Italian speaking areas

Italian speaking areas:

  • Italy
  • Sardinia
  • Sicily
  • San marino
  • Italian writing
  • Vatican
  • Southern Switzerland (Grigioni and Ticino cantons)
  • Immigrant groups in 27 other countries also use Italian. These countries include Argentina, Australia, United States, Germany, Venezuela and Brazil.

Italian spoken dialects:

  • Dialects: There are many spoken dialects of Italian, nearly one per city. Some of the dialects are so different from the standard form, that many linguists would consider them to be separate languages.

Languages of Italy

The standard Italian language is based on Tuscan, specifically on its Florentine variety (the dialect spoken by Dante Alighieri, in his masterpiece "The Divine Comedy"written in the 14th century), and the majority of the languages in Italy do not derive from Tuscan but directly from Latin. Therefore these cannot be considered neither dialects of Italian nor of Latin, on the contrary they are separate languages.

Some examples of these languages include: Siciliano (Sicilian, Sicily), Campano (Neapolitan and others in the region Campania), Sassarese (North Western Sardinian), Franco Provenzale (Franco-Provençal, Aosta Valley, Piedmont, Calabria, Apulia), Veneto (Venetian) and Ladino (Ladin , Rhaeto-Romansh,Trentino-South Tyrol, Friuli-Venezia Giulia).

Dialects of Italy

Besides the standard Italian language and the other languages described above, many other dialects, which derive from Latin, are spoken in Italy, some easier to comprehend than others. Most are extremely localised and people living in different nearby towns have trouble understanding each other.

Italian dialectsThe spread of free public education and the influence of media (radio, television, newspapers) in the twentieth century led to most Italians being able to speak the standard Italian language but admitted a number of words from other dialects. Government surveys in Italy found that most Italian people speak standard Italian at school or at work, but still speak their own regional dialect at home.

Also, Italians moving around the country to find work (and marrying people from other regions) and the ever-growing influence of the media have led to a decline in regional vernaculars, especially among young people.

Some of the dialects you might hear spoken are listed below.

  • Molisano (Molise)
  • Laziale (Latium)
  • Umbrian (Umbria)
  • Apuliese (Apulia)
  • Abruzzese (Abruzzo)
  • Marchigiano (The Marches)
  • Romanesque (Romano, Rome)
  • Cicolan-Reatin-Acquitan (Central Italy)

Written and Spoken Italian

There is only one form of written Italian which is used throughout all Italian speaking areas (listed above).

The Italian alphabet has 21 letters - the 26 of English, minus J, K, W, X, and Y. These letters appear in Italian writing when used for foreign names and words, but not for the standard Italian vocabulary.

For English quotation marks " ", << >> are used in Italian.

"G" is hard except before "i" and "e." Hence the soft "g" sound in "giovani." By inserting an "h" the "g" goes hard, as in "ghiro." The same occurs with "c," which is hard (like a "k") unless it comes before "i" or "e," in which event, an "h" solves the problem. Therefore "ci" is pronounced "CHI" and "chi" is pronounced "KEY."

The acute accent and the grave accent.

Sometimes an Italian word will end in an accented vowel: this indicates that the stress falls on that final vowel. For example the words città, perché, caffè, così, andò and lassù. These accents are part of the standard spelling of a word and are never omitted. The type of accent indicates whether it is an open or closed vowel: the acute accent (é, ó) indicates a closed vowel and the grave accent (è, ò) indicates an open vowel.

The normal rule in Italian for stress is to accent the penultimate syllable. If the ultimate syllable is stressed, an accent mark is employed. However, if the stress should be on the antepenultimate syllable (third from the end), Italian does not always mark it for the reader. Much of the time you are just supposed to know whether or not the word is stressed on the antepenultimate (or sometimes even the praeantepenultimate!). For example "dimenticare" (forget) is a normal, penult-stressed word. Its third person plural is "dimenticano." The stress is on the "e" in the praeantepenultimate position. Examples of the antepenultimate are "vongole" (clams) and "ostriche" (oysters), each stressed on its initial vowel. When a word can be pronounced either way, and have a distinct meaning (as in the words for "princes" and "principles"), the accent is employed.

The consonant "h" is present in written Italian, but is never pronounced, even in words adopted from other languages, such as "hotel." It is used internally to harden "g" and "c" before "i" and "e" and it is used as an initial to distinguish certain forms of the auxiliary verb "avere" (have = "ho," "hai," "ha," "hanno") from homophones ("o" = or, "a" = to) and the word "anno" = year).

The "z" in Italian is the "ds" or "ts" sound. "Zanzara" (mosquito) has two of the softer "z" sounds and "Zingara" (gypsy) is usually pronounced with the harder initial "z".

Italian accents

To type accents with ALT codes, hold down the ALT key, then on the numeric keypad type the three or four digits listed here. However not with laptops, ALT codes only work with the numeric keypad, NOT the row of numbers across the top of your keyboard, as on laptops.

a with acute accent
   à  ALT + 224    À  ALT + 192

e with acute accent
   è  ALT + 232    È  ALT + 200

e with acute accent
   é  ALT + 233    É  ALT + 201


Three important Italian digraphs are GL, GN and SC:

"GL" (for example AGLIO)

i with acute accent
   ì  ALT + 236    Ì  ALT + 204

o with acute accent
   ò  ALT + 242    Ò  ALT + 210

o with acute accent
   ó  ALT + 243    Ó  ALT + 211

u with acute accent
   ù  ALT + 249    Ù  ALT + 217


"GN" (for example SOGNARE)

ª abbreviation ending in a, commonly with addresses or numbers
   ª  ALT + 166

º abbreviation ending in o, commonly with addresses or numbers
   °  ALT + 167

Italian quotation marks
   «  ALT + 174    »  ALT + 175



Italian Alphabet

   a      A  

   b      B  

   c      C  

   d      D  

   e      E  

   f      F  

   g      G  

   h      H  

   i      I  

   l      L  

   m      M  

   n      N  

   o      O  

   p      P  

   q      Q  

   r      R  

   s      S  

   t      T  

   u      U  

   v      V  

   z      Z  

The "GL" occurs only before the letter "i" and never at the beginning of a word, other than "gli," a personal pronoun and plural article.


Accents may be replaced with adjacent apostrophes. For example: in perche' instead of perché. The practice is common for uppercase accented letters. Uppercase <È> is rare and is absent from the Italian keyboard layout. It's often substituted with <E>, even though there are several ways of producing the uppercase È on a computer.

Beyond the above information, Italian is transcribed essentially as it is pronounced, given clear enunciation and compliance with the foregoing rules of orthography. Writing phonetically is so natural to Italians that often they find it hard to understand how spoken English can depart so much from the way it is written.

Italian language

Italian is very similar to Spanish with both being able to understand their written languages and even with French. Both as a result of invassions and subsequent influence.

Swiss Italian

Swiss ItalianThe map to the right shows the Italian speaking part of Switzerland (Southern Switzerland). For more information on the languages spoken in Switzerland, click on the map

Written Italian is used in Southern Switzerland (two cantons: Ticino and Grigioni), with no difference to normal Italian. When spoken there is a slight difference in dialect, which is only noticeable to Italian speakers.

The Italian speakers (Ticinesi) tend to speak Swiss German as well as Italian (Ticinesi dialect-local and the North Italian dialect-Lombardic).

In the Grigioni Canton, Italian speakers live alongside Romansch speakers.

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Italian Translation sample:

Tutti gli esseri umani nascono liberi ed eguali in dignità e diritti. Essi sono dotati di ragione e di coscienza e devono agire gli uni verso gli altri in spirito di fratellanza.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. (Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

Italian Speaking countries

Italy, San Marino, Southern Switzerland (Grigioni and Ticino cantons), Vatican City.

Indo-European Language group

European language groups

Indo-European > Italic (Latin) > Romance

Difficulty in learning Italian as a native English speaker

The Defense Language Institute categorizes Italian as relatively easy (level 1, of 4 levels)

Italian letter writing samples

  • Letter (formal)
  • Letter (informal)

Italian Business Etiquette

Courtesy and a degree of formality are the most important aspects.

  • Meeting

In introductions and departures, shake hands individually with everyone in a group. The American "group wave" won't be appreciated.

Italians won't hesitate to greet people they know with a warm embrace.

Queue-jumping is not a 'crime' in Italy.

  • Eating

Hospitality plays a key role in Italian business culture, and usually involves a restaurant dinner. Refusing an invitation of any kind is an insult.

Business is often conducted over a long lunch, which can last up to three hours.

When eating, avoid mopping up any olive oil or sauce on your plate with your bread.

It is considered rude to leave the table to go to the toilet or for any other reason.

For restaurants and taxis, a tip of 10% will be sufficient.

  • Negotiation

Punctuality is not a priority. Be prepared to wait 15 to 45 minutes before your Italian counterpart appears or lets you into the office.

Large businesses usually work from 8.30 /9.00am until 6.00/6.30pm Monday to Friday with an hour or two for lunch.

Familiarity is very important in Italian business culture. Ensure that you find a well-connected person who can establish the right introductions on your behalf.

Your attire will be perceived as a reflection of your social standing and relative success, as well as your competence as an entrepreneur.

Most Italians won't speak English well, so you will probably need an interpreter in business situations.

Italian executives tend to be guided by gut feelings. Ensure that they like and trust you.