Italian language in the United States

The Italian language has been a widely spoken language in the United States of America for more than one hundred years, due to large-scale immigration beginning in the late 19th century. Today it is the eighth most spoken language in the country.

Italian speakers in the US
^a Foreign-born population only[7]


In Little Italy, Chicago, some Italian language signage is visible (e.g. Banca Italiana)

The first Italian Americans began to immigrate en masse began around 1880. The first Italian immigrants, mainly from Sicily and other parts of Southern Italy, were largely men, and many planned to return to Italy after making money in the US, so the speaker population of Italian was not always constant or continuous. Between 1890 and 1900, 655,888 Italians went to the United States, and more than 2 million between 1900 and 1910, though around 40% of these eventually returned to Italy. All told, between 1820 and 1978, some 5.3 million Italians went to the United States. Like many ethnic groups, such as the Germans in Little Germany, French Canadians in Little Canadas, and Chinese in Chinatowns, who emigrated to the Americas, the Italians often lived in ethnic enclaves, often known as Little Italies, especially in New York City, St. Louis, Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia, and continued to speak their original languages.

During World War II

Enemy's language
This poster discourages the use of Italian, German, and Japanese.

During World War Two, use of Italian languages in the U.S. was discouraged. In addition, many Italian Americans were interned,[8] property was confiscated,[8] and Italian-language periodicals were closed.

The language today

Italian USC2000 PHS
Current distribution of the Italian language in the United States.
Italian speakers by states in 2000[9]
State Italian speakers % of all Italian speakers
New York
New Jersey

Today, 15,638,348 American citizens report themselves as Italian Americans, and about 708,966 of these report speaking Italian at home according to the 2009-2013 American Community Survey.[10] Cities with Italian and Sicilian speaking communities include Buffalo, Chicago, Miami, New York City, Philadelphia, and St. Louis. Assimilation has played a large role in the decreasing number of Italian speakers today. Of those who speak Italian at home in the United States, 361,245 are over the age of 65, and only 68,030 are below the age of 17.

Despite it being the fifth most studied language in higher education (college & graduate) settings throughout America,[11] the Italian language has struggled to maintain being an AP course of study in high schools nationwide. AP Italian exams were not introduced until 2006, and they were dropped soon afterward, in 2009.[12] The organization which manages these exams, the College Board, ended the AP Italian program because it was "losing money" and had failed to add 5,000 new students each year. After the program's termination in the spring of 2009, various Italian organizations and activists organized to revive the course of study. Organizations such as the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) and Order Sons of Italy in America conducted fundraising campaigns, to aid in the monetary responsibility any new AP Italian program would bring with it. The AP Italian exam was then reintroduced, with the first new tests administered in 2012.[13]

Moreover, web-based Italian organizations, such as ItalianAware, have begun book donation campaigns to improve the status and representation of Italian language and Italian/ Italian American literature in New York Public Libraries. According to ItalianAware, the Brooklyn Public Library is the worst offender in New York City.[14] It has 11 books pertaining to the Italian language and immigrant experience available for checkout spread across 60 branches. That amounts to 1 book for every 6 branches in Brooklyn, which (according to ItalianAware) cannot supply the large Italian/Italian American community in Brooklyn, New York. ItalianAware aims to donate 100 various books on the Italian/ Italian American experience, written in Italian or English, to the Brooklyn Public Library by the end of 2010.

Forms of Italian

Early waves of Italian American immigrants typically did not speak the form of Italian which originated from the Tuscan language, or spoke it as a second language acquired in school. Instead they typically spoke other Italo-Romance languages, particularly from Southern Italy, such as Sicilian language and Neapolitan language. Both of these languages have wide variety of dialects within them, including Salentino, Calabrese, etc. Additionally many villages may have spoken other non Italo-Romance minority languages such as Griko or the Arbëresh language. Today, the Italian language, which is most similar to the Tuscan (although not the same), is widely taught in Italian schools. Although many other minority languages have official status in Italy neither Sicilian language nor Neapolitan language are recognised by the Italian Republic. Although Italy is a signatory to the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages it has not ratified the treaty. Thus limiting Italy's responsibility in the preservation of regional languages that it has not chosen to protect by domestic law.


Although the Italian language is much less used today than it has been previously, there are still several Italian-only media outlets, among which are the St. Louis newspaper Il Pensiero and the New Jersey daily paper America Oggi and ICN Radio.

Il Progresso Italo Americano was edited by Carlo Barsotti (1850–1927).[15]

Arba Sicula (Sicilian Dawn) is a semiannual publication of the society of the same name, dedicated to preserving the Sicilian language. The magazine and a periodic newsletter offer prose, poetry and comment in Sicilian, with adjacent English translations.

See also


  1. ^ "Mother Tongue By Nativity, Parentage, County of Origin, and Age, for States and Large Cities" (PDF). United States Census Bureau. Retrieved November 29, 2017.
  2. ^ "1970 Census, Tables 17-20 and Appendices" (PDF). United States Census Bureau. Retrieved December 26, 2017.
  3. ^ "Appendix Table 2. Languages Spoken at Home: 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2007". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved August 6, 2012.
  4. ^ "Detailed Language Spoken at Home and Ability to Speak English for Persons 5 Years and Over --50 Languages with Greatest Number of Speakers: United States 1990". United States Census Bureau. 1990. Retrieved July 22, 2012.
  5. ^ "Language Spoken at Home: 2000". United States Bureau of the Census. Retrieved August 8, 2012.
  6. ^ "Detailed Languages Spoken at Home 2006-2008". Missing or empty |url= (help)
  7. ^ "Mother Tongue of the Foreign-Born Population: 1910 to 1940, 1960, and 1970". United States Census Bureau. March 9, 1999. Retrieved August 6, 2012.
  8. ^ a b [1] Archived July 9, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ "Table 5.Detailed List of Languages Spoken at Home for the Population 5 Years and Over by State: 2000" (PDF). United States Census Bureau. February 25, 2003. Retrieved October 3, 2012.
  10. ^ "Detailed Languages Spoken at Home and Ability to Speak English for the Population 5 Years and Over for United States: 2009-2013". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 6 January 2018.
  11. ^ "Languages Spoken and Learned in the United States". Retrieved 2015-10-26.
  12. ^ Pilon, Mary (2010-05-10). "Italian Job: Resurrect the AP Exam". The Wall Street Journal.
  13. ^ Lewin, Tamar (10 November 2010). "Italian Studies Regains Spot on the List of AP Courses". New York Times. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  14. ^ "Literature Donations". Retrieved 2015-10-26.
  15. ^ "Verdi Monument - Historical Sign". Retrieved 2010-03-11.

Further reading

America Oggi

America Oggi, or America Today, is an Italian-language daily newspaper published in Norwood, New Jersey, for Italian immigrants in the United States. It was founded by journalists of the closed Il Progresso Italo-Americano.

Geographical distribution of Italian speakers

This article details the geographical distribution of speakers of the Italian language, regardless of the legislative status within the countries where it is spoken. In addition to the Italian-speaking area in Europe, Italian-speaking minorities are present in many countries.

Italian language

Italian (italiano [itaˈljaːno] (listen) or lingua italiana [ˈliŋɡwa itaˈljaːna]) is a Romance language of the Indo-European language family. Italian, together with Sardinian, is by most measures the closest language to Vulgar Latin of the Romance languages. Italian is an official language in Italy, Switzerland (where it is the first language in Canton Ticino and in the districts of Moesa and Bernina in Canton Graubünden), San Marino and Vatican City. It has an official minority status in western Istria (Croatia and Slovenia). It formerly had official status in Albania, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro (Kotor) and Greece (Ionian Islands and Dodecanese), and is generally understood in Corsica (also due to the similarities with the Corsican language) and Savoie. It also used to be an official language in the former Italian East Africa and Italian North Africa, where it plays a significant role in various sectors. Italian is also spoken by large expatriate communities in the Americas and Australia. Many speakers of Italian are native bilinguals of both Italian (either in its standard form or regional dialects) and other regional languages.Italian is a major European language, being one of the official languages of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and one of the working languages of the Council of Europe. It is the fourth most widely spoken first language in the European Union with 69 million native speakers (13% of the EU population) and it is spoken as a second language by 16 million EU citizens (3%). Including Italian speakers in non-EU European countries (such as Switzerland and Albania) and on other continents, the total number of speakers is around 90 million. Italian is the main working language of the Holy See, serving as the lingua franca (common language) in the Roman Catholic hierarchy as well as the official language of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. Italian is known as the language of music because of its use in musical terminology and opera. Its influence is also widespread in the arts and in the luxury goods market.

Italian was adopted by the state after the Unification of Italy, having previously been a literary language based on Tuscan as spoken mostly by the upper class of Florentine society. Its development was also influenced by other Italian languages and to some minor extent, by the Germanic languages of the post-Roman invaders. The incorporation into Italian of learned words from its own ancestor language, Latin, is another form of lexical borrowing through the influence of written language, scientific terminology and the liturgical language of the Church. Throughout the Middle Ages and into the early modern period, most literate Italians were also literate in Latin; and thus they easily adopted Latin words into their writing—and eventually speech—in Italian. Its vowels are the second-closest to Latin after Sardinian. As in most Romance languages, stress is distinctive but, unlike most other Romance languages, Italian retains Latin's contrast between short and long consonants. Almost all words and syllables finish with pure vowels, a factor that makes Italian words extremely easy to use in rhyming. Italian has a 7 vowel sound system ('e' and 'o' have mid-low and mid-high sounds); Classical Latin had 10, 5 with short and 5 with long sounds.

Italy–United States relations

Italy–United States relations are the bilateral relations between the Italian Republic and the United States of America.

The United States has warm and friendly relations with Italy. The United States has had diplomatic representation in the nation of Italy and its predecessor nation, the Kingdom of Italy, since 1840. However, in 1891 the Italian government severed diplomatic relations and briefly contemplated war against the US as a response to the unresolved case of the lynching of eleven Italians in New Orleans, Louisiana, and there was a break in relations from 1941 to 1943, while Italy and the United States were at war.

After World War II, Italy became a strong and active transatlantic partner which, along with the United States, has sought to foster democratic ideals and international cooperation in areas of strife and civil conflict. Toward this end, the Italian government has cooperated with the United States in the formulation of defense, security, and peacekeeping policies.

Under longstanding bilateral agreements flowing from NATO membership, Italy hosts important U.S. military forces at Vicenza and Livorno (army); Aviano (air force); and Sigonella, Gaeta, and Naples—home port for the U.S. Navy Sixth Fleet. The United States has about 11,500 military personnel stationed in Italy. Italy hosts the NATO Defense College in Rome.

Italy is a leading partner in counterterrorism efforts, being a founding member of both the EU and NATO, and the United States and Italy cooperate in the United Nations, in various regional organizations, and bilaterally for peace, prosperity, and security.

In addition to close governmental, economic and cultural ties, according to Pew Research global opinion polls, Italy is one of the most pro-American nations in the world, with 70% of Italians viewing the United States favorably in 2002, increasing to 78% in 2014. According to the 2012 U.S. Global Leadership Report, 51% of Italians approved of U.S. leadership under the Obama Administration, with 16% disapproving and 33% uncertain. On the other side, many Americans also hold a favorable view of Italy, with over 70–80% Americans viewing Italy as a favorite country.

Languages of the United States

The most commonly used language in the United States is English (specifically, American English), which is the de facto national language. Nonetheless, many other languages are also spoken, or historically have been spoken, in the United States. These include indigenous languages, languages brought to the country by colonists, enslaved people and immigrants from Europe, Africa and Asia. There are also several languages, including creoles and sign languages, that developed in the United States. Approximately 430 languages are spoken or signed by the population, of which 176 are indigenous to the area. Fifty-two languages formerly spoken in the country's territory are now extinct.Based on annual data from the American Community Survey (ACS), the U.S. Census Bureau regularly publishes information on the most common languages spoken at home. It also reports the English speaking ability of people who speak a language other than English at home. In 2015, the U.S. Census Bureau published information on the number of speakers of over 350 languages as surveyed by the ACS from 2009 to 2013, but it does not regularly tabulate and report data for that many languages.

According to the ACS in 2016, the most common languages spoken at home by people aged five years of age or older are as follows (the most recent data can be found via the U.S. Census Bureau's American Fact-finder):

English only – 229.7 million

Spanish – 40.5 million

Chinese (including Mandarin and Cantonese) – 3.4 million

Tagalog (including Filipino) – 1.7 million

Vietnamese – 1.5 million

Arabic – 1.2 million

French – 1.2 million

Korean – 1.1 million

Russian – 0.91 million

German – 0.91 million

Haitian Creole – 0.86 million

Hindi – 0.81 million

Portuguese – 0.77 million

Italian – 0.58 million

Polish – 0.54 million

Urdu – 0.47 million

Japanese – 0.46 million

Persian (including Farsi and Dari) – 0.44 million

Gujarati – 0.41 million

Telugu – 0.37 million

Bengali – 0.32 million

Tai–Kadai (including Thai and Lao) – 0.31 million

Greek – 0.29 million

Punjabi – 0.29 million

Tamil – 0.27 million

Armenian – 0.24 million

Serbo-Croatian (including Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin, and Serbian) – 0.24 million

Hebrew – 0.23 million

Hmong – 0.22 million

Bantu (including Swahili) – 0.22 million

Khmer – 0.20 million

Navajo – 0.16 millionThe ACS is not a full census but an annual sample-based survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. The language statistics are based on responses to a three-part question asked about all members of a target U.S. household who are at least five years old. The first part asks if they "speak a language other than English at home." If so, the head of household or main respondent is asked to report which language each member speaks in the home, and how well each individual speaks English. It does not ask how well individuals speak any other language of the household. Thus, some respondents might have only a limited speaking ability of that language. In addition, it is difficult to make historical comparisons of the numbers of speakers because language questions used by the U.S. Census changed numerous times before 1980.The ACS does not tabulate the number of people who report the use of American Sign Language at home, so such data must come from other sources. While modern estimates indicate that American Sign Language was signed by as many as 500,000 Americans in 1972 (the last official survey of sign language), estimates as recently as 2011 were closer to 100,000. Various cultural factors, such as passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, have resulted in far greater educational opportunities for hearing-impaired children, which could double or triple the number of current users of American Sign Language.

List of most commonly learned foreign languages in the United States

The tables below provide a list of foreign languages most frequently taught in American schools and colleges. They reflect the popularity of these languages in terms of the total number of enrolled students in the United States. (Here, a foreign language means any language other than English, and includes American Sign Language.)

Oral Indigenous
Manual Indigenous
Oral settler
Manual settler
Immigrant languages
(number of speakers
in 2010 in millions)
Italian language in the world
Italian languages & dialects
Pidgin & Mixed

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