Many are already aware of the uniqueness of Italy—its rich history, beautiful architecture, and delicious food make it one of the world’s most sought-after tourist destinations. But perhaps even more intriguing is the Italian language itself. Passed down over many generations, Italian has been uniquely preserved throughout the country of Italy. If you’re thinking about learning Italian, or are trying to expand your business into global territory, it’s good to know a little about the origins and history of the dialect. Read on for 10 fun and interesting facts that reveal just what makes this language and its speakers so impressive.
1: THE ITALIAN ALPHABET HAS ONLY 21 LETTERS
The people of Italy are good at keeping things sweet and simple, and of course, their alphabet is no exception. Yes, it’s true, the Italian alphabet contains only 21 letters, excluding j, k, w, x, and y. Derived from the Latin alphabet, it is regarded as the closest match to this “dead” language of any dialect in use today. These letters are all shared with the English alphabet, but Italian letters employ an accent system and are not pronounced the same way.
2: 1861 WAS THE YEAR ITALIAN BECAME AN OFFICIAL LANGUAGE
In early 1861, national parliament convened and proclaimed the unification of Italy, which was around the same time that a standard version of the Italian language emerged. Apparently, back then, today’s Italian was such a little-known language that it was only spoken by less than 3–5% of the population living in the newly unified country. Although there were many dialects at the time, prominent Italian writer Dante and linguist Petrarch paved the way for the Tuscan dialect to become the national language of Italy.
3: ITALIAN IS SPOKEN BY OVER 85 MILLION PEOPLE WORLDWIDE
When it comes to sheer number of speakers, Italian can’t compete with languages like English and Mandarin. And yet, it’s still one of the most popular and influential languages in the world. Italian is the first language of some 65 million speakers residing in the EU, and the second language of an additional 15 million people. As well as being the national language of Italy, Italian is one of the official languages of Switzerland, San Marino, the Vatican City, and Istria, and is spoken by over 85 million people globally.
4: ITALIAN IS THE 5TH MOST-STUDIED LANGUAGE IN THE US
Most American students learn a foreign language during either their university or high school years, and Italian is amongst the most popular. For over one hundred years, Italian has been a widely spoken language in America, thanks to large scale migrations during the late-19th century. Today, nearly 700,000 Americans speak Italian, with the majority residing in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco, among other cities. This makes Italian the 5th most-studied language in US schools.
5: THE LONGEST ITALIAN WORD IS 30 LETTERS
This may be the funniest of them all. The Germans are renowned for their love of long terms and phrases, but they are not the only ones who like to push the envelope. Today, “psiconeuroendocrinoimmunologia” is the Italian dictionary’s longest word, clocking in at 30 letters and 13 syllables. The term has an acronym of PNEI and refers to the study of nervous, immune, and endocrine system functions. Okay, so it’s not longer than “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, but you have to admit, it’s still a pretty monstrous word.
6: ITALIAN IS THE OFFICIAL LANGUAGE OF CLASSICAL MUSIC
If you play an instrument or are familiar with music, you’ve probably come across classical music scores with terms like crescendo, soprano, alto, and tempo. But, you might not have known that all of these words have Italian origins; so it’s no wonder why this language has such a powerful influence on the art of music! This phenomenon is largely due to Italian music notation becoming popularised during the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Thus, Italian became more universal as the standard for music compositions, with many prominent composers at the time being Italian themselves.
7: ITALIAN DIALECTS ARE DRAMATICALLY DIFFERENT FROM ONE ANOTHER
Truly, nothing can transport you to a specific region of Italy faster than its dialect. In Italy, there are many dialects, however, the Italian standard is based on the Tuscan dialect. Interestingly, the variety of languages in Italy were all developed independently from Latin. For centuries, up until 1861, Italy was divided into a number of different states under foreign rule, where each had its own regional language coexisting with “standard” Italian.
8: THE FIRST EVER ITALIAN LANGUAGE TEXT IS OVER 1,000 YEARS OLD
At the dawn of the 13th century, there was a ton of literature, especially poems, that began to be published in Italian. The first texts written in vernacular resembling what we now recognise as the Italian language date bate to the years 960–963. They are known as the Placiti Cassinesi, which are four juridical documents that dealt with a land ownership dispute between southern Italian monasteries located near the city of Capua, Campania.
9: AN ITALIAN CREATED THE WORD “VOLT”
Well, not just any Italian—a physicist, chemist, and inventor to be exact. Yes, we all know that Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb, but his invention would be nothing without Alessandro Volta of Italy. Volta was one of those curious experimenters who had a major a breakthrough in 1799 when he created the Voltaic pile, which was basically the first electrical battery. His last name is where we get the word volt, which is the standard measuring unit of electricity.
10: ITALIAN BECAME STANDARDISED BY DANTE ALIGHIERI
Modern Italian was formed by Dante, an Italian writer often referred to as the “Father of the Italian language”. But he wasn’t just that, he was also a political thinker and the country’s leading cultural hero for his role in establishing the language. During the late Middle Ages, most poetry and literature was written in Latin, but Dante is best known for writing the epic poem The Divine Comedy in the Tuscan dialect. He left an indelible mark on the language and helped position Tuscan Italian as the basis for the Italian spoken today.
There’s so much more to the Italian language; so, if you’re a real language freak and would like to learn more about different cultures and their dialects, check out the Yuqo blog. And for high-quality, professional Italian translations, contact us today to get started!