10 fun facts about the Italian language‍

September 1, 2022

Italian is a language that resonates with cultural richness and historical depth. Are you ready to learn more about its peculiarities and curiosities?

Distribution of the Italian language

Italian is predominantly spoken in Italy. As a native language however, its influence extends to Italian-speaking regions such as Switzerland, the Vatican State, and San Marino. Yet, the linguistic journey doesn't end here; Italian ventures beyond geographical borders, touching the lives of ethnic communities in unexpected places like South Tyrol, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, the Aosta Valley, southern Italy, Libya, Somalia, and Brazil—relics of Italy's colonial legacy.

Natives speakers also make mistakes

Just like any language, Italian witnesses its native speakers occasionally stumbling. From common linguistic mishaps like "Qual'è" with an apostrophe to the South's penchant for the subjunctive misuse ("Se io andrei/farei" replacing "Se io andassi/facessi"), these linguistic nuances add a unique flair. The intricacies extend to plurals with -gia and -cia syllables, prompting questions like “Spiaggie or spiagge?” and “Ciliegie or ciliege”?

The longest Italian word

The longest Italian word, a real tongue twister even for Italian speakers with its 26 letters, is “precipitevolissimevolmente”. What does it mean? Very very fast! 

Italian as a foreign language

Italian holds the impressive fourth position among the most learned languages. Not bad, considering its spoken domain is relatively confined compared to the vast reaches of English or Spanish. The BBC attests to the pleasant learning experience of Italian, highlighting that "Italian is read as it is spoken," ensuring clear pronunciation. Additionally, its vocabulary bears a striking resemblance to other languages derived from Latin.

Sudents of Italian language in a classroom

Italian influences in the German language

Did you know that a noteworthy 7% of German words have their roots in Italian? This linguistic fusion, often referred to as "Italianisms," has enriched German vocabulary across various domains. From seafaring terminologies like "mole" and "bark" to trade-related terms such as "balance sheet," "capital," and "risk," Italian has made its mark. The artistic and musical world has also contributed tempo names like Adagio, Allegro, Andante, and Presto, while lifestyle elements such as "dolce vita" and culinary delights like "pasta," "pizza," "risotto," and "cappuccino" have seamlessly woven into the fabric of German language and culture. Interestingly, there are also words that mistakenly found a home in German, like "Picobello" and "alles paletti?"—terms that, amusingly, have no Italian counterpart. 

Dialects and regional nuances

Italy's historical background and the plethora of provinces and regions have given rise to a fascinating tapestry of dialects and language variants. The sheer abundance of dialects prompted the division of Italy into regional dialect areas. To give you a rough idea, the northern region is demarcated by the La Spezia-Rimini line, while the central and southern areas are separated by the Rome-Ancona line.

For a delightful exploration of Italy's linguistic charm, check out this legendary video by Enrico Brignano, an acclaimed Italian cabaret artist!

The most spoken variations

The Italian dialect that boasts the highest number of speakers is Neapolitan, with a substantial 5,700,000 speakers. Following closely is Sicilian, spoken by 4,700,000 individuals. In contrast, Croatian stands out as the least commonly spoken language among the regional variations.

Neologisms in Italian

Italian, like any living language, evolves with the times, welcoming fresh additions known as neologisms. Here are some cool examples: “apericena” (a blend of aperitivo and cena, capturing the essence of a combined aperitif and dinner), “promozionare” (the act of launching a product), “viral” (signifying something going viral), “postare” (a casual way of saying posting), “social” (referring to social media channels), and pandemic-inspired terms like “coronavirus”, “distanziamento sociale” (social distance), “lockdown”, “mascherina” (mouth/nose mask), “tampone” (rapid test), and more. 

The link between butter and a donkey

Contrary to the misconception that Italian and Spanish are essentially the same, these two Romance languages boast numerous distinctions in grammar, usage, and vocabulary. A prime example is the conjugation of "venire" (coming), which starts similarly in the first and third person in both Spanish and Italian but takes a different course in other forms. If you decide to tackle both languages simultaneously, brace yourself for potential confusion amidst their differences. Particularly, it's the infamous "false friends" or "falsi amici" in Italian and "falsos amigos" in Spanish that can cause many headaches. These are words with identical spellings but divergent meanings or applications. Take, for example, "burro," which means donkey in Spanish but transforms into butter in Italian. 

Curious for more examples? Dive into this extensive list!

The oldest Italian document

Dating back to the year 960, the Placito Capuano notarial deed stands as the oldest known document in the Italian language. Interestingly, some sections of this historical artifact are composed in Volgare, an early form of Italian whose roots are traced back to the so-called "barbaric" conquerors in Italy. 

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