By Hilary Picken | February 26, 2019 | Languages
The Italian language spoken today derives mainly from “vulgar” Latin, which rather unflatteringly is the name given to the Latin spoken by the average citizen of ancient Rome.
Around 600 AD, the unifying influence of the Roman Empire diminished and the Italian peninsula dissolved into a melange of politically-diverse city states. Until after the Renaissance, Venice, Milan, Florence, Naples and so forth had independent armies, rulers and international trading relations.
They also squabbled among themselves. Regular in-fighting was commonplace and the movement of populations limited. Consequently, for nearly 1,000 years, the Italian spoken among these city states existed as a congregation of distinct regional dialects. Only 3% of Italians spoke standard Italian.
And so it stayed until 1861, when the political fragmentation of the Italian peninsula was replaced by the first unified country of Italy. Even so, it took a further 100 years for standard Italian to become the national language. It was really only after WW2 and the arrival of national radio, television and a school curriculum that standard Italian became the norm.
Today, standard Italian is spoken by virtually all of Italy’s residents. It is the fourth most widely-spoken language in the EU, with 69 million native speakers (13% of the EU population) and is spoken as a second language by 16 million EU citizens (3%).
Italian speakers around the world number 90 million and it is one of the most studied foreign languages in the world.
Translating into Italian
Businesses and organisations wanting a meaningful and contextually appropriate voice in Italian markets should engage professional translation support to carry their message to their audiences. Here’s a few reasons why.
1. Italian formality
“Tu” and “Lei” are more or less the same as “tu” and “vous” in French. Generally, “tu” is for young people or people you know well and “Lei” is for older people or when you want to show a greater level of respect. You should however always check to make sure you’re choosing the right one for your target audience. Beware, though: in some contexts, tu would be used in Italian when vous might be used in French.
2. Look who’s talking
Italian often omits the personal pronouns in sentences (I, you, he, she, we, etc.), e.g. “vado spesso al cinema” (I often go to the cinema) rather than “io vado spesso al cinema” (including the Italian equivalent of “I”).
3. One size doesn’t fit all
Translation can affect the sentence length. English, for example, is generally a succinct language whereas Italian translations can be up to 20% longer.
This is an important consideration for any translation that will be placed in a limited space. Examples include PowerPoint presentations, titles on websites or forms. Tightly packed text, whether on a single page or in graphics, is unlikely to be easily translated. When formatting your text, leave some space when you’re creating your document to avoid having to reformat later.
4. False friends
The verb “annoiare” looks like annoy but actually means bore. Similarly, the verb “morbido” looks like morbid but means soft and “attualmente” may remind you of actually but means currently. Other false friends can be avoided by choosing a professional translator to ensure your meaning is translated accurately.
5. It’s not what you say, it’s the way that you say it.
It’s often said that communication is 20% verbal language and 80% body language. Italians are famous for their use of hand gestures in communication. They aren’t something you will see on paper but might explain why they need more words to explain themselves!
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