Language facts: Italian

Jun 11, 2015

Italian is a member of the Romance group of languages. It is the official language of Italy, San Marino and Vatican City, and one of the official languages of Switzerland. Italian is spoken by about 58 million people in Italy, 30,000 in San Marino, and 840,000 in Switzerland. Italian is regarded as the 4th or 5th most studied language in the world and is also an official EU language. It is also one of the most visited countries in the world – close to 40 million people go there every year – which could explain the interest in studying Italian.

Medieval lingua franca

Italian is descendant of Latin, or better said Vulgar (common) Latin, and shares or resembles Latin in terms of vocabulary more than other Romance languages. From late medieval to Renaissance (mainly due to the cultural and trade impact and dominance of Italy) Italian had a function of so called lingua franca – universal language in trade and international relations in Europe, similar to today's English. Italian is profound with its number of mutually incompatible dialects and it is said (with a little overstatement) that two neighboring villages don't understand each other when speaking in their own regional dialect.

Well-known Italian words

While it is common for many languages to have borrowed words from English and French, Italian is also a language from which many tongues have picked up a few terms. The most well-known are perhaps 'Pizza' (a word understood almost all over the word), 'Bank', 'Alarm' and 'Ghetto'. Other borrowed words that spring to mind come from the world of music and performance, e.g. 'Piano', 'Violin' and 'Opera'. In the world of science, look no further than 'Volt', which is an electric unit named after Alessandro Volta, the inventor of the world's first battery in 1779.

Alphabet

Italian uses the same letters as in the English alphabet, with acute, grave and circumflex accents on vowels. Some letters (j, k, w, x, y) are excluded from the standard Italian though, used only in loan words.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

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