Italian language in the United States

Last updated
Italian speakers in the US
1910 a
1920 a
1930 a
1940 [1]
1960 a
1970 [2]
1980 [3]
1990 [4]
2000 [5]
2010 [6]
^a  Foreign-born population only [7]

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 language Romance language

Italian is a Romance language of the Indo-European language family. Italian descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire and, together with Sardinian, is by most measures the closest language to it of the Romance languages. Italian is an official language in Italy, Switzerland, San Marino and Vatican City. It has an official minority status in western Istria. It formerly had official status in Albania, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro (Kotor) and Greece, and is generally understood in Corsica and Savoie. It also used to be an official language in the former Italian East Africa and Italian North Africa, where it still plays a significant role in various sectors. Italian is also spoken by large expatriate communities in the Americas and Australia. Italian is included under the languages covered by the European Charter for Regional or Minority languages in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Romania, although Italian is neither a co-official nor a protected language in these countries. Many speakers of Italian are native bilinguals of both Italian and other regional languages.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Most of the country is located contiguously in North America between Canada and Mexico.

The Italian diaspora is the large-scale emigration of Italians from Italy. There are two major Italian diasporas in Italian history. The first diaspora began more or less around 1880, a decade or so after the Unification of Italy, and ended in the 1920s to early-1940s with the rise of Fascism in Italy. The second diaspora started after the end of World War II and roughly concluded in the 1970s. These together constituted the largest voluntary emigration period in documented history. Between 1880-1980, about 15,000,000 Italians left the country permanently. By 1980, it was estimated that about 25,000,000 Italians were residing outside Italy. A third wave is being reported in present times, due to the socio-economic problems caused by the financial crisis of the early twenty-first century, especially amongst the youth. According to the Public Register of Italian Residents Abroad (AIRE), figures of Italians abroad rose from 3,106,251 in 2006 to 4,636,647 in 2015, growing by 49.3% in just ten years.



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

The first Italian Americans began to immigrate en masse 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.

Italian Americans are citizens of the United States of America who are of Italian descent. Italian Americans are the fourth largest self-identified ethnic group of European Americans behind German Americans, Irish Americans and English Americans, though realistically the various Americans of British and Germanic ancestries that do not identify their ancestry are likely much higher in number.

Sicily Island in the Mediterranean and region of Italy

Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and one of the 20 regions of Italy. It is one of the five Italian autonomous regions, in Southern Italy along with surrounding minor islands, officially referred to as Regione Siciliana.

Southern Italy Macroregion of Italy

Southern Italy or Mezzogiorno is a macroregion of Italy meant to broadly denote the southern half of the Italian state.

During World War II

This poster discourages the use of Italian, German, and Japanese. Enemy's language.jpg
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[ citation needed ].

The language today

Current distribution of the Italian language in the United States. Italian USC2000 PHS.svg
Current distribution of the Italian language in the United States.
Italian speakers by states in 2000 [9]
StateItalian 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.

Buffalo, New York City in Western New York

Buffalo is the second largest city in the U.S. state of New York and the largest city in Western New York. As of 2018, the population was 256,304. The city is the county seat of Erie County and a major gateway for commerce and travel across the Canada–United States border, forming part of the bi-national Buffalo Niagara Region.

Chicago city and county seat of Cook County, Illinois, United States

Chicago, officially the City of Chicago, is the most populous city in the U.S. state of Illinois and the third most populous city in the United States. With an estimated population of 2,705,994 (2018), it is also the most populous city in the Midwestern United States. Chicago is the county seat of Cook County, the second most populous county in the US, with portions of the northwest city limits extending into DuPage County near O'Hare Airport. Chicago is the principal city of the Chicago metropolitan area, often referred to as Chicagoland. At nearly 10 million people, the metropolitan area is the third most populous in the nation.

Miami City in Florida, United States

Miami, officially the City of Miami, is an American city that is the seat of Miami-Dade County, and is the cultural, economic and financial center of South Florida. The city covers an area of about 56 square miles (150 km2) between the Everglades to the west and Biscayne Bay to the east. Miami is the sixth most densely populated major city in the United States with an estimated 2018 population of 470,914. The Miami metropolitan area is home to 6.1 million people, the second-most populous in the southeastern United States and the seventh-largest in the nation. The city has the third tallest skyline in the U.S. with over 300 high-rises, 55 of which exceed 490 ft (149 m).

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]

National Italian American Foundation non-profit organisation in the USA

Founded in 1975 to provide the nation’s growing Italian American community with an organized voice, the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, educational foundation dedicated to preserving and protecting Italian American culture and heritage. Based in Washington, D.C., it is the major advocate for nearly 25 million Italian Americans, the nation’s fifth largest ethnic group. NIAF serves as a resource on the Italian American community and provides educational and youth programs including scholarships, grants, heritage travel and mentoring.

Order Sons of Italy in America organization

The Order Sons of Italy in America is the largest and oldest Italian American fraternal organization in the United States. A similar organization exists in Canada.

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.

New York Public Library Public library system in New York City

The New York Public Library (NYPL) is a public library system in New York City. With nearly 53 million items and 92 locations, the New York Public Library is the second largest public library in the United States and the third largest in the world. It is a private, non-governmental, independently managed, nonprofit corporation operating with both private and public financing.

Brooklyn Public Library public library system

The Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) is the public library system of the borough of Brooklyn, in New York City. It is the fifth largest public library system in the United States. Like the two other public library systems in New York City, it is an independent nonprofit organization that is funded by the New York City and State governments, the federal government, and private donors. In Fiscal Year 2009, Brooklyn Public Library had the highest program attendance of any public library system in the United States. The library currently promotes itself as Bklyn Public Library.

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 recognized 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

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Sicilian pizza

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Italian immigration to Mexico

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Italo-Dalmatian languages Language family

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The Russian language is among the top fifteen most spoken languages in the United States. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, many Russians have migrated to the United States and brought the language with them. Most Russian speakers in the United States today are Russian Jews. According to the 2010 United States Census the number of Russian speakers was 854,955, which made Russian the 12th most spoken language in the country.

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Palestinian Americans, are Americans descended from the Palestinian people. It is unclear when the first Palestinian immigrants arrived into the United States. Later immigrants came to the country fleeing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


  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. 1 2 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