You heard me. Italian is the best language. It sounds the best, it's the most fun, and it's as sweet as a soloist soprano while being as tough as a mafia don. Compared to Italian, all the other languages can, quite frankly, get stuffed.
... OK, let me make something clear: This is written tongue-in-cheek. I know there's no "best" language, and every language has unique virtues that make it special. I'm a language lover, and I speak around ten (I say "around" because I have to brush up on a couple of old ones every now and then).
But as I'm currently working on Italian, I feel this way, right now. And I used to feel it about Chinese, Arabic, and French, each at different times. And everyone feels this way about their language, whether it's the one you're studying, or the one you grew up with. I love being excited about a language I'm learning.
If I don't feel excited about a language, there's just no way I'd keep struggling with language learning, one of the most time-consuming, daunting, and rewarding intellectual tasks in the world!
So take this essay, and imagine it's about your own language, one you're either learning or that you already speak. You could write that Arabic has an elegance to its rich, almost mathematical structure. You may love that current speakers of Icelandic can still understand 99% of what people wrote over 1000 years ago. And you might appreciate that Chinese languages have rich etymology that you can instantly see in each character. I could go on.
But on to Italian, and why it's the best language, ever (for me, right now).
Italian has casual everyday elegance in its sonority, rich dynamic range from "opera" to "mafia", a highly entertaining non-verbal language of gestures, and a load of words that are just fun to say.
Firstly, Italian just sounds nice. Here's why.
Italian forsakes consonant endings for vowels. It's extremely rare for an Italian word to end in a consonant. Plurals change from one vowel to another. "One fruit" is un frutto; "all fruits" is tutti frutti.
For example, consider these sentences, riddled with harsh-sounding consonants in English, and their Italian equivalents:
- "Her black dog does flips and licks chips off the bricks": Il suo cane nero fa capriole e lecca patatine dai mattoni.
- "Turns out, cats in hats spark laughs, not trends." Si scopre che i gatti con cappelli provocano risate, non tendenze.
- "His quick trick with the stick was slick.": Il suo trucco veloce con il bastone è stato elegante.
The vast majority of Italian words and sentence glides off the tongue. Italian doesn't have any guttural sounds — no coughing, gurgling, or spluttering mid-word. Italian is smooth and gentle.
Other romance languages? Please. French is a language, in my opinion, most entertaining when mumbled as a series of casual expletives. Tu te fous de ma geule, espèce d'enfoiré ? Bordel ! (Or is that just me? Maybe I listened to too much French rap in my youth...)
And Spanish is likes Italians withes a whollys unnecessaries numbers of "s"s. ¿Pero cuantas veces tenés que pronunciar las eses para que sepamos lo que querés decir?
There are, of course, exceptions. But they're wonderful. The words that do have some consonantiness to them are just fun to say.
Here are a bunch of words that are fun to say in Italian and of which I just can't get enough, and enjoy saying for the hell of it:
And that's ignoring most of the many, highly entertaining food words to say. Tagliatelle! Stracciatella! Saltimbocca! I could go on. And I will. Pasticcini! Schiacciata! Cantuccini! OK, I'm done. For now.
Even Italian's grammar is fun! It keeps you on your toes, because the abundance of pronounced vowels mean you can hide nothing. French speakers may accidentally get a conjugation completely wrong, but nobody notices, because manger, mangé, and mangeais all sound the same — despite having totally different uses. Not in Italian, where they're mangiare, mangiato, and mangiavo.
And sometimes, like a verbal game of chess, you have to be thinking a couple of moves ahead. Going to use a participle? Better make sure it agrees with the subject (e.g. le chiavi? Non le ho viste), which is not necessary in Spanish, and not audible in French. Perhaps you want to express an opinion? You better be ready to conjugate the subjunctive, which the Italians use more often than do their European counterparts. And maybe it's time for a ci or a ce. Does it mean "us", "to/at a place", or is it because there's a reflexive verb? Or is it there just colloquially, to extend a brief phrase, like in "Ce l'hai?" Let's find out.
Oh and by the way, "check mate" is scacco matto. Scacco matto, m-fer!
Let's move on to Italian's dynamic range. If there's one thing people equate with classic Italian personalities, it's emotiveness. The Italian language matches this, with its range effectively spanning the whole gamut from opera to mafia.
From the bel canto of Donizetti to the mumbling threats of Il Padrino, Italian has range. It’s like Sophia Loren in linguistic form. The power and the glory of "O Sole Mio", to the rich range of colourful curses, which you probably won't hear from crime bosses but which you may very well hear from taxi drivers if you get stuck in traffic.
Italian can take the most mundane sentence and transform it into a dramatic monologue.
Take, for instance, the simple phrase "Good luck!" In English, it's quite literal. In Italian, it's: "In bocca al lupo!" Literally "In the mouth of a wolf"! I wonder what an Italian's idea would be of bad luck.
Some consider French an easy language to learn for the English-speaking first-time language learner. But how can this be the case? French, with its nasal tones and bizarre fascination for long strings of silent letters, can be almost unintelligible to the language learner. N'est-ce pas?
Consider this French sentence: Le beau Rochambeau marchait lentement dans le couloir, admirant les choux dans le jardin de la cour. Try to get your head around how much of that sentence is written but not pronounced.
Then there's Spanish, another commonly suggested first second language. Aside from getting ready to start making some hissing sounds for all las esses in Spanish, you also need to be prepared to have an accent wherever you go. Learned Spanish in Spain? Prepare to be considered a conquistador in most of Latin America. Learned it in Argentina? Get ready to ditch the voseo, a whole level of everyday conjugation that feels like the only natural one. Pensálo bien, boludo. Learned in Chile? Prepare to be wholly unintelligible.
Even in the realm of curse words – yep, we’re going there – Italian stands unrivalled. The poetic invective of Italian swear words is a testament to their creativity. It’s not just about shouting profanities; although, it's partly that. In what other language is cavolo, the word for "cabbage", a casual curse word? Or in what other language is the phrase "Go and stick it up your arse", which is also a whole sentence in Italian, slurred into one single word, vaffanculo?
In fact, Italian swearwords are so diverse, that people are even familiar with dialectic variants. You can use the Sicilian expression Ma non mi scassare la minchia! the whole country over, and everyone will know you're telling them not to "break your balls".
The colour of Italian language doesn't even stop at the verbal. There's also the gestures. And it's not that Italians randomly gesticulate wildly (though they do); there are set expressions for a very diverse range of things.
Italian hand gestures include, for a small sampling:
- Hand up in the air, fingers together: "What do you want? / What the hell?" (See image above)
- Like the closing gesture at the end of a symphony: "That was perfect!"
- Poking at cheek, twisting finger: "That was/is delicious!"
- Thumb sliding down side of cheek: "How mischievous/ devious / cunning."
- Open hands, near pelvis, shaking up and down: "What nerve!" (Literally: Che palle! / "What balls!")
- One hand knocking on door: "Sex?"
And there are literally dozens more. Learning Italian gestures is to learn a whole language itself.
All these qualities of Italian, the musicality, the physical expressiveness, and even the fun of the grammar, seem to be hardwired into the people themselves. Italian conversation is a central part of society; so much in Italy has do be done through verbal negotiation. If you find a good, up-to-date website, it's a small miracle.
Oh, and of course, you don't just speak Italian with people — if they don't speak it, you speak Italian at them. Italian is the language that affords you the most opportunities to be snobby.
Every time you go to dine at any establishment with something Italian on the menu, you get to casually mention that you know Italian. "I'll have a piadino, please. No, lol, I don't want piadini, which is the plural. Yes, I speak Italian," for example. Or "Yes, I would like a biscotto with my coffee, which is the singular for the biscotti that you offered, but actually, did you know that it's a cantuccio? That's right, I speak Italian," both providing business and educating an unsuspecting public simultaneously.
Or you can just unhesitatingly proclaim "I'll have the tagliatelle al ragù di salsiccia e funghi porcini and the costolette d'agnello alla griglia con salsa di rosmarino with a contorno of melanzane a funghetto con aglio, prezzemolo e peperoncino and, er, some sparkling water. Oh, I meant this one, this one, and this one," pointing at the menu helpfully. Service staff will sure to be impressed.
So, there you have it. Convinced yet? Italian sounds good, it's fun to speak, it has massive range, it even transcends the spoken word, and it can be inflicted upon non-speakers.
Once you've learned Italian, it opens up a whole world to you — all 60 million Italians! Plus a small part of Switzerland. Oh, bear in mind that in Italy, you may be speaking the less preferred language of people in some regions of Italy, including Northern Italy (the "Lombard" region), Sicily, Florence, Naples, Piedmont, Abruzzo, and a few others.
As for all the other languages? Well, they're all wonderful. I love something about every language. I'm sure you can tell me what you love about yours.
But frankly, compared to whatever language it is that you love (Italian or otherwise), all other languages can get stuffed.