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Understanding the Italian Language

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Brief History of the Italian Language

Documents dating as far back as the 10th century were written in Italian, although it is believed that some form of Italian language was used in the 8th century by people who did not understand Latin. Traders and clergy might have used this language to address the people of those days.

The Italian language has evolved into many different dialects and languages throughout the centuries due to differences in politics, lack of communications and mobility, and also various culture gaps as people of different origins migrated to Italy.

Differences in Dialects

There is a standard Italian language, which is taught in schools of all regions. The standard language was derived from Medieval Tuscan dialect. The dialects each have their own characteristics so even tourists can tell a difference when visiting more than one region.

The Neapolitan dialect, for example, is often used in popular songs. This language is called Napoletano. Speakers of this language change articles into single vowels. “Il” might be shortened to ‘O. The Roman dialect called Romanesco is where the speaker replaces the letter “l” with the “r” sound. Toscana is a dialect used by the Tuscans where the letter “c” is often pronounced as “ch” combined.

Rare Italian Dialects

In remote areas of Italy there are rare dialects that are in danger of extinction. These often combine two languages or several dialects to form their own distinct language.

The Judeo-Italian dialect is called Italkian. It is a minority language that was spoken by people living in urban areas of Rome or in central and northern Italy between the 10th and 17th centuries. The language was very popular in Livorno. It’s a blend of Italian and Hebrew, and only around 4,000 people actually use it as their primary language today.

Yiddish is another rare language that blends Hebrew and German. Ladino is a language that blends Spanish and Hebrew.

Jews who Speak Italian

At the beginning of the 20th century, Jews in Italy were fluent with their own language as well as standard Italian. They also had a dialect called Judeo-Italian, which differed by region and city. Judeo-Italian dialects were often used in Jewish rituals and the Passover Haggadah, and they were also written in Hebrew.

Italian Language for the Traveller

Travellers to Italy will benefit tremendously if they learn key Italian words and phrases before their trip. Eating at restaurants, visiting attractions or villages, and touring local sites will be much easier for the tourist who knows what to ask and how to ask in Italian! Courses to help learn Italian phrases as well as culture and traditions in various regions are available online.

Just like any other nation, the dialect one hears will depend on where he visits. The language and dialects make each area unique, and tourists can discover something new everywhere they go in Italy.

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John Dulaney - EzineArticles Expert Author

John Dulaney, born Dec. 11th, 1946, married with children.
Living most years since 1969 outside the USA and working in motion pictures since 1965 I started with my wife, Jojo, in March of 1994 in San Francisco, Ca.
I’ve lived in or been to approximately 36 countries and have lived under Democracies, Socialism, Communism, dictatorships, kingdoms and others. There is nothing like home.
I participated at Channel Four in Manila, Philippines during the “People Power Revolution” and stood, with my wife’s brother, along with half a million others against the threat of tank attack.
I have witnessed the ruinous effects of Socialism /Communism /Dictatorship in dozens of countries and today enjoy the remains of our freedoms and protections of the Constitution in the USA here in California.
Working in front of and behind the camera films around the world we removed to the suburbs and a quiet life, for a few years. We still have property in Umbria, Italy, some is for sale. After all is said and done I count my children, wife Jojo and my friends as my only real treasure.


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  • Posted On November 28, 2006
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