In light of the recent ‘Dillo in Italiano’ petition, launched in Italy to encourage Italians to ‘speak more Italian’, we explore the origins of the Romance language.
Italian is a fascinating language that varies hugely depending on the area that you visit. The Tuscan dialect however, stands out amongst them all. During the Renaissance period it was this dialect that shaped the standard Italian that is spoken today. But how did the dialect come to be, and what are the key differences?
Birthplace of the Italian language
With the collapse of the Roman Empire, trade grew around the country’s most influential cities, and so did the languages. This was until Dante wrote the ‘Divine Comedy’ in the Florentine dialect (a sub dialect within Tuscany). What followed was unification, with press, politicians and the aristocrats adopting the dialect and popularising it in Italian regions.
Dante was not the only writer to raise the profile of the Tuscan dialect. Petrarca, Boccacio, and later, Machiavelli and Guicciardini, followed suit by writing in the dialect. Along with the rise of Florence’s economic power, and the dialect’s likeness to Latin, it was promoted to standard literary Italian.
In 1861, the Tuscan dialect gained the status of being the official language through Italy’s unification.
The Tuscan dialect as a whole has significant differences. There are also some subdialects within Tuscany, such as Florentine, Siennese and Pisan, that can be distinguished by slight differences.
The main feature that separates the standard Italian and Tuscan subdialect, Florentine, is the phonetic characteristics called “Gorgia Toscana” simply translated as the “Tuscan throat”.
Gelato, which means ice cream in Italian, is pronounced as [dʒeˈlaːto] (with a [dʒ] sound as in judge), however in Tuscany it is pronounced with a [ʒ] sound (as in vision), making it [ʒeˈlaːto]. ‘Ponte’, meaning bridge, is pronounced in standard Italian as [poːnte], and as [φoːnte] in Tuscan. The [φ] is an f-sound that is made only by using the lips. The main noticeable difference is the pronunciation of ‘c’ as ‘h’ sound. There is a well-known tongue-twister in Italy designed to spot a Florentine. Ask them to say “Coca Cola con la cannuccia corta”.
A Lesson in Lexicons
The main difference between the dialects can be seen in the different words, or lexicons, that Tuscans use compared to standard Italian. There are quite a few to choose from, so we picked out a few of our favourite and most useful when visiting Florence:
Cacio- Cheese, Diaccio- Cold, Abbollore- Very hot, Dàgnene- Giving something to someone, Topini- Gnocci
What do the experts say?
We asked Alex Preston, an award-winning author of the Florence-set novel In Love and War, about his experience of Florentine. He told us that he hears people saying “’gento’ rather than ‘cento’ for a hundred” and “’Va’ia’ all the time when I’m speaking Italian. It’s like a marker that you’re from Florence, a calling-card from the city.”
We also approached Florence for Free blog, Italy best travel blog in 2013, for their favourite ‘Florentine-isms’:
“One Florentine-ism we have adopted is ‘ganzo’, Florentine for ‘cool’. Although it comes with a warning: it can also mean mistress or lover, so calling someone ‘ganzo’ might even get him or her into a bit of trouble in the wrong context!”
Ondine Cohane, Tuscany and New York-based Contributing Editor at Conde Nast Traveler, also commented on the playful nature of the dialect saying that it is “hilarious how Tuscans can swear like few others, most involving some awful incarnation of Porca or Madonna. They make the craziest blasphemies!”
So when you’re visiting Florence or other Tuscan regions, don’t forget to use these tips or the cheat guide below so you can fit in with the locals!