The standard Italian language is spoken by Italy’s 60+ million residents. It is also a minority language in Austria and Switzerland, as well as in Libya, Somalia, and Ethiopia, which were once Italian colonies. However, Italian pronunciation varies greatly between regions. In Tuscany, for example, Italian speakers pronounce “c” like an “h”. Thus, “Coca-Cola con la cannuccia” (Coke with a straw) sounds more like “Hoha-Hola hon la hannuccia.” These regional linguistic traits make it easy to identify the home region of someone who speaks Italian.
The modern Italian language that is spoken in Italy today developed in the 13th and 14th centuries. It arose out of Latin and the numerous dialects of the region, and was heavily influenced by the works of Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio. Those literary giants wrote mainly in the Florentine dialect, which evolved into the so-called “Standard Italian” that is recognized today as Italy’s national language. In fact, Florence is the only Italian city today that does not have a distinct dialect separate from Standard Italian. In all other regions, it is common to hear dialects spoken, particularly among residents who have lived in the same town for generations. These dialects, vaguely similar to Italian but often unintelligible to people not born in the area, are living reminders of Italy’s feudal past and the isolation of its various regions prior to unification.
Italian vocabulary has contributed many words to the English language over the years. Some of these words include gondola, regatta, fresco, vendetta, broccoli, volcano, basilica, stucco, terracotta, and inferno. In music, one finds numerous Italian terms, such as concerto, sonata, tempo, aria, allegro, staccato, andante, and lento.
With some studying and a good sense of humor, English speakers can usually learn Italian with relative ease. One thing to watch out for when you’re learning Italian, though, is false cognates. Cognates are words that have approximately the same spelling and meaning in two different languages. There are many true cognate words in English and Italian, but there are also a number of Italian vocabulary words that can fool you by their false resemblance to English.
For example, the Italian word camera is not something you take pictures with; it actually means room. If you use the word morbido to describe something gruesome, you are really saying that it is soft. And if you ask for confetti at a party, you may be surprised when you are given sugar coated almonds. Above all, don’t ask for peperoni on your pizza when you speak Italian – unless you want hot peppers!
Formal and Informal Address in the Italian Language
When speaking Italian or writing Italian, there are two forms of address: formal and informal. The formal is used to show respect and should be used when speaking Italian with people outside of your circle of family and friends. For example, when you speak Italian to store clerks, waiters, teachers, bank tellers, and acquaintances you should address them with the formal “lei” form. Friends, family, children, and pets, on the other hand, may be addressed with the “tu” form. It is also customary for students and young people to use the “tu” form when speaking Italian among themselves, even if they are only passing acquaintances.
Italian Grammar and Italian Pronunciation
The Italian language is pleasing to the ear, even to those who do not understand a word of it. It has a highly musical quality that springs from the fact that all words end in a vowel, with the exception of a few articles, prepositions, and foreign words. Italian is also completely phonetic, meaning that every letter corresponds to a specific pronounced sound, making it relatively easy to learn Italian pronunciation and spelling.
Regular practice is necessary to learn to speak Italian well. That’s why good Italian software or audio products can be so useful.