OVERVIEW OF THE ITALIAN LANGUAGE
Italian (Italiano) is an Indo-European, Italic, Romance language and is the National language of Italy, and an Official language of San Marino, and (together with Latin) of the Vatican City. It is spoken as a first language by over 63 million people and is the third most widely spoken language in the European Union. Italian is also spoken in parts of France, Switzerland and Malta.
National vs. Official Language
1) National Language: Every country of the world has a National language that is given prominence over other languages that may be spoken inside that country. In most countries such as the USA, UK, France, Germany, Italy etc., the overwhelming percentage of the population speaks the national language and that is the one the government uses for it’s official correspondence with international organizations such as the UN, trade agreements with other countries, etc.
2) Official Language: Some countries of the world are divided into regions called states or provinces where there may be people speaking an altogether different language from the national language This is particularly true for countries like India, China, Africa, etc. For example, Hindi is the National language of India, but within the state of Gujarat, Gujarati is the primary language spoken and it has been granted Official language status for conducting its business. In total, there are 22 official languages in India, and these are spoken on a regional basis in different states within the country of India. It may also be the case that a language of another country may be granted Official status, because of its importance for international affairs and conduct of official business with other countries. For example, French, German and Italian are all Official languages of Switzerland, and English is an Official language for approximately 65 other countries.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, spoken Latin gave birth to many regional Romance languages in the Italic peninsula. During the Renaissance, an early form of Tuscan was chosen as the standard language but remained more a literary language than an oral one.
An important event that helped the diffusion of Italian was the conquest and occupation of Italy by Napoleon in the early nineteenth century (who was himself of Italian-Corsican descent). This conquest propelled the unification of Italy some decades after, and pushed the Italian language into a lingua franca used not only among clerks, nobility and functionaries in the Italian courts but also in the bourgeoisie.
Only after the unification of Italy in 1861, Tuscan slowly began to spread and be spoken in all regions and by all social classes. Throughout this evolution many of the earlier regional languages are now considered to be dialects of Italian. Due to its prolonged literary character, Italian changed very little across the centuries, being one of the most conservative of all the romance language. Italian is known as the language of music because of its use in musical terminology and opera. Its influence is also widespread in the arts and in the luxury goods market. Italian has been reported as the fourth or fifth most frequently taught foreign language in the world.
Italian Linguistic Features
Italian has many dialects that can be grouped geographically into Northern, Central and Southern
1) Northern dialects divided into Gallo-Italian (Piedmontese, Ligurian, Lombard, Emilian-Romagnol), and Venetan (Venetian, Veronese, Trevisan, Paduan).
2) Central dialects: Tuscan; dialects of the Marche (Marchigiano), Umbria, and northern Lazio.Southern dialects: Abruzzian, Neapolitan, Pugliese, Calabrian and Sicilian.
3) Southern dialects: Abruzzian, Neapolitan, Pugliese, Calabrian and Sicilian.
Italian has 7 vowels comprising a symmetrical vowel system divided into Front, Central, and Back. Like the other Romance languages, Most Italian words end in a vowel.
Italian has 23 consonants articulated at four points: Lips, Dental (gum ridge), Palatal, and Velar. Most Italian speakers do not differentiate [s] and [z]. In initial position when [z] is followed by a vowel it is pronounced [s]. Between vowels, northern speakers pronounce [z] and southern speakers pronounce [s] with a few exceptions.
Case: The case system of Latin has completely collapsed, except for some remaining cases in the personal pronouns.
Gender: Italian has masculine and feminine. Most nouns ending in “o” are masculine, those ending in “a” are mostly feminine (with the exception of Greek loanwords that are generally feminine), those ending in “e” or “i” can be either masculine or feminine.
Number: Italian has singular and Plural. In contrast to Western Romance languages such as French, Spanish and Portuguese, the plural is made by vowel alternation instead of adding the suffix “s”
Pronouns: Italian uses personal, possessive, demonstrative, interrogative, indefinite, and relative. relative. Personal pronouns are genderless except for the 3rd person singular. Subject pronouns are not essential because the verb has all necessary information about person and number
Articles: Italian has indefinite and definite articles which distinguish gender and number.
Italian uses neutral word order in sentences with transitive verbs, as well as with some intransitive ones, is Subject-Verb-Object, but it can be reversed to give emphasis to the object.
The noun is usually accompanied by determiners (articles, demonstratives, possessives, quantifiers) and, sometimes, by adjectives. Determiners precede the noun, and possessives must be preceded by an article or a demonstrative, except in the case of kinship terms. Adjectives may come before or after the noun depending on its function; if it is descriptive or emphatic the adjective precedes the noun, if it is used to distinguish the noun from another one the adjective follows it.
Yes-no questions have the same form as statements but are differentiated by raising the pitch of the voice. Information-seeking questions are posed by placing an interrogative pronoun or adjective at the beginning of a phrase.
Script, Orthography and Lexicon
Italian is written with a Latin-based alphabet of 21 letters: five vowels (A, E, I, O U) and 16 consonants. For the vowels, only ⟨a⟩ represents one sound value while each of the others has two. In addition, ⟨e⟩ and ⟨i⟩ indicate a different pronunciation of a preceding ⟨c⟩ or ⟨g The letters J, K, W, X and Y are not part of the proper alphabet, and are used only for loanwords (e.g. ‘jeans’) and foreign names (with very few exceptions, such as in the native names Jesolo and Bettino Craxi, derived from Venetian). In addition, grave, acute and circumflex accents may be used to modify vowel letters.
The acute accent may be used on ⟨e⟩ and ⟨o⟩ to represent close-mid vowels when they are stressed in a position other than the default second-to-last syllable. This use of accents is generally mandatory only in the final syllable; elsewhere, accents are generally found only in dictionaries. Since final ⟨o⟩ is hardly ever close-mid, ⟨ó⟩ is very rarely encountered in written Italian (e.g. metró ‘subway’, from the original French pronunciation of métro with a final-stressed /o/). The grave accent may be used on ⟨e⟩ and ⟨o⟩ when they represent open-mid vowels. The accents may also be used to differentiate minimal pairs within Italian (for example pèsca ‘peach’ vs. pésca ‘fishing’), but in practice use of this possibility is limited to didactic texts. In the case of final ⟨i⟩ and ⟨u⟩, both possibilities are encountered.
A Few Little Known Facts About the Italian Language and Culture
The name “Italy” comes from the word italia, meaning “calf land,” perhaps because the bull was a symbol of the Southern Italian tribes.
Italy is said to have more masterpieces per square mile than any other country in the world.
The author of “Pinocchio” (“pine nut”), Carlo Collodi (1826-1890), was Italian.
When McDonald’s opened in 1986 in Rome, food purists outside the restaurant gave away free spaghetti to remind people of their culinary heritage.
There are two independent states within Italy: the Republic of San Marino (25 square miles) and theVatican City (just 108.7 acres). Italy’s San Marino is the world’s oldest republic (A.D. 301), has fewer than 30,000 citizens, and holds the world’s oldest continuous constitution. Its citizens are called the Sammarinese.
Vatican City is the only nation in the world that can lock its own gates at night. It has its own phone company, radio, T.V. stations, money, and stamps. It even has its own army, the historic Swiss Guard.f
From 1861 to 1985, more than 26 million people left Italy (mostly from the overcrowded south) to seek a better life. Only one in four came home again.
When European Jews were being persecuted during WWII, it was not unusual for some Jews to hide in Italy’s ancient catacombs
The world’s longest land tunnel is the Lötschberg Base Tunnel, which proves a 22-mile railway link between Switzerland and Italy.
Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was an Italian-born scientist. When he argued that the Earth revolved around the Sun, the Catholic Church imprisoned Galileo in his own house. The Church issued a formal apology in 1992.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa was built in 1173 and began to lean soon after, probably due to a poorly laid foundation. During WWII, the Nazi’s used it as a watch tower. After reconstruction efforts in 2008, engineers declared the tower would be stable for at least another 200 years.
A Love Sonnet to Laura
It was the day the sun’s ray had turned pale
with pity for the suffering of his Maker
when I was caught, and I put up no fight,
my lady, for your lovely eyes had bound me.
It seemed no time to be on guard against
Love’s blows; therefore, I went my way
secure and fearless-so, all my misfortunes
began in midst of universal woe.
Love found me all disarmed and found the way
was clear to reach my heart down through the eyes
which have become the halls and doors of tears.
It seems to me it did him little honour
to wound me with his arrow in my state
and to you, armed, not show his bow at all.
By Francesco Petrarca