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Italian translations: More dolce vita for your texts

Family eating pasta Bolognese at Italian style dinner

Did you know that Italian is the language learned by the second-largest number of people in the EU?

Italian is definitely on the up. 87 million people worldwide speak the language of our southern neighbours – including here in Switzerland. But how did the Italians come to Switzerland? What is the difference between Italian Italian and Swiss Italian? What does this mean for your Italian translations?

Let’s take one thing at a time.

How did the Italians come to Switzerland?

The Italians’ history of immigration dates back to the 19th century with the first major wave of migrant workers arriving from North Italy in 1900. Many of them worked as labourers on the construction of the Gotthard railway and the Simplon Tunnel.

The second wave followed during the 1950s and 1960s, when workers were needed (particularly in the construction industry) to rebuild the country after the Second World War. Although the economic miracle in Italy reached its peak in around 1960, many Italians still came to Switzerland, especially from the south, a region that saw hardly any boom or no boom at all. By 1970, there were over half a million Italian immigrant workers in Switzerland, which at the time had 6.2 million inhabitants. However, about 300,000 workers were sent back home during the oil crisis in 1973.

We called for labour, and people came

In retrospect, the way in which Italian migrants integrated was exemplary. The path to this model of success, however, was occasionally rocky. As Max Frisch acknowledged in 1965: ‘We called for labour, and people came.’ Human beings, with their own language, culture and traditions. At the time, this was not to everyone’s taste, as the italianità of these migrant workers, also referred to pejoratively as ‘Tschinggen’, meant they were not always welcomed with open arms.

One example of this was the Schwarzenbach Initiative against foreign infiltration, launched by the Zurich Democratic Party in 1965. This sought to limit the percentage of foreigners in Switzerland to 10%. Around 350,000 Italians would have had to leave the country. The initiative failed at the polls in 1970, albeit narrowly (54% voted against it). Participation was 75%, and only men were allowed to vote at that time.

There were also some highlights, however – the honour of triggering the final explosion to excavate the Gotthard road tunnel in 1976 was granted to two Italians: Arturo Gaetani and Pancrazio Ranieri, two family men who had already been living in Switzerland for over twenty years. 11 July 1982 is another date that will live on in history: Italy became World Cup champions for the third time. By this time, if not earlier, the word ‘Autokorso’ – the Italian habit of driving through the streets beeping their horns to celebrate a sporting victory – had entered the vernacular.

The Italian community in Switzerland today

A Switzerland without pizzas, vespas and gelato is scarcely imaginable. The pink sports paper (‘La Gazzetta dello Sport’) or the invention of Alfonso Bialetti have also long been a familiar sight everywhere.

It is no wonder that the Italian community, numbering over 320,000 people, is the largest group of foreigners in Switzerland. This number has also continued to grow for years; there are also around 70,000 cross-border commuters living in Italy but working in Ticino.

Italians have been socially and economically integrated in Switzerland for a long time now and live throughout the country, mainly in Ticino, French-speaking Switzerland and Central Switzerland. Dietikon, in Limmattal in the canton of Zurich, is even known as ‘Little Italy’. Italian immigrants in Switzerland can typically be found in Colonie Libere Italiane (CLI) – independent clubs where they can indulge in their social and cultural interests.

Some interesting facts about the Italian language

Italian is a Romance language and is the mother tongue of 87 million people around the world. Modern High Italian developed from Florentine. It is an official language in Italy, San Marino, Switzerland, the Vatican City, as well as in Slovenia, Croatia and Malta.

Our southern neighbours have formed part of our landscape for a long time now, but so has their language, in the form of Italianisms. There are plenty of German words with Italian origins in commerce (Kapital, Bank, Kredit, etc.), music (andante, aria, sinfonia, soprano, etc.), cuisine (Torte, Zitrone, Marzipan, Kartoffel (German for ‘potato’, derived from the Italian ‘tartufolo’ for ‘truffle’) and so on.

What are the main variants of Italian?

The difference between Italian Italian and Swiss Italian in a few words. Around half a million people in Switzerland speak Italian, with most of them in the cantons of Ticino and Grisons. But watch out: Swiss Italian is not quite the same as Italian Italian!

Certain terms commonly used in Ticino mean something quite different in Italy, or are not used at all there For example, if you attend first aid training in Ticino, the ‘monitore’ will show you how to give chest compressions. The situation is entirely different in Italy, where the ‘istruttore’ gives the class, and the ‘monitore’ sits quietly on the desk, because it is a screen.

Another example: if you call a Ticino resident on their mobile phone, they will pick up their ‘natel‘. This word is completely unknown in Italy, where people pull out their ‘telefonino’ or their ‘cellulare‘. There is an interesting phenomenon in the ‘supermercato’ as well: whereas people in Italy come across an ‘offerta speciale’ (special offer), the corresponding items in Switzerland are on ‘azione’, which merely means ‘action’ in Italy.

Italian for beginners

Italian is not exactly easy. Because it is a Romance language – unlike English – every word has its own gender. This also means that word endings must agree grammatically, in gender, case and number. Some expressions are so well-known, however, that you might already be able to speak a little Italian without even being aware of it. Here are a few examples:

PleasePer favore
Thank youGrazie
Excuse meScusi
You’re welcomeDi niente

Language experts for Italian translations

As you can see, it is always worth paying the necessary degree of attention to linguistic and cultural details as part of translation and localisation, especially as Italian has a large target audience – including in Switzerland.

SwissGlobal is an ISO-certified language service provider. We work with native-speaker Italian linguists from Switzerland and Italy. They are experts in their respective specialist fields and are very familiar with the linguistic and cultural differences between Switzerland and Italy.

Contact us for a no-obligation quote for your translation. A presto!