Italy Language and Languages
Italy Language and Languages
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Most materials used in Italian research are written in Italian. However, you do not need to speak or read Italian to do research in Italian records. You will, however, need to know some key words and phrases to understand the records.
Because the Roman Catholic Church is predominant, most church records are in Latin. Because of the various political situations through the years, you may also find records from the northern areas in French or German.
Latin grammar may affect the way names appear in the church records. For example, the names Dominica and Dominicam refer to the same person. Translated into Italian, this same person would be Domenica. If the records are in Italian, the spelling of your ancestor’s name will not be affected by grammar.
- 1 Language Aids
- 2 Italian Genealogical Word List
- 3 Language Characteristics
- 4 Diacritic Marks
- 5 Spelling
- 6 Additional Resources
- 7 Key Words
- 8 Latin Genealogical Word List
- 9 Language Characteristics
- 10 Spelling
- 11 Additional Resources
- 12 Key Words
- 13 External Links
The following English-Italian dictionaries can also aid you in your research. You can find these and similar material at many research libraries or bookstores:
- Orlandi, Giuseppe. Dizionario italiano-inglese, inglese- italiano (Italian-English, English-Italian dictionary). Terza ed. Milano: Carla Signorelli, 1957. (FHL book EUROPE REF 453.21 Or5d 1961.)
- Il nuovo dizionario inglese Garzanti (The new Garzanti English dictionary). Milano: A. Garzanti, 1984. (FHL book EUROPE REF 453.21 G199n.)
Italian Genealogical Word List
This list contains Italian words with their English translations. The words included here are those that you are likely to find in genealogical sources. If the word you are looking for is not on this list, please consult an Italian-English dictionary. (See the "Additional Resources" section below.)
Italian is a Romance language derived from Latin. Many of the words resemble those of Latin. See "Latin Genealogical Word List" below.
Italian is spoken in Italy and the southern part of Switzerland in the cantons of Ticino and Graubünden. Italian is also spoken in Yugoslavia near the border with Trieste. Some of the records of Corsica, Nice, and Savoy were written in Italian before those areas became part of France. Clusters of Italian immigrants in major cities like New York, Chicago, Montreal, Toronto, and Melbourne also speak Italian.
Sicilian, Neapolitan, Romanesque, and Venetian are major dialects of Italian, and they use words similar to the words on this list. Several other minor dialects are spoken in the various provinces of Italy.
In Italian, the endings of most words vary according to the way the words are used in a sentence. Who— whose—whom or marry—marries—married are examples of words in English with variant forms. This word list gives the most commonly seen form of each Italian word. As you read Italian records, be aware that almost all words vary with usage. Only some variations are explained in this guide.
Italian nouns are designated as masculine or feminine. For example, vicinanza (neighborhood) is a feminine word, and villaggio (village) is a masculine word. Generally, nouns ending in -a are feminine, nouns ending -e may be either masculine or feminine, and nouns ending in -o are masculine.
Adjectives and articles (a, an, the) will have either masculine or feminine endings for the noun they modify: -a for feminine singular nouns, -o for masculine singular nouns. For example, in Italian you write ava paterna (paternal grandmother) or avo paterno (paternal grandfather).
For nouns ending with -a, the plural is formed by replacing the last letter with -e; for nouns ending in -o or -e, replace the last letter with -i to form the plural. For example, figlia (daughter) becomes figlie (daughters), and padrino (godfather) becomes padrini (godparents).
Articles and adjectives take -e as the feminine plural ending, and -i as the masculine plural ending. Buona figlia becomes buone figlie (good daughters) and buono padrino becomes buoni padrini (good godparents).
Verbs also vary depending on mood, who is acting, and whether the action is in the past, present, or future. For example, the Italian verb sposare (to marry) could appear with various endings:
|marry||married, was married|
|(she/he)||sposa è sposato, fu sposato, sposò|
|(they)||sposano sono sposati, furono sposati, sposarono|
The Italian language has several additional letters with diacritic marks: à, è, ì, ò, and ù. These diacritic marks indicate a change in pronunciation, but do not affect alphabetical order. They are more often used in recent documents.
Spelling rules were not fixed in earlier centuries when records of our ancestors were written. The k, j, and w are only used in foreign words. The following spelling variations may be found:
y or j used for i
i used for j
This word list includes words most commonly found in genealogical sources. For further help, use an Italian- English dictionary. At the Family History Library, the Italian dictionaries are cataloged with the call number 453.21. The following dictionary is also available on microfilm for use in Family History Centers:
- Orlandi, Giusseppe. Dizionario Italiano-inglese, Inglese-italiano [Italian-English, English-italian Dictionary]. Milano: Carlo Signorelli, 1957. (FHL film 1,181,660 item 5.)
To find and use specific types of Italian records, you will need to know some key words in Italian. This section gives key genealogical terms in English and the Italian words with the same or similar meanings.
For example, in the first column you will find the English word marriage. In the second column you will find Italian words with meanings such as marry, marriage, wedding, wedlock, unite, and other words used in Italian records to indicate marriage.
|birth(s)||nata, nascita, -e|
|burial(s)||seppellimento, sepolto, sepolture, -i|
|child||neonato, neonata, infante, bambino|
|death(s)||morte, morire, decesso, -i|
|marriage(s)||matrimono, sposato, coniugato, maritato, -i|
Latin Genealogical Word List
This list contains Latin words with their English translations. The words included here are those that you are likely to find in genealogical sources. If the word (or some form of it) that you are looking for is not on this list, please consult a Latin-English dictionary. (See the "Additional Resources" section below.)
Latin is the mother language for many modern European languages. Many words in English, Spanish, French, and other languages resemble Latin words and have the same or similar meanings.
Latin was used in the records of most European countries and in the Roman Catholic records of the United States and Canada. Because Latin was used in so many countries, local usage varied. Certain terms were commonly used in some countries but not in others. In addition, the Latin used in British records has more abbreviations than the Latin used in European records.
Variant Forms of Words
In Latin, the endings of most words vary according to how the words are used in a sentence. Who—whose— whom or marry—marries—married are examples of words in English with variant forms. This word list gives the most commonly seen form of each Latin word. As you read Latin records, be aware that almost all words vary with usage.
Latin words for persons, places, and things (nouns) are classified as masculine, feminine, or neuter. For example, rex (king) is a masculine word, aetas (age) is a feminine word, and oppidum (town) is a neuter word.
Words that describe persons, places, or things (adjectives) will have either masculine, feminine, or neuter endings. For example, in Latin you would write magnus rex (great king), magna aetas (great age), and magnum oppidum (large town).
This word list gives only the masculine form of adjectives. For example:
noster, nostra, nostrum (our) is listed as noster
magnus, magna, magnum (great, large) is listed as magnus
nobilis, nobile (noble, known) is listed as nobilis
Some words have both a male (-us) and female (-a) form, such as patrinus (godfather) and patrina (godmother). This word list usually gives only the male form even though a female form may occur in Latin records. Thus, given the word famulus (servant), you can conclude that famula is a female servant.
Similarly, this word list gives only natus est ("he was born"). You can conclude that nata est means "she was born." The plural form nati sunt means "they were born."
Plural forms of Latin words usually end in -i, -ae, or -es. Thus patrinus (godfather) becomes patrini (godparents), filia (daughter) becomes filiae (daughters), and pater (father) becomes patres (fathers). However, these same endings may also indicate other grammatical changes besides plurality.
The endings of Latin words can also vary depending on the grammatical use of the words. Latin grammar requires a specific type of ending for a word used as the subject of the sentence, used in the possessive, used as the object of a verb, or used with a preposition. Latin words fall into several classes, each with its own set of grammatical endings.
If you do not find a Latin word in this list with the same ending as the word in your Latin document, find a similar ending in the examples below to see how the word in your document is used:
|(pater) filii||(father) of the son|
|(baptizavi) filium||(I baptized the) son|
|(ex) filio||(from) the son|
|(filius) viduae||(son) of the widow|
|(sepelivi) viduam||(I buried the) widow|
|(ex) vidua||(from) the widow|
|(filius) patris||(son) of the father|
|(sepelivi) patrem||(I buried the) father|
|(ex) patre||(from) the father|
Other noun endings change as follows to show possession:
-as may change to -atis
-ns may change to -ntis
-or may change to -oris
-tio may change to -tionis
Example: sartor (tailor) changes to sartoris (of the tailor)
Words that show action (verbs) also vary depending on who is doing the action and whether the action is past, present, or future. For example, the Latin word baptizare (to baptize) will appear with various endings:
|baptize||have baptized, baptized|
|(I) baptizo||baptizavi, baptizabam|
|(he) baptizat||baptizavit, baptizabat|
|(they) baptizant||baptizaverunt, baptizabant|
|is baptized||was baptized|
|(he) baptizatur||baptizatus est|
Spelling rules were not standardized in earlier centuries. The following spelling variations are common in Latin documents:
i and j used interchangeably
u and v used interchangeably
e used for ae (æ)
e used for oe (œ)
c used for qu
ejusdem or eiusdem
civis or ciuis
preceptor or praeceptor
celebs or coelebs
quondam or condam
This word list includes only the words most commonly found in genealogical sources. For further help, use a Latin-English dictionary. Latin-English dictionaries are available on each floor of the Family History Library. The call numbers begin with 473.21.
The following Latin-English dictionary is available on microfilm for use in Family History Centers:
- Ainsworth, Robert. Ainsworth's Latin Dictionary, rev. ed. London: F. Westly and A.H. Davis, 1836. FHL 473Ai65a 1836; FHL 599,788.
Additional dictionaries are listed under LATIN LANGUAGE - DICTIONARIES in the "Subject" section of the FamilySearch Catalog. Most bookstores carry useful, inexpensive Latin-English dictionaries.
The following sources can also be helpful for reading Latin records:
- Baxter, J. H. and Charles Johnson. Medieval Latin Word-List From British and Irish Sources. London: Oxford University Press, n.d. FHL 942 A8bm.
- Grun, Paul A. Schlüssel zur alten und neuen Abkürzungen: Wörterbuch lateinischer und deutscher Abkürzungen des späten Mittlealters und der Neuzeit. Limburg/Lahn, Germany: Starke Verlag, 1966. FHL 943 B4gg Vol. 6, Key to ancient and modern abbreviations: Dictionary of Latin and German abbreviations of the late middle age and modern times.
- Jensen, C. Russell. Parish Register Latin: An Introduction. Salt Lake City, Utah: Vita Nova Books, 1988.FHL 475 J453p A guide to understanding Latin as it appears in continental European church records.
- Martin, Charles Trice. The Record Interpreter: A Collection of Abbreviations, Latin Words and Names Used in English Historical Manuscripts and Records, 2nd ed. London, England: Stevens, 1910. FHL 422.471 M363re 1910.
- McLaughlin, Eve. Simple Latin for Family Historians, 2nd ed. Birmingham, England, London: Federation of Family History Societies, 1987. FHL 471.1 M273 This booklet lists Latin words frequently used in English parish registers.
To find and use specific types of Latin records, you will need to know some key words in Latin. This section lists key genealogical terms in English and gives the Latin words that have the same or similar meanings.
For example, in the first column you will find the English word marriage. In the second column you will find Latin words with meanings such as marry, marriage, wedding, wedlock, unite, legitimate, joined, and other words used in Latin records to indicate marriage.
|birth||nati, natus, genitus, natales, ortus, oriundus|
|burial||sepulti, sepultus, humatus, humatio|
|christening||baptismi, baptizatus, renatus, plutus, lautus, purgatus, ablutus, lustratio|
|child||infans, filius/filia, puer, proles|
|death||mortuus, defunctus, obitus, denatus, decessus, peritus, mors, mortis, obiit, decessit|
|godparent||patrini, levantes, susceptores, compater, commater, matrina|
|husband||maritus, sponsus, conjux, vir|
|marriage||matrimonium, copulatio, copulati, conjuncti, intronizati, nupti, sponsati, ligati, mariti|
|marriage||banns banni, proclamationes, denuntiationes|
|name||given name nomen|
|wife||uxor, marita, conjux, sponsa, mulier, femina, consors|