About.com says that the Italian language is from the Romance group of the Italic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages. It is a direct offspring of latin. There are many differences from English (which also has its roots in Latin):
- Nouns are singular or plural just like in English but they also have gender (masculine or Feminine). This gender has nothing to do with a man or woman. It is a definition all nouns have. You must memorize it.
- Italian verbs indicate which person they represent (first, second or third, singular or plural – I, You, He; she; it, we, you, they). In English we need the pronouns to indicate what we are talking about but in Italian it is implied usually in the verb itself.
- English is not pronounced as it is written but Italian is always pronounced as written.
- Italian is a musical language (which is why most words and syllables end in a vowel. You can feel a rhythm as you speak it or listen to it. Just listen to Andrea Bocelli sing an Italian love song.
- Italy has many dialects that can sound like whole other languages. Italy was made up of a bunch of independent states that were unified. After the unification, Italian became the formal language of Italy.
- Word order is different between English and Italian. In English we say “I have a red house” but in Italian they say “Ho una casa rossa” – literally I have a house red.
- Some English and Italian words are very similar in look and meaning. Others are totally different. Take the Italian word “ape”. It looks like ape in english but it means bee (like bumble bee) in Italian.
- Italian has both formal and informal ways of saying things. Formal is for strangers, people in authority and older people. Informal is for children and friends. In english we say How are you. In Italian Come stai (literally how are you) is informal and would be an insult to a stranger. You would say Come sta (how are he). In the south they get even more formal and say Come state (literally how are you [plural]). It sounds strange in English but it is a basic practice in Italian. Ciao is informal for hello or goodbye but buon giorno and arrivederci are formal for hello and goodbye.
Try to learn some basic Italian when going to Italy. Even the basics will impress your Italian acquaintances. A great book that explains the Italian language is Rick Zullo’s Talk like an Italian. Jo Anne says the most important sentence to learn in Italian is “Quanto costano le scarpe?” or How much are the shoes?
George & Jo Anne