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What writing system(s) does this language use?[edit | edit source]

Italian is written using the Latin writing system.

The Italian alphabet has the same letters as English, although the letters "J", "K", "W", "X" and "Y" are only used in words of foreign origin.

Some letters may have accents. They are: à, é, è, ì, ò, ù. Notice that the "e" letter may have two kinds of accents.

How many people speak this language?[edit | edit source]

Seventy million people speak Italian as a native language.

Where is this language spoken?[edit | edit source]

Italian is spoken in Italy (click here to learn about Italy). There are also Italian-speaking communities in the nations neighboring Italy (France (click here to learn about France), Austria (click here to learn about Austria), Croatia (click here to learn about Croatia), Slovenia (click here to learn about Slovenia)), and it is widespread in the Ticino and Grigioni cantons of southern Switzerland (click here to learn about Switzerland). The language is classed as an official language in parts of Slovenia and Croatia and one of 4 national languages of Switzerland. It is one of the four federal official languages of Switzerland along with German, French, and Romansh. It is the most commonly used language in the Vatican City (although the official language is Latin, which is used for celebrations and documents). It is also used in San Marino (a microstate embedded in the north-east of Italy).

It's one of the many official languages of the European Union (click here to learn about the European Union), and also preserved by many Italian immigrant communities in the USA, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Australia, Belgium, France, and Germany.

As Italy once held colonies in Albania, Somalia, Libya, and Eritrea, a small number of older people in these countries still speak Italian as a second language.

The high number of migrants coming to Italy from Third World countries since the 1990s are showing usage of Italian as a lingua franca. So it wouldn't be bad if you learn to speak Italian!


lingua franca — a common language used by speakers of different languages.

What is the history of this language?[edit | edit source]

Italian is derived from one of the many regional vernaculars of Latin. All these languages split from Latin long ago. The first documents written in what can be recognized as Italian rather than vernacular Latin date from about 1000 years ago. During the late Middle Ages and the renaissance, poets and writers in several Italian city states wrote in various dialects of Italian. The great wealth of Florence in Tuscany and of Venice led to the dialects of these two regions becoming dominant.

The roots of modern Italian are in the 13th century in Sicily, where some people at the court of Frederick II enjoyed writing love poems for their women. Then, those poems were translated into the language of Tuscany and they became an inspiration for other writers, who kept writing poems about several subjects, but the main theme was love. Love poetry remained very common in Italian literature for centuries and the love poems of the 13th century remained a model that most of the later Italian writers looked at; that is why Italians often call their own language the language of love. The language of Tuscany kept on having a leading role about literature over the other Italian languages.

Until the 1860s Italy had a history of being divided into many small city states or of being controlled by foreign powers. The countries' many dialects continued to develop separately until very recently. To an extent, people thought of 'Italy' as a geographical term rather than as a country. When Garibaldi attempted to raise an army to fight for "l'Italia" in Sicily in the 1860s on the behalf of King Vittorio Emmanuele II of Piedmont, many Sicilians believed that "l'Italia" was actually the name of the king's wife! Italian was only spoken by a small minority, whilst most people were native speakers of the various regional languages (also known as dialects of Italy) which had developed separately from Italian. These are very distinct from Italian, and from each other, and often belong to separate language sub-families. Piedmontese, spoken in the north-west of Italy, has many similarities with French; Sicilian, spoken in the south, shows signs of the region's long occupation by the Arabs, the Normans, and the Spanish, and is so different from Italian that when a film in Sicilian, "La Terra Trema" directed by Visconti, was released in the 1940s, it was necessary to add subtitles so that audiences in the rest of Italy could understand it.

The spread of free state education and the influence of radio and television in the twentieth century led to most Italians being able to understand the Italian language, which was based on Tuscan but admitted a number of words from other dialects. As recently as the 1960s, government surveys in Italy found that the majority of people speak standard Italian at school or at work, but still speak their own regional vernacular at home.

Increasingly, Italians are moving around the country to find work and are marrying people from other regions. This and the ever-growing influence of the media have led to a decline in regional vernaculars, especially among young people.


vernacular — the everyday speech of the people.

Who are some famous authors or poets in this language?[edit | edit source]

Since the main models for Italian writers were poets, most of the best works in Italian literature are poems about several subjects. The three writers who are considered the fathers of the Italian language, often called the three crowns, lived during the late Middle Ages. They are:

  • Dante Alighieri, who is considered the greatest Italian writer. His minor works are mainly about love and politics. His best work "The Divine Comedy" (in archaic Italian), is considered the best Italian poem and one of the best poems of the history of literature in any language. It is composed in three parts: Hell, Purgatory. and Paradise. It tells of the poet's travels through the three realms of the dead; while travelling the poet meets a lot of people and he talks with them about several different subjects, that is why the book is about several topics. It can be a bit of a scary book, so get your parents or teachers to read it first.
  • Petrarch, who wrote the Canzoniere, a collection of poems about several topics, but the main theme is his love for Laura.
  • Giovanni Boccaccio, whose main work is the Decamerone, a collection of a hundred novels. They are stories taken from the popular traditions, some of them are very funny.

Those writers have been a model of style for all the following Italian writers:

  • Niccolò Machiavelli lived during the Renaissance. His main work is the Prince, a collection of suggestions about how to get and keep power. It was addressed to somebody willing to conquer all the Italian small countries to unify them, freeing them from foreign power, but his considerations are so general that they can still be used nowadays in both politics and company management. Machiavelli was ranked #79 on Michael H. Hart's list of the most influential figures in history.
  • Alessandro Manzoni is considered the father of the modern Italian. He wrote The Betrothed, a story of a couple in love facing all the problems of the spreading of the plague. It took about 20 years to finish his book: he worked taking care of every detail. That book is considered the model for style and grammar of the modern Italian.
  • Carlo Collodi (original name Carlo Lorenzini, "Collodi" is just the name of his mother's birthplace) who wrote Pinocchio. [1]

What are some basic words in this language that I can learn?[edit | edit source]


  • ciao - hello
  • buon giorno - good morning (in the morning), good afternoon (after midday)
  • buona sera - good evening
  • buona notte - good night
  • buon Natale - happy Christmas
  • buona Pasqua - happy Easter
  • buon compleanno - happy birthday
  • buon appetito - have a good meal
  • come stai? - how are you?
  • bene grazie, e tu? - fine thanks, and you?
  • non molto bene - not so good
  • sono triste - I'm sad
  • sono felice - I'm happy
  • non ti preoccupare - don't worry
  • stai tranquillo - be quiet
  • posso aiutarti? - can I help you?
  • mi piace come balli - I like the way you dance
  • mi fai diventare matto - you drive me crazy
  • sbrigati! - hurry up!
  • non penso proprio - I don't think so
  • non mi rompere - don't bother me
  • che succede? - what's up?
  • mi sto bruciando il cervello - my mind is becoming dry
  • andiamo a fare una passeggiata - let's go for a walk
  • non prendermi in giro - don't fool me / don't take me for a ride
  • arrivederci - goodbye
  • a presto - see you soon
  • grazie - thank you
  • grazie infinite / grazie mille - thank you very much
  • prego - you're welcome
  • mi dispiace - I'm sorry
  • mi dispiace terribilmente - I'm terribly sorry, I'm really sorry
  • chiedo perdono - I beg your pardon, I apologize
  • piove a dirotto, piove a catinelle - it's raining cats and dogs
  • questa è la goccia che fa traboccare il vaso - it's the last straw that broke the camel's back
  • mai dire mai - never say die
  • bella - beautiful (feminine form)
  • madre- mother
  • padre - father
  • zio(a) - uncle/aunt
  • nonno - grandfather
  • nonna - grandmother
  • fratello - brother
  • sorella - sister
  • cugino/a - cousin (male/female)

Definite and indefinite articles[edit | edit source]

In Italian there are some definite and indefinite articles:

  • The - Il/Lo (Masculine singular) I/Gli (Masculine plural) La (Feminine singular) Le (Feminine plural)

There's other definite article, "L' ", which is used before words which begin with a vowel. For example: The friend - L'amico (male) / L' amica (female)

  • A/An - Un/Uno (Masculine) Una (Feminine)

What is a simple song/poem/story that I can learn in this language?[edit | edit source]

An aria from the Turandot opera[edit | edit source]

Italian: Nessun dorma! Nessun dorma! Tu pure, o Principessa, nella tua fredda stanza, guardi le stelle che tremano d'amore, e di speranza!

English: None shall sleep! None shall sleep! Even you, Princess, in your cold bedroom, watch the stars that tremble with love and with hope

Italian: Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me; il nome mio nessun saprà! No, No! Sulla tua bocca lo dirò quando la luce splenderà!

English: But my secret is hidden within me; none will know my name! No, no! On your mouth I will say it when the light shines!

Italian: Ed il mio bacio scioglierà il silenzio che ti fa mia!

English: And my kiss will dissolve the silence that makes you mine!

Italian: Il nome suo nessun saprà... E noi dovrem, ahimè, morir, morir!

English: No one will know his name... and we will have to, alas, die, die!

Italian: Dilegua, o notte! Tramontate, stelle! Tramontate, stelle! All'alba vincerò! Vincerò! Vincerò!

English: Vanish, night! Set, stars! Set, stars! At dawn I shall win! I shall win! I shall win!

An aria from the Rigoletto opera[edit | edit source]

Italian: La donna è mobile qual piuma al vento,

English: Woman is flighty like a feather in the wind,

Italian: Muta d'accento — e di pensiero.

English: She changes her voice — and her mind.

Italian: Sempre un amabile, leggiadro viso,

English: Always sweet, pretty face,

Italian: In pianto o in riso, — è menzognero.

English: In tears or in laughter, — it is always lying.

Italian: La donna è mobile qual piuma al vento

English: Woman is flighty like a feather in the wind,

Italian: Muta d'accento e di pensier!

English: She changes the tone of her voice and her mind,

Italian: e di pensier! e di pensier!

English: And her mind! And her mind!

Italian: È sempre misero chi a lei s'affida,

English: Always miserable is he who trusts her,

Italian: Chi le confida — mal cauto il cuore!

English: He who confides in her — his unwary heart!

Italian: Pur mai non sentesi felice appieno

English: Yet one never feels fully happy

Italian: Chi su quel seno — non liba amore!

English: Who on that bosom — does not drink love!

Italian: La donna è mobile qual piuma al vento,

English: Woman is flighty like a feather in the wind,

Italian: Muta d'accento e di pensier!

English: She changes the tone of her voice and her mind,

Italian: e di pensier! e di pensier!

English: And her mind! And her mind!