From Textus Receptus
Italian (About this sound italiano (help·info), or lingua italiana) is a Romance language spoken by about 60 million people in Italy, and by another 10 million Italian descendants in the world, making it spoken by a total of 70 million native speakers. It is also spoken by an additional 125 million people as a foreign language. In Switzerland, Italian is one of four official languages, spoken mainly in the Swiss cantons of Grigioni and Ticino. It is also the official language of San Marino, as well as the primary language of Vatican City. Standard Italian, adopted by the state after the unification of Italy, is based on Tuscan (in particular on the dialects of the city of Florence) and is somewhat intermediate between the Italo-Dalmatian languages of the South and the Gallo-Romance Northern Italian languages. Its development was also influenced by the other Italian dialects and by the Germanic language of the post-Roman invaders.
Italian derives diachronically from Latin, and is the closest national language to Latin. Unlike most other Romance languages, Italian retains Latin's contrast between short and long consonants. As in most Romance languages, stress is distinctive. In particular, among the Romance languages, Italian is the closest to Latin in terms of vocabulary. Lexical similarity is 89% with French, 87% with Catalan, 85% with Sardinian, 82% with Spanish, 78% with Rhaeto-Romance and 77% with Romanian.
Italian is written in the Latin alphabet. The letters J, K, W, X and Y are not considered part of the standard Italian alphabet, but appear in loanwords (such as jeans, whisky, taxi). X has become a commonly used letter in genuine Italian words with the prefix extra-. J in Italian is an old-fashioned orthographic variant of I, appearing in the first name "Jacopo" as well as in some Italian place names, e.g., the towns of Bajardo, Bojano, Joppolo, Jesolo, Jesi, Ajaccio, among numerous others, and in the alternative spelling Mar Jonio (also spelled Mar Ionio) for the Ionian Sea. J may also appear in many words from different dialects, but its use is discouraged in contemporary Italian, and it is not part of the standard 21-letter contemporary Italian alphabet. Each of these foreign letters has an Italian equivalent spelling: gi or i for j, c or ch for k (including chilometro for kilometer in prose), u or v for w (depending on what sound it makes), s, ss, or cs for x, and i for y. (In informal Internet usage and texts, it goes back the other way; for example, ch is replaced with k.)
- Italian uses the acute accent over the letter E (as in perché, why/because) to indicate a front mid-closed vowel, and the grave accent (as in tè, tea) to indicate a front mid-open vowel. The grave accent is also used on letters A, I, O, and U to mark stress when it falls on the final vowel of a word (for instance gioventù, youth). Typically, the penultimate syllable is stressed. If syllables other than the last one are stressed, the accent is not mandatory, unlike in Spanish, and, in virtually all cases, it is omitted. When the word is potentially ambiguous, the accent is sometimes used for disambiguation, for example prìncipi ("princes"), but princìpi ("principles"). For monoysyllabic words, this is compulsory (e.g. è ("is"), but e ("and")). Rare words with three or more syllables can confuse Italians themselves—the pronunciation of Istanbul represents an example of a word where stress placement is not clearly established. Turkish, like French, tends to put the accent on the ultimate syllable, but Italian doesn't. So we can hear "Istànbul" or "Ìstanbul". Another instance is the American State of Florida: the correct way to pronounce it in Italian is as in Spanish, "Florìda", but since there is an Italian word with the same meaning ("flourishing"), "flòrida", and because of the influence of English, most Italians pronounce it that way. Dictionaries give the latter as an alternative pronunciation.
- The letter H at the beginning of a word is used to distinguish ho, hai, ha, hanno (present indicative of avere, 'to have') from o ('or'), ai ('to the'), a ('to'), anno ('year'). In the spoken language this letter is always silent in the words given above, even though in ho it changes the pronunciation making the vowel open. H is also used in combinations with other letters (see below), but no phoneme [h] exists in Italian. In foreign words entered in common use, like "hotel" or "hovercraft", the H is commonly silent, so they are pronounced /oˈtɛl/ and /ˈɔverkraft/
- The letter Z represents /dz/, for example: zanzara /dzanˈdzaːra/ (mosquito), or /ts/, for example: nazione /natˈtsjoːne/ (nation), depending on context, though there are few minimal pairs. The same goes for S, which can represent /s/ or /z/. However, these two phonemes are in complementary distribution everywhere except between two vowels in the same word, and even in that environment there are extremely few minimal pairs, so that this distinction is being lost in many varieties.
- The letters c and g represent affricates: /tʃ/ as in "chair" and /dʒ/ as in "gem", respectively, before the front vowels I and E. They are pronounced as plosives /k/, /ɡ/ (as in "call" and "gall") otherwise. Front/back vowel rules for C and G are similar in French, Romanian, Spanish, and to some extent English (including Old English). Swedish and Norwegian have similar rules for K and G. (See also palatalization.)
- However, an H can be added between C or G and E or I to convert the preceding consonant to a plosive, and an I can be added between C or G and A, O or U to signal that the consonant is an affricate. For example:
- Before back vowel (A, O, U)
- caramella /kara’mɛlla/ candy
- gallo /’ɡallo/ rooster
- ciaramella /tʃara’mɛlla/ shawm
- giallo /’dʒallo/ yellow
- Before front vowel (I, E)
- china /’kina/ India ink
- ghiro /’ɡiro/ edible dormhouse
- Cina /’tʃina/ China
- giro /’dʒiro/ round, tour
- Note that the H is silent in the digraphs CH and GH, as also the I in cia, cio, ciu and even cie is not pronounced as a separate vowel, unless it carries the primary stress. For example, it is silent in ciao /ˈtʃa.o/ and cielo /ˈtʃɛ.lo/, but it is pronounced in farmacia /ˌfar.maˈtʃi.a/ and farmacie /ˌfar.maˈtʃi.e/.
- There are three other special digraphs in Italian: GN, GL and SC. GN represents /ɲ/. GL represents /ʎ/ only before i, and never at the beginning of a word, except in the personal pronoun and definite article gli. (Compare with Spanish ñ and ll, Portuguese nh and lh.) SC represents fricative /ʃ/ before i or e. Except in the speech of some Northern Italians, all of these are normally geminate between vowels.
- In general, there is a clear one-to-one correspondence between letters or digraphs and phonemes; in standard varieties of Italian, there is little allophonic variation. The most notable exceptions are assimilation of /n/ in point of articulation before consonants, assimilatory voicing of /s/ to following voiced consonants, and vowel length (vowels are long in stressed open syllables – except at the end of words, and short elsewhere) — compare with the enormous number of allophones of the English phoneme /t/. Spelling is mostly phonemic and usually difficult to mistake, given a clear pronunciation. Exceptions exist, especially in foreign borrowings. There are fewer cases of dyslexia than among speakers of languages such as English, and the concept of a spelling bee is strange to Italians.
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References and Notes
- 1. Ethnologue report for language code:ita (Italy) - Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (ed.), 2005. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth edition. Dallas, Tex.: SIL International. Online version
- 2. Legge sulle fonti del diritto of 7 June 1929, laws and regulations are published in the Italian-language Supplemento per le leggi e disposizioni dello Stato della Città del Vaticano attached to the Acta Apostolicae Sedis. See also Languages of the Vatican City
- 3. Grimes, Barbara F. (October 1996). Barbara F. Grimes. ed. Ethnologue: Languages of the World. Consulting Editors: Richard S. Pittman & Joseph E. Grimes (thirteenth edition ed.). Dallas, Texas: Summer Institute of Linguistics, Academic Pub. ISBN 1-55671-026-7.
- 4. Brincat (2005)
- 5. (Italian) Dizionario d'ortografia e di pronunzia
- 6. E. Paulescu et al., Dyslexia - cultural diversity and biological unity, "Science", vol. 291, pp. 2165–2167.
- 7. "History of the Italian language.". http://www.italian-language.biz/italian/history.asp. Retrieved 2006-09-24.
- 8. Microsoft Word - Frontespizio.doc
- 9. 1,500,000 mother tongue Italian speakers in Brazil
- 10. 1,500,000 mother tongue Italian speakers in Argentina