Italian is one of the four languages spoken in Switzerland, alongside Swiss German, French, and Romansh. However, one may wonder how the Italian spoken in Switzerland differs from the one spoken in Italy.
It is inevitable for languages that are spoken across different countries and cultures to develop their own local expressions, new vocabulary, and sometimes even differences in grammar and pronunciation. Swiss Italian (predominantly used in the canton of Ticino and the southern part of Graubünden) is no exception.
While there are many regional variations of standard Italian in Italy itself, Swiss Italian is the variety of the language spoken natively by around 700,000 people across Switzerland, including Swiss people from the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, Italian immigrants, as well as Swiss citizens with Italian citizenship.
Differences between Swiss Italian and standard Italian
Many Swiss would argue that Swiss Italian and standard Italian are virtually identical. However, the Swiss have an accent similar to how people in nearby Lombardy (in Italy) speak. And they use, in some cases, specific words which are related to Swiss institutions or taken from other Swiss languages, thus not used in the Italian spoken in Italy.
Examples of differences between Swiss Italian and standard Italian
Loans from French
After a brief visit across the southern border, you will spot differences. When somebody needs to present a driving license, in Swiss Italian, it is called a licenza di condurre (borrowed from the French permis de conduire). However, in Italy, a driving license is known as a patente di guida.
Loans from German
When an Italian Swiss is in Italy looking for a good deal while shopping, he may ask the sales assistant for some azione (borrowed from the German Aktion). However, in Standard Italian, azione translates to action. In Italy, sales are referred to as promozione, while special offers are known as offerta speciale.
Fewer loans from English
Moreover, Swiss Italian has far fewer English words due to its use of French vocabulary. The calques (loan words) from the latter in Swiss Italian more often match words with a Latin origin than words in Standard Italian do.
The same word may have different meanings
Some Swiss Italian terms may prove confusing to their Italian neighbors. One of them, ghette, is familiar to both but carries a different meaning across the border. In Switzerland, ghette (in standard Italian calzamaglia) means tights, while the word translates to leggings in Italy.
The same word may even be offensive on one side of the border
Words that seem simple to one may cause confusion or even offense to the other. Take, for example, the Swiss Italian word for multiple plugs, ladro – which in Italian means thief, not the innocent household item intended. The Italian word for multiple plugs, ciabatta, means slipper in Swiss Italian, further complicating matters.
Meanwhile, the word cicca, which means chewing gum in Swiss Italian, means cigarette butt in Standard Italian. And to add even more confusion, in the canton of Ticino, cigarette butt is called mozzicone.
Even simple words can be a bit confusing!
Even words that seem straightforward can be a source of confusion. For example, the word “easy,” is not easily translated between the two “languages.” In Swiss Italian, evidente means easy. While in Standard Italian, the word facile. To complicate matters, evidente in Standard Italian means obvious – as it does in French.
Tone differences between Swiss Italian and standard Italian
Swiss Italian and Standard Italian only have a subtle difference in terms of speaking tone. Swiss Italian speakers speak a little slower and with more emphasis on clear pronunciation. Their Standard Italian counterparts, on the other hand, are more relaxed and incorporate many locally used words, resulting in a dialect unique to their region.
For those interested in hearing the differences for themselves, tuning into TG Svizzera and waiting for political news may provide the best opportunity. According to some, the distinction between Swiss Italian and Standard Italian is most noticeable when speakers of the former discuss controversial topics using very different political vocabulary.
So, the next time you visit Italy or Switzerland and want to avoid confusion, keep these linguistic differences in mind. And while you prepare for your trip, checking out an Italian podcast-style course may be the best! Click here to test it out for free for 7-days.