Neapolitan language

Neapolitan (autonym: (’o n)napulitano [(o n)napuliˈtɑːnə]; Italian: napoletano) is a Romance language of the Italo-Dalmatian group spoken across much of southern Italy, except for southern Calabria, southern Apulia, and Sicily,[4][5][6] and spoken in a small part of central Italy (the province of Ascoli Piceno in the Marche). It is not named specifically after the city of Naples, but rather the homonymous Kingdom that once covered most of the area, and of which the city was the capital. On October 14, 2008, a law by the Region of Campania stated that Neapolitan was to be protected.[7]

Native toItaly
RegionAbruzzo, Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Lazio, Marche, Molise
Native speakers
5.7 million (2002)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-2nap
ISO 639-3nap
Glottologneap1235  Neapolitan[2]
sout3126  South Lucanian = (Vd) Lausberg[3]
Neapolitan as part of the centro-southern Italian languages. Purple represents Neapolitan.
Neapolitan dialects

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. In fact, in a colloquial or non-academic or non-linguist context, “Neapolitan language”, napulitano, or napoletano generally refers specifically to the variety of the language spoken in Naples and the surrounding area; however, this variety is usually mutually intelligible with other related “Neapolitan language” varieties throughout Southern Italy.

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 late 19th century and early 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. On the other hand, the effect on Neapolitan in Italy has been similar due to displacement by Standard Italian.

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: Marsica, Avezzano, 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 (includes Tarantino dialect); 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. Neapolitan (as in the language spoken in Naples) (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. Cosentian (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.


Neapolitan is a Romance language and is generally considered one of the Italo-Romance branch of the Italo-Dalmatian languages.[10] 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 substratum, as in the pronunciation of the d sound as an r sound (rhotacism) at the beginning of a word or between two vowels: e.g. doje (feminine) or duje (masculine), meaning "two", is pronounced, and often spelled, as roje/ruje; vedé ("to see") 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] (this is generally reflected in spelling more consistently: munno vs Italian mondo "world"; quanno vs Italian quando "when"), along with the development of /mb/ as /mm/~[mː] (tammuro vs Italian tamburo "drum"), also consistently reflected in spelling. Other effects of the Oscan substratum are postulated, but substratum claims are highly controversial. As in many other languages in the Italian Peninsula, Neapolitan has an adstratum greatly influenced by other Romance languages (Catalan, Spanish and Franco-Provençal above all), Germanic languages, Greek (both ancient and modern) and Arabic. 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, [ˈpɑːtə ˈnwostə ka ˈstɑːjə nˈdʒjeːlə]
hallowed be thy name santificammo 'o nnomme tuojo [sandifiˈkamm(ə) o nˈnommə ˈtwoːjə]
Thy kingdom come, faje venì 'o rregno tuojo, [ˈfɑːjə vəˈni o rˈrɛɲɲə ˈtwoːjə]
Thy will be done, sempe cu 'a vuluntà (t)toja, [ˈsɛmbə ˈkɑː vulunˈda (t)ˈtɔːjə]
on earth as it is in heaven. accussì 'n cielo accussì 'n terra. [akkusˈsi nˈdʒjeːlə akkusˈsi nˈdɛrrə]
Give us this day our daily bread Fance avé 'o ppane tutte 'e juorne [ˈfandʒ aˈve o pˈpɑːnə ˈtutt e ˈjwornə]
and forgive us our trespasses liévace 'e ddiébbete [ˈljeːvaʃ(ə) e dˈdjebbətə]
as we forgive those who trespass against us, comme nuje 'e llevamme a ll'ate, [ˈkommə ˈnuːjə e lləˈvammə a lˈlɑːtə]
and lead us not into temptation, nun ce fa spantecà, [nun dʒə ˈfa ʃpandəˈka]
but deliver us from evil. e lliévace 'o mmale 'a tuorno. [e lˈljeːvaʃ(ə) o mˈmɑːl(ə) a ˈtwornə]
Amen. Ammèn. [amˈmɛnn(ə)]

Alphabet and pronunciation

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; like traditional 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 [ˈlwoŋɡə], longa [ˈloŋɡə]; 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 eight. Stressed 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, with alternative ì and ù. However, accent marks are not commonly 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. Also, the circumflex is used to mark a long vowel where it wouldn't normally occur (e.g. "you are").

Letter IPA Pronunciation guide
a /a/~[ɑ]
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, always geminated when preceded by another vowel
c /t͡ʃ/~[ʃ]
when followed by e or i the pronunciation is somewhere between the sh in share and the ch in chore, especially after a vowel
otherwise it is like the k in skip (not like the c in call, which is aspirated)
in both cases voiced after n
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; if followed by a consonant, it variously changes its point of articulation
p /p/
pronounced the same as the p in English spill (not as the p in pill, which is aspirated)
voiced after m
q /kʷ/ represented by orthographic qu, pronounced the same as in English
r /r/~[ɾ] 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 sound unless it comes before a consonant other than /t d n r l/
pronounced as ds in lads after n
pronounced as English z before d
pronounced sh when followed by a voiceless consonant (except /t/)
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)
voiced after n
v /v/ pronounced the same as in English
x /k(ə)s/ pronounced like the cks in backs or like the cchus in Bacchus; this consonant sequence does not occur in native Neapolitan or Italian words
z /d͡z/
voiced z is pronounced like the ds in lads
unvoiced z (not occurring after n) is pronounced like the ts in jetsam

Digraphs and trigraphs

The following clusters are always geminated if vowel-following.

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

The Neapolitan classical 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’ are used 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, 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, 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

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

In Neapolitan there are four finite moods: indicative, subjunctive, conditional and imperative, and three non-finite modes: infinitive, gerund and participle. Each mood has an active and a passive form. The only auxiliary verbs used in the active form is (h)avé (Eng. "to have", It. avere), which contrasts with Italian in which the intransitive and reflexive verbs take èssere for their auxiliary. For example, we have:

Nap.Aggio stato a Nnapule ajere.AUX-HAVE-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
Eng.I was in Naples yesterday.

Doubled initial consonants

In Neapolitan, many times the initial consonant of a word is doubled. This is called raddoppiamento sintattico in Italian as it also applies 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, guaglió? [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). This is what happens phonologically and no orthographic change is 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

  • 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)cafune 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


  1. Neapolitan at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Continental Southern Italian". 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."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. Hammarström, Harald & Forkel, Robert & Haspelmath, Martin & Nordhoff, Sebastian. 2014. "Italo-Dalmatian" Glottolog 2.3. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
  11. 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

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