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date: 01 October 2023

History of the Italian Lexiconlocked

History of the Italian Lexiconlocked

  • Paolo D’AchillePaolo D’AchilleUniversità degli Studi Roma Tre and Accademia della Crusca


The basis of the Italian lexicon is primarily Latin, with substrate features already existing in the languages spoken before the diverse population on the peninsula was Latinized, prior to the gradual conquest by the Romans, and with terms borrowed from Greek. In addition to the lexemes continued directly from Latin, Italian also shows a Germanic superstrate (Gothic, Lombard, Frankish) and an Arabic adstrate; many Germanisms, Arabisms and Hellenisms were borrowed in the Middle Ages. These were almost always in an adapted form, before the vernacular was given any recognition, and today form part of the “core vocabulary.” The Italian lexicon has also been supplemented by new learned Latin borrowings, exogenous lexemes, borrowings from the other languages with which Italian has been in contact, either directly or indirectly, and dialects (linguistic systems which developed independently of Tuscan/Florentine-based Italian). Similarly, there have been endogenous developments, mainly neologisms.

As mentioned, the vocabulary of Latin origin can be divided into two categories. The first one includes the “inherited” vocabulary, that is words that Italian (like all other Romance languages and dialects) inherited from Latin directly through continued verbal use. Although their number is relatively limited, they have been attested for the longest period and make up the majority of the “core vocabulary.” The second category includes Latinisms, which entered the language through learned written use, from the earliest stages of the language right up to the early 21st century. As most of these were also adapted in the process, they cannot always be clearly distinguished formally from lexemes inherited through popular use. The influx of such forms is to some extent still ongoing. In some cases, in particular in the modern and contemporary eras, it has occurred via other languages, primarily French and English.

Among the exogenous elements, that is borrowings, particularly noteworthy are the Gallicisms, Iberianisms, and Anglicisms, which entered Italian in the modern and contemporary era and were gradually integrated into the Italian lexicon (at least in writing) with adaptation by this stage no longer taking place (it was normal in earlier stages of the language). Calques remain frequent. Another remarkable phenomenon is internal loans or dialecticisms, that is lexemes once restricted to certain dialect areas or regions and that now form part of the common lexicon.

Endogenous processes are represented primarily by the creation of neologisms, that is lexemes created within Italian via the normal means of word-formation (principally derivation and compounding). But attention should also be paid to semantic change: many terms already in use have developed new meanings, in some cases additional to the original meanings, and in other cases replacing them.


  • History of Linguistics
  • Language Families/Areas/Contact

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