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Australia - Learn to speak Italian - Audio CD - Learning Italian is easy

Learning to Speak the Italian Language

 

About the Italian Language

Italian is a Romance language spoken by about 60 million people in Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, the Vatican City, Malta and Eritrea. There are also Italian speakers in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Australia, Canada, the USA and the UK.

Unlike most other Romance languages, Italian has retained the contrast between short and long consonants which existed in Latin. As in most Romance languages, stress is distinctive. Of the Romance languages, Italian is considered to be one of the closest resembling Latin in terms of vocabulary, though Romanian most closely preserves the noun declension system of Classical Latin, and Spanish the verb conjugation system , while Sardinian is the most conservative in terms of phonology.

Italian first started to appear in written documents during the 10th century in the form of notes and short texts inserted into Latin documents such as lawsuits and poetry. For a long time there was no standard written or spoken language in Italy and writers tended to write in their own regional dialects. In northern Italy, which was often ruled by the French, French and Occitan were used as literary languages.

During the 13th century such writers as Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), Petrach and Boccaccio were influential in popularising their own dialect of Italian - the Tuscan of Florence (la lingua Fiorentina) - as a standard literary language. By the 14th century the Tuscan dialect was being used in political and cultural circles throughout Italy, though Latin remained the pre-eminent literary language until the 16th century.

The first grammar of Italian with the Latin title Regule lingue florentine (Rules of the Florentine language) was produced by Leon Battista Alberti (1404-72) and published in 1495.

During the 15th and 16th centuries both Latin and Italian were used for technical and scientific texts. The Italian used was full of Latin words and over time Latin was used less and less as Italian became increasingly popular.

Today the Tuscan dialect is known as Italian (Italiano) and is the offical language of Italy. It is the main language of literature and the media. Each region of Italy also has its own dialect, some of which are so distinct from standard Italian that they are mutually unintelligible. The Sicilian dialect for example, is sometimes regarded as a separate language and has a literary tradition older than Italian itself.

The history of the Italian language is long, but the modern standard of the language was largely shaped by relatively recent events. The earliest surviving texts which can definitely be called Italian (or more accurately, vernacular, as opposed to its predecessor Vulgar Latin) are legal formulae from the region of Benevento dating from 960-963. What would come to be thought of as Italian was first formalized in the first years of the 14th century through the works of Dante Alighieri, who mixed southern Italian languages, especially Sicilian, with his native Tuscan in his epic poems known collectively as the Commedia, to which Giovanni Boccaccio later affixed the title Divina. Dante's much-loved works were read throughout Italy and his written dialect became the "canonical standard" that all educated Italians could understand. Dante is still credited with standardizing the Italian language and, thus, the dialect of Tuscany became the basis for what would become the official language of Italy.

Italy has always had a distinctive dialect for each city since the cities were until recently thought of as city-states. The latter now has considerable variety, however. As Tuscan-derived Italian came to be used throughout the nation, features of local speech were naturally adopted, producing various versions of Regional Italian. The most characteristic differences, for instance, between Roman Italian and Milanese Italian are the gemination of initial consonants and the pronunciation of stressed "e", and of "s" in some cases (e.g. va bene "all right": is pronounced by a Roman, by a Milanese; a casa "at home": Roman , Milanese ).

In contrast to the dialects of northern Italy, southern Italian dialects were largely untouched by the Franco-Occitan influences introduced to Italy, mainly by bards from France, during the Middle Ages. Even in the case of Northern Italian dialects, however, scholars are careful not to overstate the effects of outsiders on the natural indigenous developments of the languages. (See La Spezia-Rimini Line.)

The economic might and relative advanced development of Tuscany at the time (Late Middle Ages), gave its dialect weight, though Venetian remained widespread in medieval Italian commercial life. Also, the increasing cultural relevance of Florence during the periods of 'Umanesimo (Humanism)' and the Rinascimento (Renaissance) made its volgare (dialect), or rather a refined version of it, a standard in the arts. The re-discovery of Dante's De vulgari eloquentia and a renewed interest in linguistics in the 16th century sparked a debate which raged throughout Italy concerning which criteria should be chosen to establish a modern Italian standard to be used as much as a literary as a spoken language. Scholars were divided into three factions: the purists, headed by Pietro Bembo who in his Gli Asolani claimed that the language might only be based on the great literary classics (notably, Petrarch, and Boccaccio but not Dante as Bembo believed that the Divine Comedy was not dignified enough as it used elements from other dialects), Niccolò Machiavelli and other Florentines who preferred the version spoken by ordinary people in their own times, and the Courtesans like Baldassarre Castiglione and Gian Giorgio Trissino who insisted that each local vernacular must contribute to the new standard. Eventually Bembo's ideas prevailed, the result being the publication of the first Italian dictionary in 1612 and the foundation of the Accademia della Crusca in Florence (1582-3), the official legislative body of the Italian language.

Italian literature's first modern novel, I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed), by Alessandro Manzoni further defined the standard by "rinsing" his Milanese 'in the waters of the Arno" (Florence's river), as he states in the Preface to his 1840 edition.

After unification a huge number of civil servants and soldiers recruited from all over the country introduced many more words and idioms from their home dialects ("ciao" is Venetian, "panettone" is Milanese etc.).

Italian is most closely related to the other two Italo-Dalmatian languages, Sicilian and the extinct Dalmatian. The three are part of the Italo-Western grouping of the Romance languages, which are a subgroup of the Italic branch of Indo-European.

The total speakers of Italian as maternal language are between 60 and 70 million. The speakers who use Italian as second or cultural language are estimated around 110-120 million .

Italian is the official language of Italy and San Marino, and one of the official languages of Switzerland, spoken mainly in Ticino and Grigioni cantons, a region referred to as Italian Switzerland. It is also the second official language in the Vatican City and in some areas of Istria in Slovenia and Croatia with an Italian minority. In Brazil, Italian is the second official language of Villa Velha and Santa Teresa, 2 towns in the Espirito Santo state. It is widely used and taught in Monaco and Malta. It is also widely understood in Corsica and Nice (areas that historically spoke Italian dialects before annexation to France), and Albania.

Italian is also spoken by some in former Italian colonies in Africa (Libya, Somalia and Eritrea). However, its use has sharply dropped off since the colonial period. In Eritrea Italian is widely understood . In fact, for fifty years, during the colonial period, Italian was the language of instruction, but as of 1997, there is only one Italian language school remaining, with 470 pupils. In Somalia Italian used to be a major language but due to the civil war and lack of education only the older generation still uses it.

Italian and Italian dialects are widely used by Italian immigrants and their descendants living throughout Western Europe (especially France (1 million , Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Luxembourg), the United States, Canada, Australia, and Latin America (especially Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela).

The early texts, reflecting the spoken language of Italy, were written in regional dialects.The first Latinized text of obscure origin probably dates from the 8th century. Several documents from the 10th-11th centuries are more surely written in Italian. The first literary work dates to the late 12th century, and the first poetry written in a Sicilial dialect goes back to the 13th century.

Modern Italian is written using the standard 26-letter Latin alphabet.

  • The letters j, k, w, x and y are used only in foreign names and in borrowings such as taxi.
  • gl and ng are pronounced as palatal [l] and palatal [n], e.g., figlio "son" is pronounced as [filyo], and gnocchi "potato dumplings" is pronounced as [nyokk]i.
  • h is always silent
  • Italian uses the acute accent over the letter é, and a grave accentover any stressed vowel at the end of words, e.g., dignità, "dignity."
  • c is pronounced as ch before the vowels e and i, e.g., ciao "hello" is pronounced as [chao].

Italian is widely taught in many schools around the world, but rarely as the first non-native language of pupils; in fact, Italian generally is the fourth or fifth most taught second-language in the world.

In anglophone parts of Canada, Italian is, after French, the third most taught language. In the United States and the United Kingdom, Italian ranks fourth (after Spanish-French-German and French-German-Spanish respectively). Throughout the world, Italian is the fifth most taught non-native language, after English, French, Spanish, and German.

In the European Union, Italian is spoken as a mother tongue by 13% of the population (64 million, mainly in Italy itself) and as a second language by 3% (14 million); among EU member states, it is most likely to be desired (and therefore learned) as a second language in Malta (61%), Croatia (14%), Slovenia (12%), Austria (11%), Romania (8%), France (6%), and Greece (6%).[22] It is also an important second language in Albania and Switzerland, which are not EU members or candidates.

From the late 19th to the mid 20th century, thousands of Italians settled in Argentina, Uruguay and southern Brazil, where they formed a very strong physical and cultural presence (see the Italian diaspora).

In some cases, colonies were established where variants of Italian dialects were used, and some continue to use a derived dialect. An example is Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, where Talian is used and in the town of Chipilo near Puebla, Mexico each continuing to use a derived form of Venetian dating back to the 19th century. Another example is Cocoliche, an Italian-Spanish pidgin once spoken in Argentina and especially in Buenos Aires, and Lunfardo.

Rioplatense Spanish, and particularly the speech of the city of Buenos Aires, has intonation patterns that resemble those of Italian dialects, due to the fact that Argentina had a constant, large influx of Italian settlers since the second half of the nineteenth century; initially primarily from Northern Italy then, since the beginning of the twentieth century, mostly from Southern Italy.

Starting in late medieval times, Italian language variants replaced Latin to become the primary commercial language for much of Europe and Mediterranean Sea (especially the Tuscan and Venetian variants). This became solidified during the Renaissance with the strength of Italian banking and the rise of humanism in the arts.

During the period of the Renaissance, Italy held artistic sway over the rest of Europe. All educated European gentlemen were expected to make the Grand Tour, visiting Italy to see its great historical monuments and works of art. It thus became expected that educated Europeans would learn at least some Italian; the English poet John Milton, for instance, wrote some of his early poetry in Italian. In England, Italian became the second most common modern language to be learned, after French (though the classical languages, Latin and Greek, came first). However, by the late eighteenth century, Italian tended to be replaced by German as the second modern language on the curriculum. Yet Italian loanwords continue to be used in most other European languages in matters of art and music.

Today, the Italian language continues to be used as a lingua franca in some environments, for example within the Catholic ecclesiastic hierarchy, Italian is known by a large part of members and is used in substitution of Latin in some official documents as well (the presence of Italian as the second official language in the Vatican City indicates not only use in the seat in Rome, but also in the whole world where an episcopal seat is present). Other examples can be found in the sports (football, motor race) and arts (music, opera, visual arts, design, fashion industry).

In Italy, all Romance languages spoken as the vernacular , other than standard Italian and other unrelated, non-Italian languages, are termed "Italian dialects". Many Italian dialects are, in fact, historical languages in their own right. These include recognized language groups such as Friulian, Neapolitan, Sardinian, Sicilian, Venetian, and others, and regional variants of these languages such as Calabrian. Though the division between dialect and language has been used by scholars (such as by Francesco Bruni) to distinguish between the languages that made up the Italian koine, and those which had very little or no part in it, such as Albanian, Greek, German, Ladin, and Occitan, which are still spoken by minorities.

Dialects are generally not used for general mass communication and are usually limited to native speakers in informal contexts. In the past, speaking in dialect was often deprecated as a sign of poor education. Younger generations, especially those under 35 , speak almost exclusively standard Italian in all situations, usually with local accents and idioms. Regional differences can be recognized by various factors: the openness of vowels, the length of the consonants, and influence of the local dialect (for example, annà replaces andare in the area of Rome for the infinitive "to go").

 

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