Neapolitan language

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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  Neapolitan[2]
sout3126  South Lucanian = Vd Lausberg[3]
Neapolitan language.jpg
Neapolitan dialects

Neapolitan (autonym: (’o n)napulitano [(o n)napuliˈtɑːnə]; Italian: napoletano) is a language and sect of closely related dialects spoken across much of southern Italy.[4][5][6] It is not named specifically after the city of Naples, but rather the homonymous Kingdom that once covered most of the area; the city was in fact its capital. On October 14, 2008, a law by the Region of Campania stated that Neapolitan was to be protected.[7] While the term "Neapolitan language" is used in this article to refer to the language group of related dialects found in southern continental Italy, it may also refer more specifically to the dialect of the Neapolitan language spoken in the Naples area or in Campania.

Neapolitan has had a significant influence on the intonation of Rioplatense Spanish, of the Buenos Aires region of Argentina, and the whole of Uruguay.[8]


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:[9]

  1. Abruzzese and Southern Marchigiano:
    Ia. Southern Marchigiano (Ascoli Piceno).
    Ib. Teramano (province of Teramo; northern province of Pescara: Atri, Abruzzo).
    Ic. Abruzzese Eastern Adriatico (Southern province of Pescara: Penne, Francavilla al Mare; province of Chieti).
    Id. Western Abruzzese (southern part of province of L'Aquila: Pescina, Sulmona, Pescasseroli, Roccaraso).
  2. Molisan (Molise)
  3. Apulian (Pugliese):
    IIIa. Dauno (western province of Foggia: Foggia, Bovino).
    IIIb. Garganico (eastern province of Foggia: Gargano).
    IIIc. Barese (province of Bari; western province of Taranto, and part of the western province of Brindisi).
  4. Campanian (Campania),
    IVa. Southern Laziale (southern part of province of Frosinone: Sora, Lazio, Cassino; southern part of Province of Latina: Gaeta, Formia).
    IVb. Naples dialect (Neapolitan proper: Naples and the Gulf of Naples).
    IVc. Irpino (province of Avellino).
    IVd. Cilentano (southern part of province of Salerno: Vallo della Lucania).
  5. Lucanian and Northern Calabrian:
    Va. Northwestern Lucanian (northern province of Potenza: Potenza, Melfi).
    Vb. Northeastern Lucanian (province of Matera: Matera).
    Vc. Central Lucanian (province of Potenza: Lagonegro, Pisticci, Laurenzana).
    Vd. Southern Lucanian. The "Lausberg Area"; archaic forms of Lucanian with Sardinian vocalism (described in Lausberg 1939). It lies between Calabria and Basilicata (Chiaromonte, Oriolo).
    Ve. Cosentino (province of Cosenza: Rossano, Diamante, Castrovillari). With transitional dialects to south of Cosenza, where they give way to Sicilian group dialects.

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


Giambattista Basile (1566–1632), author of a collection of fairy tales in Neapolitan that includes the earliest known versions of Rapunzel and Cinderella

Neapolitan is generally considered one of the Italo-Dalmatian languages. There are notable differences among the various dialects, but they are all generally mutually intelligible. Italian and Neapolitan are of variable mutual comprehensibility, depending on factors that are both affective and linguistic. There are notable grammatical differences, such as Neapolitan having nouns in the neuter form and a unique plural formation as well as historical phonological developments, which often obscure the cognacy of lexical items.

Its evolution has been similar to that of Italian and other Romance languages from their roots in Vulgar Latin. It may reflect a pre-Latin Oscan influence, in the pronunciation of the d sound as an r sound (rhotacism) at the beginning of a word or between two vowels ("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, also cadé/caré (to fall) and Madonna/Maronna). Another purported Oscan influence is the historical assimilation of the consonant cluster /nd/ as /nn/, pronounced [nː] (it generally is reflected in spelling more consistently) ("munno" ('world', Italian "mondo"), "quanno" ('when', Italian "quando")), along with the development of /mb/ as /mm/ (tammuro (drum), Italian tamburo), also consistently reflected in spelling. Other effects of the Oscan substratum are postulated, but substratum claims are highly controversial. In addition, the language was also affected by Greek. The language had never been standardised, and the word for tree has three different spellings: 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 University of Naples Federico II offers (from 2003) courses in Campanian Dialectology at the faculty of Sociology, whose actual aim is not teaching students to speak the language, but studying its history, usage, literature and social role. There are also ongoing legislative attempts at the national level to have it recognized as an official minority language of Italy. It is however a recognized ISO 639 Joint Advisory Committee language with the language code of nap.

Here is the IPA pronunciation of the neapolitan spoken in the city of Naples:

English Neapolitan (Naples) IPA
Our Father who art in heaven, Pate nuoste ca staje 'n cielo, [ˈpɑtə nwˈostə kaˈstɑjə ŋt͡ʃiˈelə]
hallowed be thy name santificammo 'o nomme tuojo [saŋtifiˈkɑmmə on'nommə ˈtwojə]
Thy kingdom come, faje venì 'o regno tuojo, [ˈfajə vəˈni or'rɛɲɲə twojə]
Thy will be done, sempe cu 'a vuluntà toja, [ˈsɛŋpə ˈka vuluŋˈta ˈtɔjə]
on earth as it is in heaven. accussí 'n cielo accussì 'n terra. [akkuˈssi ˈŋt͡ʃiˈelə eˈŋtɛrrə]
Give us this day our daily bread Fance avé 'o pane tutte 'e juorne [ˈfat͡ʃt͡ʃaˈve opˈpɑnə ˈtutte jwornə]
and forgive us our trespasses lièvace 'e dièbbete [liˈevaʃə eddi'ebbətə]
as we forgive those who trespass against us, comme nuje 'e levamme a ll'ate, [ˈkommə ˈnujə ellə'vɑmmə al'lɑtə]
and lead us not into temptation, nun ce fa spantecà, [ˈnuŋ ŋt͡ʃəˈfa ʃpaŋtəˈka]
but deliver us from evil. e lievace 'o male 'a tuorno. [elli'evaʃə om'malə aˈtwornə]
Amen. Ammèn. [aˈmɛn]

Alphabet and pronunciation[edit]

Neapolitan orthography consists of 22 Latin letters. Much like Italian orthography, it does not contain k, w, x, or y even though these letters might be found in some foreign words. However, unlike Italian, it does contain the letter j. The English pronunciation guidelines that follow are based on General American pronunciation and the values used may not be applicable to other dialects. (See also: International Phonetic Alphabet chart for English dialects.)

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 usually 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 /d͡ʒ/,
when followed by e or i the pronunciation is like the g of germane, always geminated when preceded by another vowel
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/[10] 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 /ks/ 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[edit]

The following clusters are always geminated vowel-internally.

Letter IPA Pronunciation Guide
gn /ɲ/ palatal version of the ni in the English onion
gl(i) /ʎ ~ ʝ/ palatal version of the lli in the English million, most commonly realized like a strong version of y in the English yes.
sc /ʃ/ when followed by e or i it is pronounced as the sh in the English ship


Definite articles[edit]

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
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[edit]

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’

Verbal conjugation[edit]

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 "(h)avé" (en. "to have", it. "avere"), which contrasts with Italian in which the intransitive verbs take "èssere" for their auxiliary. For example, we have:

na. So stato a Nnapule ajere AUX-BE-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[edit]

In Neapolitan, many times the initial consonant of a word is doubled. This is called Raddoppiamento sintattico in Italian as it also apply to the Italian phonology.

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

However, when there is a pause after the "trigger" word, the phonological doubling does not occur (e.g. Tu sî (g)guaglione, [You are a boy] where is a "trigger" word causing doubling of the initial consonant in guaglione but in the phrase ’e do sî, guagliò? [Where are you from, boy?] no doubling occurs). Neither does doubling occur 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). It should be noted that this is what happens phonologically and that an orthographic change is not required. The same thing happens in Italian, where multiple words trigger first-consonant doubling, e.g. la casa but a (c)casa, io e (t)te, etc.

Words that trigger doubling in pronunciation[edit]

  • The conjunctions e and but not o (e.g. pane e ccaso; né (p)pane né (c)caso; but pane o caso)
  • The prepositions a, pe, cu (e.g. a (m)me; pe (t)te; cu (v)vuje)
  • The negation nu, short for nun (e.g. nu ddicere niente)
  • The indefinites ogne, cocche (e.g. ogne (c)casa; cocche (c)cosa)
  • Interrogative che and relative che but not ca (e.g. Che (p)piense? Che (f)femmena! Che (c)capa!)
  • accussí (e.g. accussí (b)bello)
  • From the verb "essere," so’; ; è but not songo (e.g. je so’ (p)pazzo; tu sî (f)fesso; chella è (M)Maria; chilli so’ (c)afune but chilli songo cafune)
  • chiú (e.g. chiú (p)poco)
  • The number tre (e.g. tre (s)segge)
  • The neuter definite article ’o (e.g. ’o (p)pane, but nu poco ’e pane)
  • The neuter pronoun ’o (e.g. ’o (t)tiene ’o (p)pane?)
  • Demonstrative adjectives chistu and chillu which refer to neuter nouns in indefinite quantities (e.g. chistu (f)fierro; chillu (p)pane ) but not in definite quantities (e.g. Chistu fierro; chillu pane)
  • The feminine plural definite article ’e (e.g. ’e (s)segge; ’e (g)guaglione)
  • The plural feminine pronoun ’e (’e (g)guaglione ’e (c)chiamme tu?)
  • The plural masculine pronoun ’e preceding a verb, but not a noun (’e guagliune ’e (c)chiamme tu?)
  • The locative lloco (e.g. lloco (s)sotto)
  • From the verb stà: sto’ (e.g. sto’ (p)parlanno)
  • From the verb puté: può; (e.g. ; isso pô (s)sapé)
  • Special case Spiritu (S)Santo

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Neapolitan at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Neapolitan". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "South Lucanian". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  4. ^ Minahan, James (2002). Encyclopedia of the Stateless Nations: L-R. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 1348. ISBN 978-0-313-32111-5. 
  5. ^ J.-P. Cavaillé; Le napolitain : une langue majoritaire minorée. 09 mars 2007.
  6. ^ The Guardian for the list of languages in the Unesco site.
  7. ^ "Tutela del dialetto, primo via libera al Ddl campano" Archived 27 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine. ("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
  8. ^ Colantoni, Laura, and Jorge Gurlekian. More recently, on 27 October 2017, Ondrej also officially recognized it as a language."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
  9. ^ Carta dei Dialetti d'Italia Archived 3 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine. (Mapping of dialects of Italy) by Giovan Battista Pellegrini, 1977 (in Italian)
  10. ^ Canepari, Luciano (2005), Italia (PDF), Manuale di fonetica, Lincom Europa, pp. 282–283, ISBN 3-89586-456-0, archived from the original (PDF) on 6 June 2011  (in Italian)

Additional sources[edit]

External links[edit]