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Italian language and culture

Discover Italian culture to learn the Italian language

Interesting facts and useful expressions to improve your knowledge of the Italian culture and language.

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The Italian language is rich in history and culture. From its origins, through Italy's unification, to how it is today, with its many dialects. Beautiful!
The best 100 Italian quotes with English translation! The wisdom of Italy about life, family, friendship, death, travel, beauty, food, work, happiness and love.
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Interesting facts and figures about the Italian language and dialects in Italy. In 9 charts with data from an official report. Read before your next trip!
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The Italian language

Italian is a Romance language like Spanish, French, Catalan, and Portuguese. These Romance languages have a common ancestor: Vulgar Latin. This was the colloquial type of Latin spoken among ordinary people in the Roman Empire.

Of course, Italian didn’t become what it is today from one day to the other. Actually, Italian is the result of a linguistic process that took years, even centuries.

During the Middle age, there were many different regional dialects across what we call Italy today.

Around the 14th century, Tuscany was home to incredibly talented writers such as Dante, Petrarca, and Boccaccio who spread their local language – the Florentine dialect – with their literary works. This specific type of dialect stood out and became the basis for modern Italian.

Nowadays, Italian is the only official language in Italy. It has been so since 1861, the year of the unification of Italy, since the idea was to better create an Italian national identity.

There are still around 30 dialects in Italy so Italian is definitely not alone on the peninsula.

In this blog post, we’re mainly going to refer to Italy since it’s the country with the most Italian speakers.

However, it is important that you know that Italian is also one of the official languages in Switzerland and the Vatican City, and is also is widely spoken in Malta, Corsica, Albania, Luxemburg, Germany, and Belgium.

Italian dialects

Dialects of Italy

Italian is the politically dominant language in Italy, but it coexists with other local languages: dialects. Dialects are not varieties of Italian, as some people might think. In fact, they evolved in a separate and parallel way. They are otherwise called regional or minority languages.

This unique linguistic phenomenon makes Italy a very interesting, rich, and diverse country culture-wise.

In some cases, a speaker of one dialect could easily understand a speaker of another dialect. But if you take a speaker of a dialect from Southern Italy and one from Northern Italy, they probably won’t understand each other.

The main dialects are Napolitan, Sicilian, Venetian, Emilian, Ligurian, and Piedmontese. Depending on the region, some dialects might be spoken by all the generations or just by the elderly.

Some of them are widely spoken in big cities but others are mainly spoken in small towns and villages. In any case, if you speak Italian, people all over Italy will understand you and will reply to you in Italian.

The Italian culture

The Italian identity

Italy is a Mediterranean country and, thus, has a Mediterranean identity.

You will probably notice that Italians are, in general, similar to French people, Spaniards, and Greeks. This means that, even if they don’t speak the same language and come from different cultures, there is something that somehow makes them feel similar to each other.

There are some stereotypical characteristics that define the Mediterranean people. Usually, they are seen as sociable, cheerful, joyful, and with a strong sense of humor and a sense of collectivity. Of course, this doesn’t apply to all Italians.

We’re generalizing, and, as an Italian would say, “non è tutto rose e fiori” (literally, “it isn’t all roses and flowers”, as in “it isn’t all puppies and rainbows”). Italians are also seen as impulsive, loud, chaotic, and arrogant. Again, this is just a generalization. You will probably meet Italians who are exactly the opposite of what we’re saying.

Italian culture

The Italian lifestyle

As for the Italian lifestyle and culture, Italians love their food and families.  Most of their social life involves people sitting around a table, surrounded by their loved ones.

Italians love a good meal and this means bottles of wine and a lot of food: starters, pasta, a meat-based main course, cheese, and fruit. Italians also love aperitifs at the local piazza.

Also, Italy has four seasons and each season lasts an average of three months each. This might sound obvious, but there are some countries where a season might be relatively shorter or longer. Also, this fact really shapes the Italian lifestyle.

In summer, Italians love to go to the beach. Especially around ferragosto which is on the 15th of August and is a bank holiday. So, if you go to the beach then, expect to see literally thousands of people sunbathing.

Autumn is a strange season since it’s between summer and winter, but it’s also just before Christmas so it’s a mix of feelings. The days get shorter and the colors of the trees turn into darker colors.

Winter is cold. It might snow in some places and Italians love to go skiing and drink hot drinks. They also like to buy Christmas gifts, so this is the season of consumerism and, again, food.

Spring is a colorful and joyful season. It is just before summer and the end of school. Days get longer and people get together at parks and local squares.

The Italian language and culture

The Italian culture

We cannot talk about Italy without mentioning its relevance in the art world: visual arts, music, literature, architecture, and even fashion.

You might be familiar with the artworks of Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Raffaello, Botticelli, and Leonardo Da Vinci.

As for music, you probably heard the names of Vivaldi, Verdi, and Morricone. And here are more recent musicians: Bocelli, Pavarotti, De André, Rita Pavone, Mina, Celentano, and Loredana Berté.

Italy is an extremely rich country when it comes to literature. Here are some classics: Boccaccio, Manzoni, and Dante Alighieri. If you want to read more recent literature, there are also some great writers like Primo Levi, Pirandello, and Italo Calvino.

If you are new to all these names, now it’s the opportunity for you to check them out and get immersed in the Italian culture.

If you want to check the magnificence of Italian architecture and the beauty of Italian fashion, if you get the chance, go to Rome, Milan, Palermo, etc. and see it for yourself.

The Italian identity