I to be an outsider in Italy. I might look the part, thanks to my Jewish ancestry, yet I don’t have a fall of Italian blood in my family members tree (sadface). But because so much of the civilization – Italy consisted of – is significantly a melting pot these days, the didn’t make sense to focus on my own exterior status because that this month’s Italy Roundtable topic of FOREIGN.

You are watching: What letters are not in the italian alphabet

Instead, I’m doing among my favorite points – geeking out over some Italian language history. “Italian language nerdery,” I speak to it.

I think etymology is fascinating, yet looking at alphabets takes me back one step before words. When I very first learned that the Italian alphabet didn’t have the same variety of letters together the alphabet I prospered up singing, i was intrigued. But it wasn’t until I sat under to write this write-up that i really dug right into some of the history. I discovered it pretty interesting. Ns hope friend do, too.


public domain photo by bernswaelz


Here’s a thing that my Italian language students always treated as an excellent news – there are only 21 letters in the Italian alphabet. The remaining five that we usage in the English alphabet aren’t unknown in Italy, yet they’re nearly always provided for what are referred to as “loanwords” – indigenous of international origin that Italians have actually co-opted, choose “yogurt,” “jeans,” or “webcam.”

Here’s another thing around those five letters, the ones that don’t appear in the main Italian alphabet – they were successfully banned by Mussolini in 1929.

But let me earlier up a minute.

Italian Alphabet


Latin mosaic in Aquileia || an imaginative commons photograph by Wolfgang Sauber


Italian is a straight descendent the Latin. Depending on who you ask, it may be the closest living Romance language come Latin. The ancient Latin alphabet to be taken indigenous the Etruscan alphabet, which came from the Cumae alphabet, which came from the old Greek alphabet. The Greek alphabet has actually 24 letters, yet the Etruscans had broadened that to 27. Indigenous that, the ancient Romans whittled it come the 21 letters they took to kind the Latin alphabet.

And while the 21 letters in the old Roman alphabet do not correlate straight to the 21 in the Italian alphabet, I favor the symmetry of the numbers. It renders me think over there was part reasoning and logic behind it, y’know?

At any rate, here’s a summary of the 21 letter in the Italian alphabet, including phonetic pronunciations for each one:

A (ah)H (AH | kah)Q (coo)
B (bee)I (ee)R (EH | reh)
C (chee)L (EH | leh)S (EH | seh)
D (dee)M (EH | meh)T (tee)
E (eh)N (EH | neh)U (oo)
F (EH | feh)O (oh)V (vee or voo)
G (jee)P (pee)Z (ZEH | tah)

The 5 letters that are not in the official Italian alphabet room as follows:

J – ns lunga, which means “long I” (ee LOON | gah)K – kappa (KAH | pah)W – doppia v, which means “double V” (DOHP | yah voo or vee)X – icks (eeks)Y – i greca or ipsilon (ee GREH | kah or EEP | check out | lon)

Astute readers will an alert that the Italian surname for the letter “Y” gives you a hint as to its beginning – it’s the “Greek I.” and “kappa,” the Italian name for the letter “K,” is also the surname of the Greek letter. These 5 letters are, as mentioned, largely taken from foreign languages (principally Greek) and also used mainly in “loanwords” like the ones ns talked about earlier. Incidentally, names can be loanwords, too. There’s no “J” in the Italian alphabet, but Italians are familiar sufficient with it the they know just how to express my name, because that instance.

The tricky bit about saying those five letters come indigenous “foreign” languages is that every one of the regional languages and also dialects that space still commonly talked throughout Italy are, in a sense, “foreign” languages. There’s a town near Venice dubbed Jesolo, and also sports fans might be familiar with the renowned soccer team from Turin called Juventus. But these names come from local languages, not Italian.

Today, local languages and dialects are not just tolerated yet celebrated and, sometimes, enshrined right into local law. Yet that wasn’t constantly the case. No that long ago, the overriding belief was the if the wasn’t Italian, it to be foreign. And foreign was bad.

And that’s what made things especially an overwhelming in 1929.

Banning international Words


Mussolini in Milan, 1930 || creative commons photo via German commonwealth Archives


Censorship is a powerful tool the dictators have used to their advantage in several places and also different time periods. Once Benito Mussolini and the Fascists increased to power in Italy in the at an early stage 1920s, few of their earliest actions to expand and also solidify their grip on the country involved censorship.

Mussolini’s federal government (which was made up entirely of Fascists by this point) was nationalist to the extreme (yes, that’s putting it mildly), promoting “Italianization” in whatever to “avoid polluting the Italian culture.” So, top top July 23, 1929, not even 70 years since the nation was first unified, the Italian government banned the use of international words.

Perhaps some of you have currently begun to sense where this is going, and also why this certain bit the censorship was more problematic than it might have to be in an additional country. In 1922, as soon as Mussolini came to be Prime Minister of Italy, it’s approximated that only 12% of the entire population of the country spoke what could be referred to as the Italian language. Twelve percent. The remainder spoke – you guessed it – a huge range of local languages, few of which bore small to no resemblance to Italian, and all of which were deemed “foreign.”

The goal, ostensibly, to be to accelerate the rate at which citizens speak the country’s official language. The Fascists wanted an extremely much to gain words native French, English, and also other actual international languages the end of renowned use. But regional languages and dialects were lumped right into the same category as French and English, with the speak of dialects and regional languages strictly forbidden.

And that’s wherein we come earlier to wherein we started, with 5 letters gift banned through the Italian government.

It wasn’t the letters, per se, that were banned, of course, but due to the fact that they were only used in what the Fascists asserted “foreign” languages, lock were properly blacklisted. Italian indigenous were designed where none had existed. Names were changed.

Some the those changes have endured. Mickey mouse is still called “Topolino” (“Little Mouse”) in Italy today. The massive industry of dubbing foreign films into Italian had actually its origins in Fascism, when the practice was put in place to store those pesky foreign words from ever entering one Italian’s ears. And, while countless Italians tho speak local dialects or languages, the Italian language is essentially ubiquitous throughout the country.

Thankfully, however, the censorship didn’t last, and the 5 banned letters (and all the linked banned words) are allowed in Italy now. Italian was only codified as the main language the Italy in 2007, however that’s one more story…

Italian Language: additional Reading

Here room a couple of other things I’ve written, for more fun tidbits around the Italian language:

Other Voices at the Italy Roundtable

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KareninCalabria says:
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Lorenzo says:

While it is true that Fascism tried come “Italianise” a variety of foreign words, from Cocktail to Bar, to movie to Menu, come Bordeaux, to many others, I had never heard of castle trying to “abolish” part letters and also I don’t see it as completely plausible.For instance, the usage of the semivocalic J in Italian (J was one of the last letter to be added to the Latin alphabet) to be disappearing long before the increase of Fascism, remaining just in part crystalized occurrences (Jesolo, Jugoslavia (Juventus is Latin), Jacopo….) and also it certainly disappeared during the XIX century in instead of of the geminate i. So, perhaps, Mussolini found that those letter had gradually disappeared by themselves, and also had one job less to do.