There is a particular scent in any Italian home. And I believe it derives from a mixture of ingredients.

Some of you may say: 

They eat pasta every day. It is inevitable not to notice the scent coming from pasta with garlic butter sauce. As soon as you go through the doorway of an Italian home, you will catch a pleasant aroma.

So, accompany us into the kitchen. Realizing how this distinctive taste has intertwined with words will be interesting. And noticing how it formed a language will be encouraging. Together, let us look at 27 amusing facts about the Italian language. And appreciate the elements that go into the preparation of this unique dish called the Italian language.

The first particularity I noticed when growing up was there were two ways of saying anything. One could use Italian or Castelluccese.

In Italy, it is common for towns to have a dialect. In this respect, Castelluccio Valmaggiore is not different from many other Italian settlements. This village is in the mountains of the Foggia province. And has a little over one thousand inhabitants. And through its streets galloped, what Italians call a dialect.

Now, from a linguistic standpoint, it should not be called an Italian dialect. Dialects are variants of a standard language. And Castelluccese is a language that developed from Latin independently. So, considering it as a variant of Italian is not accurate.

Latin dialects coexist all around Italy. But how is it that today Italians speak Italian? We will get into details in the body of this article. As a brief answer, we can look back into history. There was a region in Italy, notably developed. Most of the beautiful architecture and fine arts in Italy got started in that region. Many famous figures as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo also came from there. And most of what we know today as the Italian language links to the language spoken by these people. Do you know which region is this? No, it is not Castelluccio Valmaggiore.

27 Amusing facts about the Italian language

October is the National Italian Heritage Month. And the third week of the month is the Italian Language Week: La Settimana della lingua Italiana. Exposure to this event may have sparked your interest in the language. You may have relatives and friends with whom you would like to speak Italian. Or expand your commercial activities into Italian markets. Whatever are your motives, here are 27 amusing facts about the Italian language. Stick with us to the end. The last fact will get you completely off guard!

Italian worldwide

1. Over 85 million people worldwide speak Italian.

It is among the most popular and influential languages. Italian is the national language of Italy. It is also one of the official languages of Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, and Istria.

2. A little over one million people in the United States speak Italian.

Italian became popular, despite the peninsula being relatively small. How did it happen? Due to large-scale migrations in the late 1800s. There are about 17 million Americans with Italian roots. But even though most speak no Italian, it remains a popular language in the States.

3. Italian is the 5th most studied language in U.S. schools.

American students usually learn a foreign language during their secondary education. And Italian is in the top five! It is only behind Spanish, French, American Sign Language, and German.

Dialects 

4. Inside Italy, there exist many languages, wrongfully called dialects.

Regional languages of Italy are languages. As was mentioned above, dialects are variants of a standard language. But in Italy, these different languages developed from Latin independently. People eventually decided it made sense to settle on one common tongue. But before Italian unification in 1861, Italy consisted of several independent states. Nowadays, regional languages coexist with standard Italian in most cities in Italy. An estimated 60 percent of the population claims proficiency in their local language. However, over 30 of these are in the endangered languages category. UNESCO handles these categories.

5. Italian regional languages are dramatically different from one another.

Even today, nothing can transport you to a specific region of Italy faster than its regional language. Several of them are very different from each other. So different that they are not mutually intelligible. The Tuscan variety served as the base for the Italian standard. Interestingly, the diverse languages in Italy were all developed independently from Latin. The variants used in Naples and Venice and on the islands of Sicily and Sardinia are unique Romance languages. They differ remarkably from standard Italian in sound, syntax, and vocabulary. And linguists give them this recognition.

6. The most widely spoken regional language in Italy is Neapolitan.

Naples is a distinctive region in Italy. And, not surprisingly, they also can boast about having the most widely spoken regional language. As we mentioned in the previous point, the Naples variant is considered a unique language. And the number of speakers is over five million.

7. The least widely spoken regional language in Italy is Croato.

There is an ethnic minority in Molise (Southern Italy) of around 1,000 persons. They came from a region corresponding to present-day Croatia. Croato is their secret way of communicating with each other.

Letters/words/syllables 

8. The Italian alphabet has only 21 letters.

When looking through the Italian alphabet, it will look familiar. It uses the same Roman letters as the English writing system. But you will soon go back and double-check. Yes, some characters are missing. There are five letters less which generates a total of just 21 characters. The missing ones are j, k, w, x, and y. These letters do make an occasional visit to Italian through the use of loanwords. Examples of these words are “jeans” or “weekend.” These letters can also appear in proper names of people or places. 

Also, the letters have a different modulation compared to English. For example, the letter “g” has four different pronunciations. The pronunciation depends on what characters follow. We realize it could be a bit confusing. So, to aid with this, there is an accent system in place. Its purpose is to indicate how vowel sound.

9. The longest Italian word is 30 letters long.

People reading this post consider this fact the funniest of all. Germans are renowned for their love of long terms and phrases. But they are not the only ones who like to push the envelope. The longest word in the Italian language is generally said to be “precipitevolissimevolmente.” It means “very quickly.” But it only has 26 letters. The 29-letter medical term “esofagodermatodigiunoplastica” that refers to a type of plastic surgery almost took first place. But it did not. Currently, “psiconeuroendocrinoimmunologia” is the Italian longest word, clocking in at 30 letters and 13 syllables. The term has an acronym, PNEI. And it refers to the study of nervous, immune, and endocrine system functions.

10. Two words have eight consecutive vowels in them.

Ghiaiaiuolo refers to someone who sells or produces gravel. Do you want another one? Cuoiaiuolo refers to someone who sells or fabricates leather goods. It seems like a vowel party in each word.

11. A few words contain four consecutive consonants.

Some of them are “substrato” (substrate), “sanscrito” (Sanskrit), “inscritto” (inscribed), and “instradare” (to direct).

12. Italian loves double consonants, but double “q” is rare.

One of the few words with this feature is “soqquadro.” Its translation is “disarray” or “shambles.”

13. When we say Italian loves double consonants, we mean it.

Some words have as many as four pairs of consonants. The conjugated forms of “appallottolare” (to roll up into a ball) and “disseppellire” (to dig up) serve as proofs.

14. The highest number of occurrences of a single letter in a single Italian word is eight.

Both “indivisibilissimi” and “indistinguibilissimi” boast eight-letter “i”s. The first is the plural forms of “very indivisible.” And the latter means “very indistinguishable.”

15. In Italian, no words rhyme with “fegato” (liver) or “despota” (despot).

Poets will like this fact. Or should I say, dislike it? The suffix “egato” is frequent in Italian. But, in the word liver, the stress falls on the first syllable. So, it will not rhyme in any context. The same goes for a despot person. No matter where you place him, he does not rhyme. 

So, if you were planning on writing a poem about the last days of Joseph Stalin, it may not be a good idea. He was paranoid, and his health decayed rapidly. He had an enlarged liver, but he went after the doctors that told him to slow down. He died shortly after. And so should die your intentions of writing a poem about this despot and his liver problems.

Origin/standardized/official 

16. Italian became an official language in 1861.

In early 1861, the national parliament convened and proclaimed the unification of Italy. At that same time, a standard version of the Italian language emerged. There were many Latin dialects. But the Tuscan dialect had positioned itself at such a height that it became the national language.

17. Italian was scarcely known when Italy unified in 1861.

Less than 3–5% of the population living in the country spoke it. Can you imagine declaring the official language of a country one that almost nobody speaks? Most used their regional variants. New generations adapted, and currently, that figure is in the high 90s. Though, even today, around five percent are only proficient in their regional language.

18. Italian derives from 13th-century Tuscan (more specifically, Florentine).

A few centuries of disputes took place before settling to one language. Before deciding, linguists pondered several factors. 

Florence had economic and cultural prestige. That had an incidence in the decision. The works of three great writers (Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio) influenced the selection. And one keen linguist, Pietro Bembo, inclined the balance. Bembo created the first-ever grammatical manual of the Florentine language. Having the rules written down meant it was easier to adopt Florentine as the national tongue. The other languages had more native speakers but had way less literature.

19. Italian became standardized by Dante Alighieri.

Petrarch, and Boccaccio were great writers. But Dante excelled. His contribution to literature earned him the name of “Father of the Italian language.” Dante Alighieri single-handedly provided rules for written Italian. And his role in establishing the language made him the cultural hero of Italy. His feat consisted in not following what most poets and writers did during the late Middle Ages. He did not write his epic poem in Latin. Instead, he chose the Tuscan dialect. He left an indelible mark on the language. And position Tuscan as the forerunner of standard Italian.

20. The Accademia della Crusca protects the purity of the Italian language. 

It is a society of linguists. Where do you think they are based? Florence, of course.

21. Italian has some very close relatives.

A lot of Italian words are similar in other languages. Here are a few and their percentage of shared vocabulary with Italian:
French 89%
Catalan 88%
Sardinian 85%
Spanish 82%
Portuguese 82%
Romanian 77%

22. The first-ever Italian language text is over 1,000 years old.

The most commonly accepted as the first texts in the Italian language date back to 960–963 AD. These texts are known as the Placiti Cassinesi. They are four juridical documents that deal with a land ownership dispute. The controversy is between southern Italian monasteries (Benedictine monasteries) and a local landowner. The strife took place near Capua city (Campania). 

Not all accept these documents as the first texts in Italian. Besides the Placiti Cassinesi documents, the other contender is the Veronese Riddle. A monk scribbled on a piece of parchment, likening ox plowing fields to a pen on a page.

Most linguists agree that the Placiti Cassinesi win. The Veronese Riddle has too many features which are ambiguous or Latin.

23. Alessandro Manzoni’s “I Promessi Sposi” (The Betrothed) is the first novel written in Italian.

Jack, “I went through the Italian school system.”

Jill, “Did you? Did you like ‘I Promessi Sposi’?”

Jack, “Never heard of it. What is it?”

Jill, “Hmm, liar.”

In the Italian School System, you are not able to dodge this novel. Everybody had to at least bluffer through a few classes on the book. Most consider it a good read.

The book gives an insight into Italy under Spanish rule. The storyline deals with the lives of a peasant couple. Are you interested? The book is available in English translation too.

Manzoni agonized overwriting it. He spent four years on revisions and “purifications” of the language. He achieved the point he wanted by spending time in Florence.

The official language of classical music 

24. Italian is the Official language of classical music.

Do you play an instrument? People that are familiar with classical music know the direction this is heading. Have you heard the term “crescendo” (get louder)? And have you come across the term “staccato” (detached)? Expressions as: “forte”(loud) and “soprano” (the highest human vocal register) are popular. And the terms: “alto” (high) and “tempo” (the speed at which a piece of music plays) are also trendy. Yeah, you guessed it! These are all Italian words.

This phenomenon is due to Italian music notation becoming popular. It happened during the Renaissance and Baroque periods. At that time, many of the world-renowned composers were Italian. Thus, the Italian language became the standard for musicians around the globe.

Words from famous Italians 

25. The word Volt comes from an Italian Inventor.

Yes, we all know that Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb. But his invention would be nothing without Alessandro Volta of Italy. Volta was a physicist, chemist, and inventor. And in 1799, he created the “Voltaic pile” (first electrical battery). His last name is from where we get the word Volt. We use it today as the standard measuring unit of electricity (in both English and Italian).

26. The word America comes from an Italian explorer.

Amerigo Vespucci was an Italian merchant, explorer, and navigator from Florence. Between 1497 and 1504, Vespucci participated in at least two voyages. First on behalf of Spain and then for Portugal. But how did a whole continent come to have his name? When most thought differently, Vespucci arrived at a bold conclusion. He said he understood, back in 1501, that Brazil was part of a continent new to Europeans. He called it the New World. In 1507, the claim inspired cartographer Martin Waldseemüller. He recognized the accomplishments achieved by Vespucci. So, he applied the Latinized form “America” to a map showing the New World. Other cartographers followed his example. By 1532, the name America found itself permanently pinned to the newly discovered continent.

27. The word Columbus comes from an Italian explorer.

Did you know Columbus was Italian? Christopher Columbus was an explorer and navigator. Back then, crossing the Atlantic Ocean was thought to be impossible. However, he did the impossible four times. His expeditions were the first European contact with the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. His feat opened extensive European exploration and colonization of the Americas.

But was Columbus Italian? Did you know there is controversy about this topic? You may find this documentary interesting. Researchers assure Christopher Columbus was not born in Genova, Italy but Portugal. According to this source, he worked as a spy for the King of Portugal in Spanish courts. It sounds stretching, but the researchers do mention some interesting points.

Wrapping Up

So, we have reached the end of our 27 amusing facts about the Italian language. It could be 26 if someday proof reveals Columbus was not Italian. What do you think?

I hope you enjoyed this article so much as we enjoyed preparing it. Do you have some additional facts? Please, help me add three (or four) more, so we get up to 30 together. The comment box is all yours.

Do you want to become proficient in Italian? Check out this course.


18 Comments

terryiching · November 8, 2021 at 12:52 AM

I liked this article. It was fun to read.

I have friends living in Argentina. So, you would imagine they speak Spanish. And they do. But since Italian is the second most spoken language there, they also learned Italian.

I grew up in an Italian neighborhood. But didn’t catch up with the language.

    Jonathan Henry · November 8, 2021 at 5:45 AM

    I am glad you enjoyed reading this post.

    Yes, Argentina is the 2nd country in the World with most Italians!

leonilo · November 8, 2021 at 2:16 AM

Great post! It’s the first time I discover that there can be 30-letter long words.

I have always been impressed with famous Italians around the World. You mentioned Amerigo, Michelangelo, Dante Alighieri, Alessandro Volta, and legendary Christopher Columbus. I hope we soon know if he was Spanish, Portuguese, or a genuine Italian.

But I would like to mention Galileo Galilei. In my book, he was not only an outstanding Italian but even one of the greatest European scholars of physics, mathematics, astronomy, and geometry.

    Jonathan Henry · November 8, 2021 at 6:07 AM

    Hi! Thank you for mentioning Galileo Galilei. He indeed is an outstanding Italian. The global navigation satellite system (GNSS) created by the European Space Agency (ESA) was named Galileo. It went live in 2016. And it keeps growing today. I mention this because it proves Galileo’s legacy continues to live up to this day.

    We’re all more familiar with the US positioning system called GPS.

cathy · November 12, 2021 at 9:00 PM

I knew some of these, but most of them were new to me. Growing up, the only foreign language I entered into contact with was Spanish. But after four years of Spanish in high school, I can’t do much more than order at a Mexican food restaurant. However, learning Italian is easier when we know some Spanish. And even among the facts mentioned here, there are connections with the other Romance languages. I am thinking of the vocabulary they have in common and the Columbus case. He was Italian, worked for the Spanish monarchs, and now there is research that he might be Portuguese. But in any case, this shows there was a lot of interaction between the countries that speak Romance languages.

    Jonathan Henry · November 12, 2021 at 9:56 PM

    Hi Cathy,

    Spanish and Italian are close kin. And it helps a lot to know one of them when learning the other.

    Thanks for noticing the points in common between Romance languages, even among these facts about the Italian language.

Bushra · November 12, 2021 at 9:01 PM

It’s nice to learn about the history of a language when we’re learning the language. The process gives us clues into the origins of words and grammar. And it also makes us feel the necessary connection to the culture that speaks the language.

It was an entertaining read. Thanks for sharing.

    Jonathan Henry · November 12, 2021 at 10:04 PM

    Hi! I am glad you found the article entertaining. And you’re right. Learning about the language encourages us to learn the language.

Utuku · November 12, 2021 at 9:20 PM

When I think of Italians, Mario Puzzo’s novel, The God Father, comes to mind. Beyond the theme of the movie, Italian family values occupy a prominent place in this literary work. And because family is a universal topic, we connect to it immediately, wherever we are in the world.

I didn’t know that America was the name of an Italian. There are so many words that we hear daily and have no idea about their origin.

    Jonathan Henry · November 12, 2021 at 10:43 PM

    Hi! There are so many words that have a surprising background. And Amerigo Vespucci’s reasoning about the New World earned him the honor of having the New World called after him.

    And discussing Italian family life would be a whole topic in itself. Boiling it down to two words would be loyalty and closeness. Italians tend to remain as a close unit through several generations.

Nettie · November 14, 2021 at 5:50 AM

Hello,

In high school, the only foreign languages we learned were Spanish and French. I took three years of French and loved it.
I was excited when I read French and Italian share 89% of their vocabulary. Maybe there is hope for me learning Italian!
I had also heard about these regional dialects. But I agree that we should call them languages, instead.

Nettie

    Jonathan Henry · November 14, 2021 at 5:47 PM

    Hi, Nettie. Yes, having French in your background will help you learn Italian. I wish you all the best on your language-learning journey.

Justin · November 16, 2021 at 9:06 PM

I love classical and opera music. And Italian interwoven in these genres makes the language fascinating. The Italian people are also so happy and outspoken. They are in such contrast with people of other parts of Europe. We can’t think of a language without considering the people that bring it to life.

    Jonathan Henry · November 17, 2021 at 2:16 AM

    Hi! You’re right. The language and the people are closely related. So, I should have come up with a fact or two about the Italian culture. If anybody would like to leave a fact like this, use this thread.

Mark · November 20, 2021 at 12:56 AM

Hi! An Italian girl works for me. And the food she prepares is absolutely amazing!! Her spaghetti alla carbonara and risotto alla Milanese are such a rich array of flavors. And even just eating Focaccia bread is a wonderful experience. Because of the food, my interest in Italian culture has grown.

    Jonathan Henry · November 20, 2021 at 2:12 AM

    It’s impossible to read and not feel hungry. Yes, Italian food is full of rich flavorful dishes. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

Johnny · November 25, 2021 at 8:57 PM

Excellent article regarding Italian costumes! I adore Italy and do have Italian ancestors. Unfortunately, I am not able to speak Italian yet. But as a Spanish Speaker, learning Italian is one of my projects.

What you mention about garlic butter is real, haha. It makes me remember my grandmother!!!

I didn’t know that Neapolitan was the most spoken regional language.

Thanks for the info!

    Jonathan Henry · November 25, 2021 at 9:31 PM

    Thank you for your compliment. I am glad you enjoyed it, and it brought family memories to you. Naples is a fascinating city. And knowing about their regional language is a fun fact.

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