For Love of Language: Evolution of Italian and the Abruzzo Dialect

A look at the history and evolution of the Italian language, the Abruzzo region and dialect and how years of invasion and occupation created individual city-states and regional dialects that influenced the language.

During the 8th century BC, the Etruscans lived in Northern Italy and spoke a non-Indo European language; however, the influence of their Greek neighbors in Southern Italy, the Latins in the region surrounding Rome and the Umbrian and Oscan regions (they spoke an Indo-European Italic language) had the greatest contribution in the development of modern Italian.

Italy in 8th Century BC Map

Italy in 8th Century BC

During the conquest of the Roman Empire, Latin spread across Italy and the surrounding areas, and—after the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD—the influence that the Greeks left in Sicily helped create the beginning of a standard Italian language known as Sicilian Koine (similar to Alexandrian, Hellenistic, Common, or New Testament Greek).

The Sicilian language that developed was a combination of Koine Greek with words adapted from French, Latin and Apulian. Because language was typically used for conversation, there were different dialects in different regions of Italy; however, written works were only published in Latin or Greek.

During the early 1300s, Dante Alighieri wrote his poem The Divine Comedy in his regional Tuscan dialect, which was derived from the Sicilian language. This poem helped establish the Tuscan dialect as an accepted standard for the Italian language due to its influence and publication as a written work.

As time progressed, the Old Tuscan dialect was updated with additional vocabulary from several other prominent dialects in order to create the modern Italian language today. Like all other dialects in Italy, Abruzzo has a distinct linguistic difference from standard Italian influenced by the history, culture and geography of the Abruzzo region; however, the modernization of society has now rendered this once prevalent dialect all but obsolete.

The Abruzzo Region in Italy

The Abruzzo region is located along the Adriatic coast and consists of four provinces: L’Aquila, Teramo, Chieti and Pescara.

Abruzzo Region of Italy

Abruzzo Region of Italy

During the pre-Roman era, the inhabitants of the region spoke an Indo-European language similar to Latin. When the Roman Empire began its expansion, the Abruzzo region (divided into the Marsi, Piceni, Peligni, Sabini, Verstini, Marrucini and Sanniti provinces at the time) fought against the Romans who sought to conquer them. However, after many years of war, the Romans conquered the Abruzzo region, which created a strong resentment against them.

When the Romans denied their new subjects the right to vote, the provinces united to fight the Romans. As a result, in 90 BC, the provinces rebelled against Rome in the Social War, where they won several battles against the Roman army and were poised to take the city. However, Rome made a political concession granting Roman citizenship to all Italians, which effectively ended the rebellion. The region existed until the first half of the 12th century when Friedrich II defined its boundaries and called the region Abruzzo.

Within the L’Aquila province of the Abruzzo region, my grandparents Anthony and Rachel Di Giuseppe lived in the town Caporciano located 90 miles East of Rome.

Caporciano Town Photo

Caporciano Town – Abruzzo Region

Although they both speak the native Abruzzese dialect that they learned before immigrating to America in the 1930s, it is typically used for communicating between others in the Abruzzo region. For example, the 1834 birth certificate of Vincenzo Di Guiseppe (my great-great-grandfather) is not written in the Abruzzese dialect but rather in the standard Tuscan dialect.

Vincenzo Di Giuseppe Birth Certificate

Vincenzo Di Giuseppe Birth Certificate (1834)

Government documents did not vary by region but instead used the accepted standard language. Because the Abruzzese dialect is so similar to standard Italian, as many of the differences are in vocabulary and pronunciation, it is important to understand the basics of the standard Tuscan dialect before delving into the minor differences of Abruzzese.

Standard Italian and the Abruzzese Dialect

Beginning with phonology and writing, standard Italian uses the Latin alphabet; however, the letters J, K, W, X and Y are not part of the Italian alphabet except for adopted words like jeans, taxi and whiskey. Italian uses the acute accent (e.g., perché, why/because) to indicate a front mid-close vowel and the grave accent (e.g, tè, tea) to indicate a front mid-open vowel and to mark stress at the end of the word for the letters A, I, O U. Words are also usually stressed on the penultimate syllable as in “amico” or “foglia.”

Diphthongs occur in Italian when an unstressed “i” or “u” combines with another vowel (a, e, o) or when the two vowels combine with each other as in “buono” or “ieri.” Italian also has tripthongs, which typically occur when a diphthong combines with an unstressed “i” as in “buoi” or “pigliai.” Italian utilizes double consonants in order to show prolonged sound (letters f, l, m, n, r, s and v) and to show a stronger stop (letters b, c, d, g, p and t).

While the Abruzzese dialect is similar in the writing and phonology of standard Italian, the biggest difference is the pronunciation and written removal of vowel endings. In standard Italian, the sentence “This house is very large” translates into “Questa casa e tanto grande,” while the Abruzzese dialect says “Questa casa e tant grossa.” Not only do the Abruzzo not pronounce the “o” at the end of “tanto” they leave it out in the spelling as well. This difference makes a distinct variation between the Tuscan and Abruzzese dialect, which distinguishes the Abruzzo region.

Standard Italian vs. Abruzzese Dialect Example


Standard Italian

Questa casa e tanto grande. Tiene quattro camere, tre toilette, una cucina, e tre altre stanze. A dietro la casa ci e tanto terra per un giardino a tanti alberi. Ce tanto lavoro per mandenerla.

Abruzzese Dialect

Questa casa e tant grossa. Te quattro cambri, tre bacause, na cucina, e tre atre stanz. A rete la casa ci sta tante terre  per un giardin e tanti alberi.  Ci sta tant lavor per mandene in ordine.

English Version

This house is very large. It has four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a kitchen and three other rooms. In the back of the house, there is a lot of land for a garden and many fruit trees. There is much work to do to keep it in order.


The morphology of standard Italian begins with nouns, which usually end in –o,  –a, –tà and–e. Like other Romance languages, nouns are either masculine or feminine. The –o ending usually denotes masculine nouns, the –a and –tà endings usually indicate feminine nouns, while the –e ending can be used for both masculine and feminine nouns. Additionally, nouns that have the suffix –ista have one form for both genders (e.g., pianista, pianist).

In Italian, adjectives are similar to nouns as an –o ending shows the masculine form, an –a ending signifies a feminine form, while an –e ending is used for both genders. To make adjectives plural, the –o and –e endings are replaced with –i, and the –a ending is replaced with –e.

Italian verbs closely follow Latin structure and fall into three main categories: –are, –ere and –ire. All three verb forms have specific conjugations; however, each form also has irregular verbs that do not follow any rules. Italian contains four simple tenses: present, past, future and imperfect, while compound tenses are constructed with the auxiliary “to have” and the past participle. Some intransitive verbs and all reflexive verbs are conjugated in the compound tenses with “to be.” Italian also contains five verbal moods that include the indicative, subjunctive, imperative, infinitive and conditional forms.

Abruzzese differs from standard Italian as it has different variations of nouns, adjectives and verbs. While most are the same or similar, the conversational use of Abruzzese determines the differences. With nouns in standard Italian, the word bathroom translates as “toilette” whereas in Abruzzese, it translates as “bacause.” “Toilette” is a more modern word for bathroom while the rural Abruzzo natives use a traditional word like “bacause.”

With adjectives, the same idea applies, as the standard Italian translation of large is “grande” while the Abruzzese translation is “grossa.” While both words are very similar as “grande” means big/large and “grossa” means large/wide, the Abruzzo utilize that specific word because it has been passed down from generation to generation.

Verbs can differ based on the conversational habits of the dialect. When conjugating “it has,” standard Italian uses “tiene” while Abruzzese uses “te,” which is a shortened version adapted into writing based on the conversational use. While the morphology of standard Italian and Abruzzese are similar, the unique culture that shaped Abruzzese creates nuances that result in a pronounced distinction between the two dialects.

Italian syntax is similar to all Romance languages as it is structured subject, verb and object. Adjectives are generally placed after the noun; however, there are a small number of irregular adjectives that occur before the noun. Like the other Romance languages, adverbs normally follow the verb in Italian. The Abruzzese dialect generally follows the same syntactic structure as standard Italian since all Italian dialects are rooted in Latin and Greek.

Modern Italian and the Disappearance of Dialects

As with any dialect, it survived solely on generation after generation of Abruzzo people passing on their language. However, there was not a choice between learning standard Italian and Abruzzese since lack of education was the greatest factor in retaining the dialect. My grandfather said that “in the 1920s and 1930s a child was considered lucky if he made it to 2nd or 3rd grade.”

In a very poor, rural town, children were not educated; instead, they were used to help on the farm or for other family needs. As Italy modernized, the rate of education increased significantly, which in turn led to the disuse of the Abruzzese dialect. With many children receiving a more advanced education and attending university, standard Italian is now spreading to all sections of Italy. As Italy modernizes, it is unifying under one language; however, the distinct cultural dialects are fading as that occurs.

Italy is a nation that has endured countless wars and occupation, all of which have helped shape the culture and language today. The many different dialects are a testament to the unique influence of history in each region. While all dialects are similar to standard Italian, they all have differences in phonology, morphology and pronunciation that distinctly separate each region.

The Abruzzese dialect has particular differences in pronunciation by removing certain vowel endings, using different vocabulary and having certain Abruzzese-specific verb conjugations. With the modernization of Italy, educational influence on society has been an integral part in the loss of these regional dialects. As time moves on, the Abruzzese dialect becomes smaller and standard Italian becomes more widespread; however, the accent of the Abruzzo region is now the primary indicator of a person’s origin.



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For Love of Language: Evolution of Italian and the Abruzzo Dialect

A look at the history and evolution of the Italian language, the Abruzzo region and dialect and how years of invasion and occupation created individual city-states and regional dialects that influenced the language.

During the 8th century BC, the Etruscans lived in Northern Italy and spoke a non-Indo European language; however, the influence of their Greek neighbors in Southern Italy, the Latins in the region surrounding Rome and the Umbrian and Oscan regions (they spoke an Indo-European Italic language) had the greatest contribution in the development of modern Italian.

Italy in 8th Century BC Map

Italy in 8th Century BC

During the conquest of the Roman Empire, Latin spread across Italy and the surrounding areas, and—after the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD—the influence that the Greeks left in Sicily helped create the beginning of a standard Italian language known as Sicilian Koine (similar to Alexandrian, Hellenistic, Common, or New Testament Greek).

The Sicilian language that developed was a combination of Koine Greek with words adapted from French, Latin and Apulian. Because language was typically used for conversation, there were different dialects in different regions of Italy; however, written works were only published in Latin or Greek.

During the early 1300s, Dante Alighieri wrote his poem The Divine Comedy in his regional Tuscan dialect, which was derived from the Sicilian language. This poem helped establish the Tuscan dialect as an accepted standard for the Italian language due to its influence and publication as a written work.

As time progressed, the Old Tuscan dialect was updated with additional vocabulary from several other prominent dialects in order to create the modern Italian language today. Like all other dialects in Italy, Abruzzo has a distinct linguistic difference from standard Italian influenced by the history, culture and geography of the Abruzzo region; however, the modernization of society has now rendered this once prevalent dialect all but obsolete.

The Abruzzo Region in Italy

The Abruzzo region is located along the Adriatic coast and consists of four provinces: L’Aquila, Teramo, Chieti and Pescara.

Abruzzo Region of Italy

Abruzzo Region of Italy

During the pre-Roman era, the inhabitants of the region spoke an Indo-European language similar to Latin. When the Roman Empire began its expansion, the Abruzzo region (divided into the Marsi, Piceni, Peligni, Sabini, Verstini, Marrucini and Sanniti provinces at the time) fought against the Romans who sought to conquer them. However, after many years of war, the Romans conquered the Abruzzo region, which created a strong resentment against them.

When the Romans denied their new subjects the right to vote, the provinces united to fight the Romans. As a result, in 90 BC, the provinces rebelled against Rome in the Social War, where they won several battles against the Roman army and were poised to take the city. However, Rome made a political concession granting Roman citizenship to all Italians, which effectively ended the rebellion. The region existed until the first half of the 12th century when Friedrich II defined its boundaries and called the region Abruzzo.

Within the L’Aquila province of the Abruzzo region, my grandparents Anthony and Rachel Di Giuseppe lived in the town Caporciano located 90 miles East of Rome.

Caporciano Town Photo

Caporciano Town – Abruzzo Region

Although they both speak the native Abruzzese dialect that they learned before immigrating to America in the 1930s, it is typically used for communicating between others in the Abruzzo region. For example, the 1834 birth certificate of Vincenzo Di Guiseppe (my great-great-grandfather) is not written in the Abruzzese dialect but rather in the standard Tuscan dialect.

Vincenzo Di Giuseppe Birth Certificate

Vincenzo Di Giuseppe Birth Certificate (1834)

Government documents did not vary by region but instead used the accepted standard language. Because the Abruzzese dialect is so similar to standard Italian, as many of the differences are in vocabulary and pronunciation, it is important to understand the basics of the standard Tuscan dialect before delving into the minor differences of Abruzzese.

Standard Italian and the Abruzzese Dialect

Beginning with phonology and writing, standard Italian uses the Latin alphabet; however, the letters J, K, W, X and Y are not part of the Italian alphabet except for adopted words like jeans, taxi and whiskey. Italian uses the acute accent (e.g., perché, why/because) to indicate a front mid-close vowel and the grave accent (e.g, tè, tea) to indicate a front mid-open vowel and to mark stress at the end of the word for the letters A, I, O U. Words are also usually stressed on the penultimate syllable as in “amico” or “foglia.”

Diphthongs occur in Italian when an unstressed “i” or “u” combines with another vowel (a, e, o) or when the two vowels combine with each other as in “buono” or “ieri.” Italian also has tripthongs, which typically occur when a diphthong combines with an unstressed “i” as in “buoi” or “pigliai.” Italian utilizes double consonants in order to show prolonged sound (letters f, l, m, n, r, s and v) and to show a stronger stop (letters b, c, d, g, p and t).

While the Abruzzese dialect is similar in the writing and phonology of standard Italian, the biggest difference is the pronunciation and written removal of vowel endings. In standard Italian, the sentence “This house is very large” translates into “Questa casa e tanto grande,” while the Abruzzese dialect says “Questa casa e tant grossa.” Not only do the Abruzzo not pronounce the “o” at the end of “tanto” they leave it out in the spelling as well. This difference makes a distinct variation between the Tuscan and Abruzzese dialect, which distinguishes the Abruzzo region.

Standard Italian vs. Abruzzese Dialect Example


Standard Italian

Questa casa e tanto grande. Tiene quattro camere, tre toilette, una cucina, e tre altre stanze. A dietro la casa ci e tanto terra per un giardino a tanti alberi. Ce tanto lavoro per mandenerla.

Abruzzese Dialect

Questa casa e tant grossa. Te quattro cambri, tre bacause, na cucina, e tre atre stanz. A rete la casa ci sta tante terre  per un giardin e tanti alberi.  Ci sta tant lavor per mandene in ordine.

English Version

This house is very large. It has four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a kitchen and three other rooms. In the back of the house, there is a lot of land for a garden and many fruit trees. There is much work to do to keep it in order.


The morphology of standard Italian begins with nouns, which usually end in –o,  –a, –tà and–e. Like other Romance languages, nouns are either masculine or feminine. The –o ending usually denotes masculine nouns, the –a and –tà endings usually indicate feminine nouns, while the –e ending can be used for both masculine and feminine nouns. Additionally, nouns that have the suffix –ista have one form for both genders (e.g., pianista, pianist).

In Italian, adjectives are similar to nouns as an –o ending shows the masculine form, an –a ending signifies a feminine form, while an –e ending is used for both genders. To make adjectives plural, the –o and –e endings are replaced with –i, and the –a ending is replaced with –e.

Italian verbs closely follow Latin structure and fall into three main categories: –are, –ere and –ire. All three verb forms have specific conjugations; however, each form also has irregular verbs that do not follow any rules. Italian contains four simple tenses: present, past, future and imperfect, while compound tenses are constructed with the auxiliary “to have” and the past participle. Some intransitive verbs and all reflexive verbs are conjugated in the compound tenses with “to be.” Italian also contains five verbal moods that include the indicative, subjunctive, imperative, infinitive and conditional forms.

Abruzzese differs from standard Italian as it has different variations of nouns, adjectives and verbs. While most are the same or similar, the conversational use of Abruzzese determines the differences. With nouns in standard Italian, the word bathroom translates as “toilette” whereas in Abruzzese, it translates as “bacause.” “Toilette” is a more modern word for bathroom while the rural Abruzzo natives use a traditional word like “bacause.”

With adjectives, the same idea applies, as the standard Italian translation of large is “grande” while the Abruzzese translation is “grossa.” While both words are very similar as “grande” means big/large and “grossa” means large/wide, the Abruzzo utilize that specific word because it has been passed down from generation to generation.

Verbs can differ based on the conversational habits of the dialect. When conjugating “it has,” standard Italian uses “tiene” while Abruzzese uses “te,” which is a shortened version adapted into writing based on the conversational use. While the morphology of standard Italian and Abruzzese are similar, the unique culture that shaped Abruzzese creates nuances that result in a pronounced distinction between the two dialects.

Italian syntax is similar to all Romance languages as it is structured subject, verb and object. Adjectives are generally placed after the noun; however, there are a small number of irregular adjectives that occur before the noun. Like the other Romance languages, adverbs normally follow the verb in Italian. The Abruzzese dialect generally follows the same syntactic structure as standard Italian since all Italian dialects are rooted in Latin and Greek.

Modern Italian and the Disappearance of Dialects

As with any dialect, it survived solely on generation after generation of Abruzzo people passing on their language. However, there was not a choice between learning standard Italian and Abruzzese since lack of education was the greatest factor in retaining the dialect. My grandfather said that “in the 1920s and 1930s a child was considered lucky if he made it to 2nd or 3rd grade.”

In a very poor, rural town, children were not educated; instead, they were used to help on the farm or for other family needs. As Italy modernized, the rate of education increased significantly, which in turn led to the disuse of the Abruzzese dialect. With many children receiving a more advanced education and attending university, standard Italian is now spreading to all sections of Italy. As Italy modernizes, it is unifying under one language; however, the distinct cultural dialects are fading as that occurs.

Italy is a nation that has endured countless wars and occupation, all of which have helped shape the culture and language today. The many different dialects are a testament to the unique influence of history in each region. While all dialects are similar to standard Italian, they all have differences in phonology, morphology and pronunciation that distinctly separate each region.

The Abruzzese dialect has particular differences in pronunciation by removing certain vowel endings, using different vocabulary and having certain Abruzzese-specific verb conjugations. With the modernization of Italy, educational influence on society has been an integral part in the loss of these regional dialects. As time moves on, the Abruzzese dialect becomes smaller and standard Italian becomes more widespread; however, the accent of the Abruzzo region is now the primary indicator of a person’s origin.



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