Tanti auguri, Italia! This March, Italy celebrates 160 years as a united nation. We’re joining the festivities with a bottle of Prosecco, a plate of tagliatelle, and a look at five surprising facts about the country’s official language. We’re sure you’ll find number five particularly timely.
1. It’s actually Tuscan. The boot-shaped land mass dipping its toes in the Mediterranean is home to some three dozen dialects and over a dozen distinct languages, including Sicilian, Neapolitan, and Italian. The Italian dialect spoken in Tuscany had long enjoyed literary popularity thanks to the writings of Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch, and eventually became the standard Italian spoken and taught today. However, when the country was unified as the Kingdom of Italy in 1861, this dialect was only spoken by approximately 2.5 percent of the population. (Feel free to read more about its long road to official status on your own time, but it took decades for Italian to catch on as the national language of Italy.)
2. There are 21 letters in its alphabet. The standard Italian alphabet sees no use for j, k, w, x, or y, except for in loan words like whisky and taxi. The country’s rebellious regional languages and dialects write a “j” in Italian place names like Bajardo, Joppolo, and Ajaccio, but this letter is generally excluded from standard Italian. Use it at your own risk.
3. Italian is the second most spoken language in the EU (by native speakers). By some estimates, 15% of all EU citizens speak it as their first language. This places it comfortably behind German’s 20% and barely squeezes it into its seat in front of French’s 14%.* Napoleon would be proud to know that two of the three languages he spoke are among the most popular in Europe. But it would most certainly kill him to see German in the lead.
4. Its influence on English is inescapable. In concert halls around the world, we sing its praises for giving us such words as alto, soprano, forte, piano, finale, diva, concerto, crescendo, and falsetto. It is also the language of money, and we are in its debt for vocabulary including bank, bankrupt, capitalism, credit, finance, and merchandise. On military bases, we salute Italian for such contributions as brigade, cannon, cavalry, colonel, and infantry.
5. Finally, Italian gave us Lexico’s 2020 word of the year: quarantine. From the Italian quarantina meaning “forty days,” this originally referred to how long a ship was banned from port if it was suspected of carrying disease. This could provide some helpful perspective the next time we think we won’t survive being stuck indoors for five days before getting tested. It could be worse. We could be locked up for a month and half on a boat full of sailors with stomach problems.
Were you surprised to learn that over a dozen languages and countless dialects are spoken in Italy? No need to worry: In addition to translating your texts into Italian, wordinc will localize them according to the region they will appear in. Send us an email to learn more, request a free quote, or go online to schedule a phone call or in-person meeting.
Until then, arrivederci!