If you are one of those people who absolutely need a cup of coffee to kick off the day, you are probably familiar with terms like macchiato, ristretto, mochaccino, caffè latte and cappuccino.
In my case, I always start the day with an Espresso in this tiny coffee bar around the corner from my office. It is run by an Italian. And yes, he only serves Italian coffee. Today, while sipping my brew, I couldn’t help thinking that these Italian words have spread across many countries. Even famous international coffee chains, such as Starbucks, use traditional Italian coffee names to popularise some of the most ostentatious coffee orders, like: “a venti, non-fat latte with no foam” or “extra foamy, sugar-free, free-fat milk, mochaccino with a straw”.
Although this is not a blog about coffee, we would like to delve a little into the beauty of the Italian language. If you are planning a trip to Italy, intend to learn the language, or simply want to read something interesting while nursing a cup of Italian coffee, then keep reading!
The basics of the Italian language
Italian is a very poetic, melodic language, and indeed one of the most beautiful of all the Indo-European languages. Violoncello, mozzarella, graffiti, solo; we all know the meanings of these words, and probably use them in our daily lives, as we speak our own languages. This is probably because Italian has a very simple sound system, with most words ending in a vowel, making it extremely pleasing to the ear.
The basic alphabet consists of just 21 letters: five vowels (A, E, I, O, U) and 16 consonants. The letters J, K, W, X and Y are not part of the Italian alphabet, and are only used for loanwords (such as ‘jeans’) and foreign names.
History of the Italian Language
Modern Italian, a direct descendant of “Vulgar Latin”, was standardized in the 14th century by Boccaccio, Dante and Petrarch. These great writers used to write mainly in the dialect of Florence, Tuscany, which went on to form the basis for the current Italian language (or “Italiano standard“). The latter only spread throughout the country after the unification of Italy, in the 1860s, and it wasn’t until the 1950s, with the advent of television and improved literacy, that standard Italian gradually became accepted as the national idiom. Another major event that influenced post WWII Italian was the fact of replacing French with English at school, leading to the everyday introduction of many English words.
Given the country’s fragmented history, both as a conglomeration of city-states and republics, and as a colony of France, Spain and the Austria-Hungary, Italy boasts a great number of extremely diverse regional dialects. Standard Italian, however, is considered the country’s administrative and literary language. It also is one of the official languages of Switzerland, San Marino, the Vatican and western Istria (Slovenia and Croatia).
Italian speakers around the world
If we consider Italian speakers around the globe, for example in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Corsica or the United States, the number of people who speak Italian rises from the country’s population of 58 million to around 65 million worldwide. If you compare this to other Romance languages, such as Spanish (470 million), Portuguese (220 million) and French (80 million), that’s really not much. Interestingly enough, however, Italian is the fourth most studied language in the world, after English, French and Spanish, in that order.
Italy’s unique body language
What would a conversation with Italians be like without body language? Italians are famous for their non-verbal communication. To learn a few, take a look and enjoy the following video from Babbel:
Do you speak Italian? Share your favourite regional Italian expression or term and where it come from in our comments section below!