Skiing and soccer

Are there any differences between Swiss Italian and standard Italian?

Italian is one of the four languages spoken in Switzerland, alongside Swiss German, French, and Romansh. However, one might wonder about the differences between the Italian spoken in Switzerland and that spoken in Italy.

It is common for languages spoken across different countries and cultures to develop their 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.

Although there are numerous regional variations of standard Italian within Italy, Swiss Italian is the specific variety of the language spoken by approximately 700,000 people in Switzerland. Who speaks Swiss Italian? Swiss individuals from the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland, Italian immigrants, and Swiss citizens holding Italian citizenship.

Men playing soccer and man skiing

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.

In Swiss Italian, when somebody needs to present a driving license, it is called a licenza di condurre (borrowed from the French permis de conduire). However, a driving license in Italy 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 correspond to words with a Latin origin. However, Standard Italian usually goes full throttle with English loanwords.

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, “easy” is not easily translated between the two “languages.” In Swiss Italian, evidente means easy. In Standard Italian, the word is facile. To complicate matters, evidente in Standard Italian means obvious – as in French.

Tone differences between Swiss Italian and standard Italian

Swiss Italian and Standard Italian only have a subtle difference in speaking tone. Swiss Italian speakers talk a little slower and with more emphasis on clear pronunciation. Their Standard Italian counterparts 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.

Wrapping Up

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.

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6 Comments

  1. Terrific article. I wasn’t even aware that the Italian language was spoken in Switzerland, let alone that it is used by the Swiss people enough to conjure the question of whether their version had been altered from the original to the extent that native speakers would notice the difference.
    It makes sense just like the Okie English that I speak would certainly differ from the English spoken by anyone living in the United Kingdom.
    Can you tell me what percentage of the population those 700,000 Italian-speaking Swiss make up?

    1. Switzerland has a total population of 8,500,000. Thus, 8.2% of Swiss speak Italian as their first language.

  2. Switzerland and Italy are both interesting countries. And it’s interesting to see the mixture that results from their overlapping. I believe the Italian spoken in Ticino is just like the Italian spoken in some areas of northern Italy. And culture is very similar. The only difference I see is that people from Ticino tend to have a bit more money.

  3. Hi! Thank you for the interesting article! I shared with you in a private message a few points. Mainly, I find misleading some of the translations presented here. I hope you find my suggestions helpful! Other than the few observations, I enjoyed your post very much! 🙂

    1. Yes, very helpful indeed. Thank you for coming out of the way to address these issues. I already took note of your suggestions and adjusted accordingly. Thank you very much for your feedback.

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