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Comprehensive Guide to Italian Dialects and Languages

Comprehensive Guide to Italian Dialects and Languages
Comprehensive Guide to Italian Dialects and Languages

Italy is a fascinating European country with rich history, passionate people, incredible food, and stunning art. It’s home to many fashion icons, artists, musicians, composers, world-famous people who have or are making a significant impact in their domain. While Italy is mesmerizing in everything we've mentioned above, languages of Italy are a fascination of their own.

This fourth-largest European country is known for having a variety of dialects used as official, but also a variety of dialects spread across the country. This means that if you speak any Italian, you may find it hard to understand people in Sicily, Naples, or Veneto region, depending on where you’ve initially learned it.

This article will be your guide to Italy and different dialects of Italian. Together, we’ll break down facts to learn everything you want to know.

Why Learn Italian?

Since you're reading this guide, it's clear you're either thinking about learning Italian or you've already started. Either way, we wanted to make a quick overview of the most amazing facts about Italy, giving you a reason for learning all tongues spoken there - including how to speak the official one.

Here are the most intriguing and thrilling facts about Italy that will motivate you to learn Italian and immerse in its culture.

Have you ever heard of the Roman Empire? It was one of the largest empires in human history, centered in Italy. Many people wonder did the Romans speak Italian. The answer is no. The official language was Latin, which profoundly influenced the rest of the Romance languages, including French and Spanish. So, one was derived from the other, and Romans would definitely understand some of today’s Italian.

Italy is where the Catholic Church was born. It’s home to some of the most important religious sites worldwide, including:

  • Vatican City
  • Sistine Chapel
  • Duomo di Milano
  • The Basilica di San Marco

Versace, Armani, Prada, Dolce&Gabbana- does it ring any bell? Italy is home to some of the biggest contemporary fashion icons and is called a country of fashion for a reason.

Have you seen or read Eat, Pray, Love? Well ‘’eat’’ part was situated in Italy, and that’s no coincidence. Italy has one of the most amazing cuisines globally, rich in flavor and enjoyable for all your senses. Pizza, pasta, gelato, cappuccino, and other specialties you love all originate from this country.

What is the Official Language of Italy?

The official language is Italian. It is spoken by the majority of the population in this country. Apart from Italy, it’s recognized as official in:

  • San Marino
  • Vatican City
  • Switzerland (one of the official languages)

Around 68 million people speak it as their native or first tongue, while millions of others speak it as a second or foreign language or are trying to learn it. The total estimate is that around 90 million people globally speak Italian to a certain proficient level.

This melodic and expressive language is also called singing, emphasizing vowels and the general sound it has to it.

The richness of vocabulary is another fascinating thing. It's no wonder many words are lent to English and other languages worldwide. We're sure you know some of them- spaghetti, espresso, lasagna, couture, aria, opera, etc. If that's all you speak, but you need some help with translation, check out the best Italian translation services. They’ve got you covered until you become more proficient.

Are there Other Official Languages in Italy?

When you’re searching online for ‘’Italy's official language’’, you may find many confusing answers and mixed information. We're here to make that right.

The only language recognized as official in Italy is Italian.

However, the country has many linguistic minorities spoken in certain regions that are recognized as co-official, having a certain degree of autonomy. Those are German, Slovene, Croatian, and French. Additionally, dialects are also in this group, but we’ll dedicate the next section entirely to those.

What Language Do Italians Speak

What languages do Italians speak? This may seem like a straightforward question with a simple answer. Italians speak Italian, right? Well, yes and no. There are two main groups of languages to be considered:

  • Italian dialects
  • distinct languages

While Italian is official, there are other recognized languages spoken in Italy. Some of them derive from the same basis but are different in vocabulary, grammar, or pronunciation. They’re called dialects. A person speaking one Italian dialect will usually understand other dialects, depending on the region they're coming from and going to.

On the other hand, there are Romance languages that aren’t considered official but are recognized by official institutions and spoken by people in different geographical regions. They derive from Latin, French, Spanish, Arabic, etc. Italians definitely should use transcription services reviews to find help understanding these.

To make sure you fully understand the varieties and differences between dialects and separate languages spoken in Italy, we’ve put together this comprehensive guide to cover it all.

Regional Languages Spoken in Italy

Let’s first look at separate regional languages that some often confuse with Italian dialects. They exist completely separate from the official one.

1. Sardinian

Sardinian or Sardu is considered a separate Romance language and the closest to Latin among all other actively used ones. It is spoken in Sardinia. Roughly 1.2 million people are using it today, but it’s not listed as the official language of Italy.

Its history is closely related to the Roman empire. The colonizers were settled in Sardinia at the time. It’s believed that Sardinian derived directly from Latin and that no others had any influence on it.

Even though a relatively small number of people speak it, Sardinian has several dialects of its own that differ heavily from one another. Those are:

  • Campidanese
  • Logudorese
  • Gallurese
  • Sassarese
  • Nuorese
  • Barbagianese

When characterizing Sardinian, it’s phonetic (pronounced as spelled), has no length differentiation for vowels, and often uses a somewhat odd sentence structure. Still, anyone who speaks Italian fairly well would be able to understand Sardinian.

The only confusing factor for those speaking official Italian may be words unique to that one originating from the island’s history, customs, beliefs, or geography. They are used for notions other people don’t have names or simply aren’t familiar with.

Unfortunately, Sardinian is considered an endangered language and is listed on UNESCO’s Atlas of World Languages in Danger. There are active attempts to save it, but many young Sardinians choose to speak official Italian rather than Sardu.


  • English: It’s raining.
  • Italian: Sta piovendo.
  • Sardinian: Dduvaduru.

2. Sicilian

Now that you think about what language is spoken in Italy, you can see that there’s a whole broader picture to consider. The Sicilian language is next on our list and is spoken primarily in Sicily.

When we think about Sicilian vs Italian, we can spot many differences but similarities as well. Sicilian was mainly influenced by Greek, Arabic, French, and Spanish. These influences shaped it to be more similar to Spanish in sound, melody, grammar, and vocabulary.

There are around 4 million people currently speaking Sicilian, so it is not considered endangered but rather ''vulnerable''. Interestingly, Sicilian is spoken outside Sicily, and Italy for that matter, in immigrant communities across USA, Canada, and Australia.

Here’s an example to show the difference between Italian and Sicilian:

  • English: It’s raining.
  • Italian: Sta piovendo.
  • Sicilian: S'iddruvi.

3. Neapolitan

Finally, we’ll cover Neapolitan language. It belongs to the Italo-Dalmatian group of Romance languages.

It is spoken mainly in southern Italy, in Campania. Typically, it’s used for numerous small communities, but it’s not recognized as official. Some linguists even debate whether it’s a language or if we should call it Neapolitan dialect.

UNESCO marked it as an endangered language.

If we look at history, it originated in the Kingdom of Naples, sharing many similarities with Spanish Castellan since they interacted in those days.

Even though it shares similarities to Italian, it can be hard to understand it. Some may even require a translator. If you need one, these best document translation services can help you find a professional.

Dialects of the Italian Language

Now, let’s move to different variations that are actually dialects spoken in different parts of Italy.

1. Tuscan

Tuscan dialect is spoken primarily in Tuscany, central Italy. It’s considered to be standard Italian today. It derives from Tuscan, used in Florence in the 14th century.

It is rather melodic and uses rolling ''r''. The dialect that sounds the most like singing. No wonder, renowned writers like Dante Alighieri and Petrarch have used it.

A sub-dialect of Tuscan is Florentine dialect, mostly used in Florence. Some linguists prefer calling it Florentine language, but it doesn’t have that status officially.


  • English: It’s raining.
  • Italian: Sta piovendo.
  • Venetian: Piove.

2. Venetian

Next among Italian dialects is Venetian, spoken in the Veneto region, including Venice. The main characteristics that make it so distinct are:
nasal sounds
specific intonation patterns
melodious sound

Interestingly, it was official for the Venetian Republic, together with Latin, for more than 1.000 years. Today, nearly 2 million people speak this dialect. Some linguists argue that it’s closer to French. Others believe that only French translation services can help speakers of these two languages understand each other.


  • English: It’s raining.
  • Italian: Sta piovendo.
  • Venetian: Sgała.

3. Romanesco

Finally, Romanesco dialect differs from the rest in its unstandardized spelling. Even though sentence structure is similar to standard Italian, numerous words are written and pronounced completely differently. It’s one of the most curious dialects on our list of different types of Italian.

This dialect is spoken in Lazio, which includes Rome. Throughout history, it developed as Rome developed and evolved. It was influenced by many surrounding dialects when the city was the trade and commerce center. Then, in the Renaissance, it developed quickly as the city became the center of art, music, and literature.


  • English: It’s raining.
  • Italian: Sta piovendo.
  • Romanesco: Sta' piovendo.

Final Thoughts

This journey through Italy's regional dialects has been a linguistic roller-coaster. This was just a basic review since there are many other variations to each of the languages we’ve mentioned, like different Sicilian dialects or other varieties.

Hopefully, our guide will strengthen your passion and fascination with Italy and inspire you to either learn their language, visit their country, or expand your knowledge further.