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Marco: All About Italian Lesson 2 - Learn the Italian writing system
Marco: Welcome back to this All About series. Let's continue our trip through Italian culture. In this lesson, we're going to talk about a very important aspect of the language…
Laura: The Italian writing system! "Ciao a tutti, bentornati." Laura here!
Marco: "Ciao" Laura. So what type of alphabet do Italians use?
Laura: Italian is written using the Latin alphabet of the Roman Empire plus some acute and grave accents.
Marco: The grave accent is used for all the vowels.
Laura: And these vowels are…
Marco: "-a," "-e," "-i," "-o," and "-u."
Laura: Yep. These stressed vowels are always positioned at the end of the word to distinguish them from those words that don't have any accent mark because they are automatically stressed in the penultimate syllable.
Marco: The acute accent only goes with the letter "-e," which can have both acute and grave accents.
Laura: For example, in "perché," there is the acute accent, but in "caffè," there is the grave one.
Origin of the Italian Writing System
Laura: Next, let's go back to the origins of written Italian.
(sound effect of Roman Empire)
Marco: Laura, what are the origins of the Italian writing system?
Laura: Well, written Italian first appears in some documents dating back to the tenth century. As we mentioned during the previous lesson, the language spoken by Romans was the Vulgar Latin that differs from the Literary Latin, the language of upper classes and scholars.
Marco: This is the reason why the first documents that have been found are lawsuits, regulations, and poems. Tupper-class .
Laura: In what now is called Europe, there were many different dialects, and the written language was the only comprehensible one in all the vast Empire.
Marco: These dialects eventually changed into what now are called the New Latin or romance languages, right?
Laura: Yes. Furthermore, with the elapsing of centuries, the Italian territory has seen many dialects that were influenced by the domination of each area.
Marco: But it was during the early Middle Ages that some writers tried to unify the language by popularizing their local dialects.
Laura: Such writers as Dante Alighieri, Petrarca, and Boccaccio proposed the "Tuscan of Florence," "la lingua fiorentina," as a standard literary language.
Marco: All big names, aren't they?
Laura: Exactly. They've been so important for the Italian language and literature that year after year, Italians study them in schools.
Marco: The first grammar of Italian was titled "Regule lingue Florentine," which means the "Rules of the Florentine language," written by Leon Battista Alberti in the fourteenth century.
Laura: The old Tuscan dialect slowly became what now is the standard Italian, even if every region maintains its own dialect only in spoken form.
Italian Alphabet
Marco: Laura, we saw the accents in Italian. Now let's see the letters!
Laura: Okay, Italian is written using the Latin alphabet, and it is composed of twenty-one letters.
Marco: In ancient times, the letters had just one basic form, which was similar to our uppercase or lowercase, depending on our styles of writing.
Laura: During the Middle Ages, people began to alternate two different styles while writing, "maiuscolo" and "minuscolo." At that time, the uppercase letters were used for the initial letters in the titles of certain words and the lowercase letters were used for the rest of the text.
Marco: I see. So it's only eventually that "maiuscolo" and "minuscolo" started to be used together in a text as it happens in modern Italian.
Laura: At this point, I think we can say the letters of Italian alphabet and the way they're pronounced. "L'alfabeto italiano!"
Marco: Good idea! Let's start, "-A."
Laura: "-A," [-a].
Marco: "-B."
Laura: "-B," [-bi].
Marco: "-C."
Laura: "-C," [ci].
Marco: "-D."
Laura: "-D," [di].
Marco: "-E."
Laura: "-E," [e].
Marco: "- F."
Laura: "-F," [effe].
Marco: "-H."
Laura: "-H," [acca].
Marco: "-I."
Laura: "-I," [i].
Marco: "-L."
Laura: "-L," [elle].
Marco: "-M."
Laura: "-M," [emme].
Marco: "-N."
Laura: "-N," [enne].
Marco: "-O."
Laura: "-O," [o].
Marco: "-P."
Laura: "-P," [pi].
Marco: "-Q."
Laura: "-Q," [cu].
Marco: "-R."
Laura: "-R," [erre].
Marco: "-S."
Laura: "-S," [esse].
Marco: "-T."
Laura: "-T," [ti].
Marco: "-U."
Laura: "-U," [u].
Marco: "-V."
Laura: "-V," [vu].
Marco: "-Z."
Laura: "-Z," [zeta].
Marco: I know that besides these, there are other five letters that are only used for loan and foreign words…
Laura: Yes, and these are "-J," "-j," [i lunga] or [jei].
Marco: "-K."
Laura: "-K," [cappa].
Marco: "-W."
Laura: "-W," [doppia vu].
Marco: "-X."
Laura: "-X," [ics].
Marco: "-Y."
Laura: "-Y," [i greca] or [ipsilon].
Marco: Please note that the letter "-H" is used just in written Italian. It is never pronounced in the spoken language…
Laura: Because this sound does not exist in Italian! For example, we say "otel" instead of "hotel," even though it is written with an "-H."
Marco: The nice part is that basically Italian is pronounced as it is written. All letters are clearly pronounced, and always in the same way. Even in stressed syllables, vowels are always short.
Cultural Note
Marco: Italy is a young country, by the way!
Laura: Considering that the unification of Italy is dated in 1861, I think that is good to remind everyone of a phrase that the politician Massimo D'Azeglio said during those years.
Marco: Oh, that sounds interesting! Why don't you say it in Italian first?
Laura: Okay, "fatta l'Italia ora bisogna fare gli italiani."
Marco: Literally, "Italy is done; now we have to make Italians."
Laura: Every Italian learned this famous phrase that perfectly expresses the feeling of that moment.
Marco: That's a good point. What makes people feel they are of the same nationality?
Laura: First of all, the language.
Marco: In those years, the written national language helped Italian people build a unique way of being Italian, by trying to impose the standard Italian on the dialects.
Laura: Just think that it is only during the twentieth century, thanks to the influence of television and mass media, that the Italian language found its conformity not only in the written form but also in the spoken language.
Marco: Also, today dialects in Italy are used throughout Italy.
Laura: I think this is due to the importance that Italian people give to their origins…
Marco: But still, it only concerns the spoken language. The written language still conforms to the standard Italian.
Laura: Before we go, we want to tell you about a way to improve your pronunciation drastically.
Marco: The voice-recording tool!
Laura: Yes, the voice-recording tool...
Marco: Record your voice with a click of a button,
Laura: ...and then play it back just as easily.
Marco: So you record your voice and then listen to it.
Laura: Compare it to the native speakers...
Marco: ...and adjust your pronunciation!
Laura: This will help you improve your pronunciation quickly!