is a member of the Italo-Dalmatian group of languages, which is part of the Italo-Western grouping of the Romance languages, which are a subgroup of the Italic branch of Indo-European.

History

The origins of italian language are very complex and mostly formalized by Dante Alighieri mixing south italian dialects, especially from Sicilian, with his native Tuscan ("supposed" to be derived from Etruscan and Oscan). Those older italian dialects were hardly influenced by the Occitan bring by the Bard escaping from France centuries before under the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. Of the major Romance languages, which were derived from Latin language, Italian is the closest to Latin, although there are other langauges spoken in Italy which are even closer to Latin, for example Sardo logudorese language.

Italians say that the best spoken Italian is lingua toscana in bocca romana - 'the Tuscan tongue, in a Roman mouth.' The formative influence on establishing the Tuscan as the elite speech is generally agreed to have been Dante's Commedia, to which Boccaccio affixed the title Divina in the 14th century.

The economic power that Tuscany had at the time, specially considering Pisa's influence, gave its dialect weight, though Venetian remained widespread in the markets and streets of the Terra Firma. Also, the increasing cultural relevance of Florence in the period of Umanesimo (before Rinascimento) made its vulgare become a standard in art, quickly imported to Rome.

Geographic distribution

Italian is the official language of Italy, San Marino and an official language in the Ticino and Grigioni cantons or regions of Switzerland. It is also the second official language in Vatican City and in some areas of Istria in Slovenia and Croatia with an Italian minority. It is widely used by immigrant groups in Luxembourg, the United States, Brazil, Argentina and Australia, and is also spoken in neighbouring Malta and Albania. It is spoken, to a much lesser extent, in parts of Africa formerly under Italian rule such as Somalia, Libya and Eritrea.

Official status

Italian is an official language of Italy, San Marino, Switzerland, Slovenia and Vatican City.

Dialects

The dialects of Italian identified by the Ethnologue are Tuscan, Abruzzese, Pugliese (Apulian), Umbrian, Laziale, Central Marchigiano, Cicolano-Reatino-Aquilano, and Molisan. Other dialects are Milanese, Brescian, Bergamasc, Venetian, Modenese, Bolognese, Sicilian, Sardian, and so on, essentially one per city. Many of the so-called dialects of Italian spoken around the country are different enough from standard Italian to be considered separate languages by most linguists.

Grammar

Pronouns:
Personal pronouns in the subject of a sentence are usually unnecessary in Italian, because the verb ending provides information about the subject (apart some exceptions), and hence the pronouns are used only to emphasize the subject.

Singular Plural:

  • 1st Person io - I noi - we
  • 2nd Person tu - you (one person, familiar)
  • voi - you (plural, familiar)
  • 3rd Person lei - she
  • Lei - you (one person, polite)
  • lui - he
  • loro - they
  • Loro - you (plural, polite)
  • Lei and Loro (sometimes written with a capitalized L) have special meaning in addition to their meanings as "she" and "they". Lei is the polite form of tu (which is only used for individuals one is familiar with, family members, for children, or for praying to a god), and similarly, Loro is the polite form of voi (but voi or Voi too is a polite form).

    Verbs

    Italian verb infinitives have one of three endings, either -are, -ere, or -ire. Most Italian verbs are regular.

    Questions are formed by a rising intonation at the end of the sentence, as in most European languages (see examples below).

    Present Indicative Regular Conjugation Patterns
    This is the basic conjugation pattern used to indicate that something is occurring now.

    -are Singular Plural
    1st Person -o -iamo
    2nd Person -i -ate
    3rd Person -a -ano

    Example: mangiare, "to eat".

    Io mangio. (or just Mangio.) I eat.
    Antonio mangia. Antonio eats.
    Antonio mangia? Does Antonio eat?
    Mangia Antonio? Does Antonio eat?
    guardare, "to watch"

    Noi guardiamo la televisione. (or just Guardiamo la televisione.) We watch television.
    -ere Singular Plural
    1st Person -o -iamo
    2nd Person -i -ete
    3rd Person -e -ono

    Example: leggere, "to read"

    Leggono i libri. They read books.
    Leggo il giornale. I read the newspaper.
    Some regular -ire verbs conjugate normally, and some conjugate according to the -isco pattern. There is no way to tell other than to memorize which are which

    -ire (normal form) Singular Plural
    1st Person -o -iamo
    2nd Person -i -ite
    3rd Person -e -ono

    Example: partire, "to leave"

    Partite. You leave. (plural; used if talking to two or more persons one is familiar with.)
    Parti. You leave. (singular; used if talking to only one person one is familiar with.)
    Partono. Depending on context, could mean either You leave (if addressing more than one person formally), or could also mean They leave.

    -ire (-isco form) Singular Plural
    1st Person -isco -iamo
    2nd Person -isci -ite
    3rd Person -isce -iscono

    Example: capire, "to understand".

    Io capisco or just Capisco. "I understand."
    Capisci? "Do you understand?"

    Writing system

    Italian is written using the Latin alphabet. Italian uses both acute accent and grave accent for marking words with irregular stress.

    Examples:

  • cheers (generic toast): salute /sa"lute/ (sall-OO-teh); cincin /tSin"tSin/ (cheen-CHEEN)
  • English: inglese /iN"glEze/ (ing-GLAY-zay)
  • good-bye: arrivederci /ar:ive"dErtSi/ (a-ree-veh-DARE-chee)
  • hello: ciao /"tSAo/ (CHAH-oh) (informal); buon giorno /"bwon "dZOrno/ (bwon JAWR-noh) (good morning), buona sera /"bwona "s:era/ (BWO-na SAY-ra) (good evening)
  • how much? quanto /"kwAnto/ (KWAN-tuh) (masculine); quanta /"kwAnta/ (KWAN-tah) (feminine)
  • I don't understand: non capisco /"noN ka"pisko/ (known kah-PEES-kuh)
  • Italian: italiano /ita"ljano/ (ee-tah-LYAN-oh)
  • no: no /no/ (nuh)
  • please: per favore /"per favOre/ (per fa-VOAR-ay)
  • sorry: scusa /"skuza/ (SKOO-zah) (familiar); scusi /"skuzi/ (SKOO-zee) (polite)
  • thank you: grazie /"gratzje/ (GRAT-zyeh)
  • that one: quello /"kwEl:o/ (KWEL-luh) (masculine); quella /"kwEl:a/ (KWEL-lah) (feminine)
  • where's the bathroom?: dov'è il bagno? /do"vE il "baJo/ (duh-vay-eel-BA-"spanish ñ"-uh)
  • yes: sì /si/ (see)