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Neapolitan language

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Neapolitan language

Native to Italy
Region Abruzzo, Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Lazio, Marche, Molise.
Native speakers
5.7 million  (2002)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-2 nap
ISO 639-3 nap
Glottolog neap1235[2]
Neapolitan dialects

Neapolitan (autonym: (’o n)napulitano; Italian: napoletano) is the language of southern continental Italy, including the city of Naples. It is named not after the city, but after the Kingdom of Naples, which once covered most of this area and of which Naples was the capital. On October 14, 2008 a law by the Region of Campania stated that the Neapolitan language was to be protected.[3] It has been recognized by UNESCO as a language and a heritage. Neapolitan has had a significant influence on the intonation of Rioplatense Spanish, of the Buenos Aires region of Argentina.[4]


The Neapolitan dialects are distributed throughout most of continental southern Italy, historically united during the Kingdom of Naples and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, specifically southern Lazio (Gaeta and Sora districts), southern Marche, Abruzzo, Molise, Basilicata, Campania (Naples), northern and central Apulia, and northernmost Calabria. The dialects are part of a varied dialect continuum, so the varieties in southern Lazio, Marche, Abruzzo, Molise, Apulia, Lucania and Calabria can typically be recognizable as regional groups of dialects. In western Abruzzo and Lazio the dialects give way to Central Italian dialects such as Romanesco. In central Calabria and southern Apulia, the dialects give way to the Sicilian language. Largely due to massive southern Italian migration in the 20th century, there are also numbers of speakers in Italian diaspora communities in the United States, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela. However, in the United States traditional Neapolitan has had considerable contact with English, and is significantly different from contemporary Neapolitan spoken in Naples. English words are often used in place of Neapolitan words, especially among second-generation speakers.

The following dialects constitute Neapolitan; numbers refer to the map:[5]

The southernmost regions of Italy—most of Calabria and southern Apulia, as well as Sicily—are home to Sicilian rather than Neapolitan.


Neapolitan is generally considered Italo-Dalmatian. There are notable differences among the various dialects, but they are all generally mutually intelligible. The language as a whole has often fallen victim to its status of "language without prestige" even if it was commonly used in the court during the kingdom of Bourbons,[6] as well as boasting a rich literary tradition (Giambattista Basile, Eduardo De Filippo, etc.).

The Italian language and Neapolitan are of variable mutual comprehensibility, depending on factors both affective and linguistic. There are notable grammatical differences such as nouns in the neuter form and unique plural formation, and historical phonological developments that often obscure the cognacy of lexical items. Its evolution has been similar to that of Italian and other Romance languages from their roots in Spoken Latin. It has also developed with a pre-Latin Oscan influence, which controversially purported to be noticeable in the pronunciation of the d sound as an r sound (rhotacism), but only when "d" is at the beginning of a word, or between two vowels (e.g.- "doje" or "duje" (two, respectively feminine and masculine form), pronounced, and often spelled, as "roje"/"ruje", vedé (to see), pronounced as "veré", and often spelled so, same for cadé/caré (to fall), and Madonna/Maronna). Some think that the rhotacism is a more recent phenomenon, though. Another purported Oscan influence (claimed by some to be more likely than the previous one) is historical assimilation of the consonant cluster /nd/ as /nn/, pronounced [nː] (this generally is reflected in spelling more consistently) (e.g.- "munno" ('world', compare to Italian "mondo"), "quanno" ('when', compare to Italian "quando"), etc.), along with the development of /mb/ as /mm/ (e.g.- tammuro (drum), cfr. Italian tamburo), also consistently reflected in spelling. Other effects of the Oscan substratum are postulated too, although substratum claims are highly controversial. In addition, the language was also affected by the Greek language. There have never been any successful attempts to standardize the language (e.g.- consulting three different dictionaries, one finds three different spellings for the word for tree, arbero, arvero and àvaro).

Neapolitan has enjoyed a rich literary, musical and theatrical history (notably Giambattista Basile, Eduardo De Filippo, Salvatore di Giacomo and Totò). Thanks to this heritage and the musical work of Renato Carosone in the 1950s, Neapolitan is still in use in popular music, even gaining national popularity in the songs of Pino Daniele and the Nuova Compagnia di Canto Popolare.

The language has no official status within Italy and is not taught in schools. The ISO 639 Joint Advisory Committee language with the language code of nap.

For comparison, The Lord's Prayer (here as in the Catholic catechism) is reproduced in the Neapolitan spoken in Naples and in a northern Calabrian dialect, in contrast with a variety of southern Calabrian (part of Sicilian language), Italian and Latin.

English Neapolitan (Naples) Neapolitan (Northern Calabrian) Sicilian (Southern Calabrian) Sicilian (Sicily) Italian Latin
Our Father who art in heaven, Pate nuoste ca staje 'ncielo, Patre nuorru chi sta ntru cielu, Patri nostru chi' si nt'o celu, Nunnu nostru, ca inta lu celu siti Padre Nostro, che sei nei cieli, Pater noster, qui es in caelis
hallowed be thy name santificammo 'o nomme tuojo chi sia santificatu u nume tue, m'esti santificatu u nomi toi, mu santificatu esti lu nomu vostru: sia santificato il tuo nome. sanctificetur nomen tuum:
Thy kingdom come, faje vení 'o regno tuojo, venissi u regnu tue, Mu veni u rregnu toi, Mu veni lu regnu vostru. Venga il tuo regno, Adveniat regnum tuum.
Thy will be done, sempe c' 'a vuluntà toja, se facissi a vuluntà tua, ù si facissi a voluntà Mu si faci la vuluntati vostra sia fatta la tua volontà, Fiat voluntas tua
on earth as it is in heaven. accussí 'ncielo e 'nterra. sia ntru cielu ca supra a terra. com'esti nt'o celu, u stessa sup'a terra. comu esti inta lu celu, accussì incapu la terra come in cielo, così in terra. sicut in caelo et in terra
Give us this day our daily bread Fance avé 'o ppane tutt' 'e juorne Ranne oje u pane nuorru e tutti i jurni, Dùnandi ped oji u pani nostru e tutti i jorna Dunàtini ogghi lu nostru panuzzu. Dacci oggi il nostro pane quotidiano, Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie.
and forgive us our trespasses lièvace 'e dièbbete e perdunane i rebiti nuorri, e' perdùnandi i debiti, E pirdunàtini li nostri dèbbiti, e rimetti a noi i nostri debiti, Et dimitte nobis debita nostra,
as we forgive those who trespass against us, comme nuje 'e llevamme a ll'ate, cumu nue perdunammu i rebituri nuorri. comu nù nc'i perdunamu ad i debituri nostri. comu nuautri li pirdunamu a li nostri dibbitura. come noi li rimettiamo ai nostri debitori. sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris.
and lead us not into temptation, nun 'nce fa spantecà, E un ne mannare ntra tentazione, Non nci dassari nt'a tentazioni, E nun lassàtini cascari inta la tintazziuni; E non ci indurre in tentazione, Et ne nos inducas in tentationem;
but deliver us from evil. e llievace 'o mmale 'a tuorno. ma liberane e ru male. ma liberandi d'o mali. ma scanzàtini di lu mali. ma liberaci dal male. sed libera nos a malo.
Amen. Ammèn. Ammèn. Ammèn. Ammèn. Amen. Amen.

Alphabet and pronunciation

The Neapolitan alphabet, like the Italian alphabet, is almost the same as the English alphabet except that it consists of only 22 letters. It does not contain k, w, x, or y even though these letters might be found in some foreign words. The pronunciation guidelines that follow are based on pronunciation of American English and these values may or may not be applicable to British English.

All Romance languages are closely related. Although Neapolitan shares a high degree of its vocabulary with Italian, the official language of Italy, differences in pronunciation often make the connection unrecognizable to those without knowledge of Neapolitan. The most striking phonological difference is the Neapolitan weakening of unstressed vowels into schwa (schwa is pronounced like the a in about or the u in upon). However it is also possible (and quite common for some Neapolitans) to speak standard Italian with a "Neapolitan accent"; that is, by pronouncing un-stressed vowels as schwa but by otherwise using only entirely standard words and grammatical forms. This is not Neapolitan proper, but a mere difference in Italian pronunciation.

Therefore, while pronunciation presents the strongest barrier to comprehension, the grammar of Neapolitan is what sets it apart from Italian. In Neapolitan, for example, the gender and number of a word is expressed by a change in the accented vowel, whereas in Italian it is expressed by a change in the final vowel (e.g. luongo, longa; Italian lungo, lunga; masc. "long", fem. "long"). These and other morpho-syntactic differences distinguish the Neapolitan language from the Italian language and the Neapolitan accent.


While there are only five graphic vowels in Neapolitan, phonemically, there are seven. The vowels e and o can be either "closed" or "open" and the pronunciation is different for the two. The grave accent (à, è, ò) is used to denote open vowels, and the acute accent (é, í, ó, ú) is used to denote closed vowels. However, accent marks are not used in the actual spelling of words except when they occur on the final syllable of a word, such as Totò, arrivà, or pecché and when they appear here in other positions it is only to demonstrate where the stress, or accent, falls in some words.

Letter IPA Pronunciation guide
a /a/
a is always open and is pronounced like the a in father
when it is the final, unstressed vowel, its pronunciation is indistinct and approaches the sound of the schwa
e /ɛ/
stressed, open e is pronounced like the e in bet
stressed, closed e is pronounced like the a in fame except that it does not die off into ee
unstressed e is pronounced as a schwa
i /i/ i is always closed and is pronounced like the ee in meet
o /ɔ/
stressed, open o is pronounced like the o in often
stressed, closed o is pronounced like the o in closed except that it does not die off into oo
unstressed o is pronounced as a schwa
u /u/ u is always closed and is pronounced like the oo in boot


Letter IPA Pronunciation guide
b /b/ pronounced the same as in English
c /ʃ ~ t͡ʃ/,
when followed by e or i the pronunciation is somewhere between the sh in share and the ch in chore
otherwise it is like the k in skip (not like the c in call, which is aspirated)
d /d/ dental version of the English d
f /f/ pronounced the same as in English
g /ʒ ~ d͡ʒ/,
when followed by e or i the pronunciation is somewhere between the g of germane and the z of azure
otherwise it is like the g in gum
h h is always silent and is only used to differentiate words pronounced the same and otherwise spelled alike (e.g. a, ha; anno, hanno)
and after g or c to preserve the hard sound when e or i follows (e.g. ce, che; gi, ghi)
j /j/ referred to as a semi-consonant, is pronounced like English y as in yet
l /l/ pronounced the same as in English
m /m/ pronounced the same as in English
n /n/ pronounced the same as in English
p /p/ pronounced the same as the p in English spill (not as the p in pill, which is aspirated)
q always followed by u and pronounced the same as in English
r /ɾ ~ r/ when between two vowels it is sounds very much like the American tt in butter but in reality it is a single tic of a trilled r
when at the beginning of a word or when preceded by or followed by another consonant, it is trilled
s /s/,
pronounced the same as in English and just as in English it is sometimes voiced and sometimes unvoiced
/ʃ ~ ʒ/[7] pronounced sh when followed by a voiceless consonant (except /t/) and zh when followed by a voiced consonant (except /n d r l/)
t /t/ dental version of the English t as in state (not as the t in tool, which is aspirated)
v /v/ pronounced the same as in English
x /ʃ/ pronounced as if it was "k-s", with a pause between the letters
z /d͡z/,
voiced z is pronounced like the ds in suds
unvoiced z is pronounced like the ts in jetsam

Digraphs and trigraphs

Letter IPA Pronunciation Guide
gn /ɲ/ palatal version of the ni in the English onion
gl(i) /ʎ/ palatal version of the lli in the English million
sc /ʃ/ when followed by e or i it is pronounced as the sh in the English ship


Definite articles

The Neapolitan definite articles (corresponding to the English word "the") are La (feminine singular), Lo (masculine singular) and Li (plural for both), but in reality these forms will probably only be found in older literature (along with Lu and even El), of which there is much to be found. Modern Neapolitan uses, almost entirely, shortened forms of these articles which are:

Before a word beginning with a consonant:
Singular Plural
Masculine ’o ’e
Feminine ’a ’e
Neuter ’o

These definite articles are always pronounced distinctly.

Before a word beginning with a vowel:

l’ or ll’ for both masculine and feminine; for both singular and plural.

Although both forms can be found, the ll’ form is by far the most common.

It is well to note that in Neapolitan the gender of a noun is not easily determined by the article, so other means must be used. In the case of ’o which can be either masculine singular or neuter singular (there is no neuter plural in Neapolitan), when it is neuter the initial consonant of the noun is doubled. As an example, the name of a language in Neapolitan is always neuter, so if we see ’o nnapulitano we know it refers to the Neapolitan language, whereas ’o napulitano would refer to a Neapolitan man.

Likewise, since ’e can be either masculine plural or feminine plural, when it is feminine plural, the initial consonant of the noun is doubled. As an example, let's consider ’a lista which in Neapolitan is feminine singular for "list." In the plural it becomes ’e lliste.

There can also be problems with nouns whose singular form ends in e. Since plural nouns usually end in e whether masculine or feminine, the masculine plural is often formed by orthographically changing the spelling. As an example, let's consider the word guaglione (which means "boy", or "girl" in the feminine form):

Singular Plural
Masculine ’o guaglione ’e guagliune
Feminine ’a guagliona ’e gguaglione

More will be said about these orthographically changing nouns in the section on Neapolitan nouns.

A couple of notes about consonant doubling:

  • Doubling is a function of the article (and certain other words), and these same words may be seen in other contexts without the consonant doubled. More will be said about this in the section on consonant doubling.
  • Doubling only occurs when the consonant is followed by a vowel. If it is followed by another consonant, such as in the word spagnuolo (Spanish), no doubling occurs.

Indefinite articles

The Neapolitan indefinite articles, corresponding to the English "a" or "an", are presented in the following table:

Masculine Feminine
Before words beginning with a consonant nu na
Before words beginning with a vowel n’ n’

Verbal conjugation

In Neapolitan there are four finite modes: indicative, subjunctive, conditional and imperative, and three non-finite modes: infinitive, gerund and participle. Each mode has an active and a passive form. The only auxiliary verbs used in the active form is "Avè" (en. "to have", it. "avere"), which contrasts with Italian in which some verbs take "essere" for their auxiliary. For example we have:

na. Aggio stato a Nnapule ajere AUX-HAVE-1st-SING-PRES "be"-PART-PAST "in"-PREP "Naples"-NOUN "yesterday"-ADVERB
it. Sono stato a Napoli ieri AUX-BE-1st-SING-PRES "be"-PART-PAST "in"-PREP "Naples"-NOUN "yesterday"-ADVERB
en. I was in Naples yesterday

Doubled initial consonants

In Neapolitan, many times the initial consonant of a word is doubled. This is apparent both in written as well as spoken Neapolitan.

  • All feminine plural nouns, when preceded by the feminine plural definite article, ’e, or by any feminine plural adjective, will have the initial consonant doubled.
  • All neuter singular nouns, when preceded by the neuter singular definite article, ’o, or by a neuter singular adjective, will have the initial consonant doubled.
  • In addition, other words also trigger this doubling. Below is a list of words which trigger the doubling of the initial consonant of the word which follows.

Bear in mind, however, that when there is a pause after the "trigger" word, then the doubling does not occur (e.g. Tu sî gguaglione, [You are a boy] where is a "trigger" word causing doubling of the initial consonant in guaglione but in the phrase ’A do sî, guagliò? [Where are you from, boy?] no doubling occurs). It is also well to note that no doubling occurs when the initial consonant is followed by another consonant (e.g. ’o ttaliano [the Italian language], but ’o spagnuolo [the Spanish language], where ’o is the neuter definite article).

Words which trigger doubling

  • The conjunctions e and , but not o (e.g. pane e ccaso; né ppane né ccaso; but pane o caso)
  • The prepositions a, pe, cu (e.g. a mme; pe tte; cu vvuje)
  • The negation nu, short for nun/nunn (e.g. nu ddicere niente)
  • The indefinites ogne, cocche (e.g. ogne ccasa; cocche ccosa)
  • Interrogative che and relative che, but not ca (e.g. Che ppiensa? Che ffemmena! Che ccapa!)
  • accussí (e.g. accussí ttuosto)
  • From the verb "essere," so’; ; è; but not songo (e.g. je so’ ppazzo; tu sî ffesso; chillo è ccafone; chilli so’ ccafune; but chilli songo cafune)
  • cchiú (e.g. cchiú ppoco)
  • The number tre (e.g. tre ssegge)
  • The neuter definite article ’o (e.g. ’o ppane, but nu poco ’e pane)
  • The neuter pronoun ’o (e.g. ’o ttiene ’o ppane?)
  • Demonstrative adjectives chistu and chillu which refer to neuter nouns in indefinite quantities (e.g. chistu ffierro; chillu ppane ) but not in definite quantities (e.g. Chistu fierro; chillu pane)
  • The feminine plural definite article ’e (e.g. ’e ssegge; ’e gguaglione)
  • The plural feminine pronoun ’e (’e gguaglione ’e cchiamme tu?)
  • The plural masculine pronoun ’e preceding a verb, but not a noun (’e guagliune ’e cchiamme tu?)
  • The locative lloco (e.g. lloco ssotto)
  • From the verb stà: sto’ (e.g. sto’ pparlanno)
  • From the verb puté: può; (e.g. ; isso pô ssapé)
  • The religious titles padre and madre (e.g. padre Ccarlo; padre Mmichele)
  • Special case Spiritu Ssanto

See also


  1. ^ Neapolitan at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Neapolitan". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ "Tutela del dialetto, primo via libera al Ddl campano" ("Bill to protect dialect green lighted") from Il Denaro, economic journal of South Italy, 15 October 2008 Re Franceschiello. L'ultimo sovrano delle Due Sicilie
  4. ^ Colantoni, Laura, and Jorge Gurlekian. "Convergence and intonation: historical evidence from Buenos Aires Spanish", Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, Volume 7, Issue 02, August 2004, pp. 107-119, Cambridge Journals Online
  5. ^ Carta dei Dialetti d'Italia (Mapping of dialects of Italy) by Giovan Battista Pellegrini, 1977 (in Italian)
  6. ^ "Io sono Napolitano; nato tra voi, non ho respirato altr'aria, non ho veduti altri paesi, non conosco altro suolo, che il suolo natio. Tutte le mie affezioni sono dentro il Regno: i vostri costumi sono i miei costumi, la vostra lingua la mia lingua, le vostre ambizioni mie ambizioni." Transl.: "I'm Neapolitan; born among you, I've not breathed another air, I've not seen other countries, I don't know any other soil than my native soil. All my affections are within the Kingdom: your customs are my customs, your language is my language, your ambitions are my ambitions." Words of King Francesco II delle Due Sicilie. Campolieti, Giuseppe Re Franceschiello. L'ultimo sovrano delle Due Sicilie, Mondatori, Italy, 2005 (in Italian)
  7. ^   (in Italian)

Additional sources

  • Iandolo, Carlo. A lengua ’e Pulecenella, Di Mauro Franco, Italy; 1 Oct 2001; ISBN 978-8885263710 (in Italian)
  • De Blasi, Nicola and Luigi Imperatore. Il napoletano parlato e scritto. Con note di grammatica storica ; Dante & Descartes, Italy; 2nd edition, 1 July 2001; ISBN 978-8888142050 (in Italian)

External links

  • Neapolitan recognized by UNESCO (in Italian)
  • On line English–Neapolitan translation
  • Websters Online Dictionary Neapolitan–English
  • Interactive Map of languages in Italy
  • Neapolitan on-line radio station
  • Neapolitan glossary on Wiktionary
  • Italian-Neapolitan searchable online dictionary
  • Grammar primer and extensive vocabulary for the Neapolitan dialect of Torre del Greco
  • Neapolitan Wikiprimer
  • Neapolitan language and culture (in Italian)
  • Prosodic detail in Neapolitan Italian. By Francesco Cangemi. Berlin: Language Science Press. 187pp. Free download
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