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A Basic Guide to the Italian Language

Posted by Anne Q. on May 24, 2022.

As the third-largest economy in the European Union and the eighth-largest economy in the world in terms of nominal GDP, Italy is an attractive location for many foreign businesses to enter.

When entering the Italian market, one important factor your business should pay attention to is the Italian language. Knowing the Italian language and communicating with your target audience in their native language is key to success in this market.

In today’s post, join us in finding out more about the Italian language.

The Origin of the Italian Language

Italian is a Romance language that evolved from Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire. The standard Italian is based on Tuscan, particularly its Florentine dialect, and is thus classified as an Italo-Dalmatian language, along with the extinct Dalmatian and most other central and southern Italian languages.

Many scholars claim that Italian is the closest language to Latin in terms of vocabulary. An Ethnologue report on the Italian language shows that the language’s lexical similarity with French is 89 per cent, 87 per cent with Catalan, 85 per cent with Sardinian, 82 per cent with Spanish, 80 per cent with Portuguese, 78 per cent with Ladin, and 77 per cent with Romanian.

The Italian writing system was developed by Tuscan writers in the 12th century. It originated in central Tuscany and was validated by writer Dante Alighieri at the beginning of the 14th century. This author’s writing has become the benchmark for writing in Italy, and the Italian people comprehend it well. Thus, Dante Alighieri is credited with standardizing Italian literature.


Geographic Distribution 

Italian is the official language of Italy, spoken by 70 million people in Italy. It also has an official language status in San Marino. In Switzerland, despite its use having moderately reduced since the 1970s, Italian is the third most spoken language, after German and French.

Italian is widely used in administration and official documents in Vatican City. It is an official minority language in western Istria (Croatia and Slovenia).


Dialects of the Italian Language

Italian is a rich language that contains numerous dialects. It is impossible to discuss all Italian languages in the scope of this post. So we will focus on 5 popular dialects of this language:

    • Sicilian variants are spoken on the island of Sicily and seen as a variant in southern Calabria.
    • Neapolitan variants are used in southern Italy.
    • Friulian is spoken in Friuli in northeastern Italy.
    • Sardinian is spoken over much of Sardinia’s central and southern regions.
    • Catalan is used in Alghero (Sardinia).

Italian Language Map


Writing System

Italian has a shallow orthography, which means that it has highly regular spelling, with a virtually one-to-one relationship between letters and sounds. Geminate or double consonants are characterized by length and intensity in Italian.

The Italian alphabet contains only 21 letters (compared to English, 5 letters namely j, k, w, x, and y are excluded from the Italian alphabet). If you come across any words in Italian that include these letters, it means that they are likely to be borrowed from another language. To be more specific, its alphabet has:

    • 5 vowels – a, e, i, o, u
    • 16 Italian consonants – b, c, d, f, g, h, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, z
    • 5 foreign consonants – j, k, w, x, z

lalfabeto-italiano - Italian Alphabet


Grammar of the Italian Language

Italian grammar is representative of Romance language grammar in general. Personal pronouns (nominative, accusative, oblique, dative) have cases, while nouns do not. In Italian, there are two primary types of nouns known as masculine and feminine.

Gender and number inflect nouns, adjectives, and articles (both singular and plural).

Adjectives in Italian are classified into three types: descriptive, invariable, and form-changing.

    • The most frequent adjectives are descriptive, and their endings alter depending on the number and gender of the noun they modify.
    • Invariable adjectives are adjectives whose form does not change.
    • Form-changing adjectives change form if they are put before distinct types of nouns.


The Longest Word in Italian

Surprisingly, the longest word in Italian contains 29 letters. This term is esofagodermatodigiunoplastica, and it refers to stomach removal surgery. Another 26-letter word that means “extremely quickly” is precipitevolissimevolmente.


Daily Phrases in the Italian Language

English Italian 
Hello! Ciao! (informal)

Salve! (semi-formal)

Goodbye! Arrivederci (general)

Arrivederla (formal)

Ciao! (informal)

How are you? Come stai? (informal)

Come sta? (formal)

Come state? (plural)

Come va? (general, informal)

Have a nice day! Buona giornata!
Enjoy the meal! Buon appetito!
Good luck! Buona fortuna! 
Thank you! Grazie! (general)

Ti ringrazio! (informal)

La ringrazio! (formal)

Vi ringrazio! (plural)

You are welcome! Prego!
Excuse me Scusi (for attention)

Permesso (to pass by)

How much is this? Quanto costa questo? 
Call the police Chiami la polizia


To Wrap Up

We hope this post has given you an overview of the Italian language. If you are planning to enter this market, remember to localize your content into the Italian language to reach more Italian-speaking audiences and avoid culture misunderstandings.

When you are looking for an Italian translation partner to accompany your localization journey in Italy, look no further than GTE Localize. Our team offers comprehensive Italian translation services at a value-for-money rate:

    • 100% native Italian translators with a minimum of 5 years of experience in professional translation
    • 12-month warranty policy
    • Quality-focused technology
    • Dedicated support teams

A Basic Guide to the Italian Language_CTA

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