High-Conflict Issues: Italian Intransitive Verbs

Yes, you heard me right: Italians got into an argument about intransitive verbs

In the past few days, the Internet has made a fuss about the use of some intransitive verbs. Yes, you heard me right: Italians got into an argument about grammar. It all began when a member of the Accademia della Crusca (the leading institution in the field of research on the Italian language), by answering to the doubt of some readers, inflamed the debate on whether it is possible to use the verb uscire (exit) — which is intransitive — as a transitive verb and, therefore, say uscire il cane instead of portare fuori il cane (walk the dog). It might seem like a silly discussion, but actually it isn’t: it has to do with our cultural identity.

A young country with many forms of communication

You must know that, grammatically speaking, these expressions are considered unacceptable: however, they can be heard very often, especially in southern Italy. So, on the one hand we have “standard Italian”; on the other hand we have a spoken Italian, which changes a lot from one place to another. Those who live in the north of Italy speak with an accent which is completely different from that spoken by those who live in the south. These accents are the result of the influence of our dialects on standard language: Italian, as a common jargon is, indeed, quite “young”. It started to be the language of our nation — don’t forget that Italy became a unified state only in 1861 — thanks to the television, which served as a model of Italian since the ‘50s: before then, dialects were the only means of communication used by the majority of Italians.

Dialects continue to be spoken across Italy and they represent a richness that we should keep preserving, since they are part of our culture and of our identity. Although it is not possible to draw exact borders, our peninsula is usually divided into three main dialect areas: the northern varieties, the central varieties and the southern varieties. To these, the Ladin language (spoken in northern Italy) and Sardinian or Sard (spoken in Sardinia), should be added. As if the situation weren’t intricate enough, there is still something to consider. In fact, one should be aware that Italian languages and dialects are not the only ones spoken here: in the north – at the border with France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia – there are Provençal, Franco-Provençal, German, Slovenian and Serbo-Croat speakers; Catalan is widely used in the town of Alghero (Sardinia); finally, in the south, you can also hear Albanian and Greek. This is incredible, isn’t it?

O’ Sole mio

Now, you might think that you will never understand Italians, although you have learnt some basic expressions or words. But I’m sure you already know some dialects… Does this song sound familiar?

Well, O’ sole mio is in Neapolitan! Here are the two first lines of the refrain (which literally mean: “but no more beautiful sun exists”):

Ma n’atu sole / cchiù bello, oi nè (Neapolitan)

Ma un altro sole / più bello non c’è (Italian)

Can you see the difference?

Take into account that not even Italians can understand every other dialect and that our specific form of multiculturalism is not limited to the language: food, manners, people, all change across Italy. And, believe it or not, this actually makes it difficult to stereotype us!