March 23rd, 2008, by Francesca

As I was pondering the best way to get started with our informal introduction to the Italian language and culture, Pipie jumped on my desk and I found myself thinking that if he could speak, his favorite word would be pollo.


So, there you go: your first Italian word is pollo (chicken) — same spelling as in Spanish, but different pronunciation. And since pollo is a kind of meat, let's look at some related words.

Please note: my programmer extraordinaire — Ben — has written a little script that allows me to load several audio files to one link so… you can click the link once to hear the slow version of how a word is pronounced, and then you can click it again to hear one or two reads at normal speed. Nice, eh? I will try to provide 3 different readings whenever I introduce a new word.

la carne meat
il manzo beef
il vitello calf
il maiale pork
la pecora sheep
l'agnello lamb
il pollo chicken
il coniglio rabbit
la gallina hen

Already from this short list you can see a few things. For starters, everything in Italian has a gender: masculine, feminine, neuter. This means that nouns (book, cat) and adjectives (red, hot) have different endings depending on whether they are feminine or masculine. Neuter has the same endings as masculine and only differs in the singular pronoun (he, it), so for all practical purposes you can think of genders as being either masculine or feminine.

Because of this, when you talk about meat you say la carne, because carne is feminine, while you say il pollo because pollo is masculine. I know, it makes no sense, and if you know other languages such as French or German you will often find that a noun is feminine in one language and masculine in another. You just have to memorize the words and I suggest that when learning a new word, you learn it along with its article; it will save you time in the long run and prevent you from having to unlearn things.

You may have noticed that Italian uses the same word to indicate both the animal and its meat. So, maiale means both "pig" and "pork", although we also have the word porco which can mean both "pig" and "pig meat".

In addition to coordinating nouns and adjectives according to their gender, Italian matches them based on whether they are singular or plural, so we say il pollo if it's one chicken and i polli if it's more than one.

Let's look at the various articles.

Singular Plural
il, lo, la the (singular)
i, gli, le the (plural)
un, uno, una a, an (singular)
dei, degli, delle some, a few (plural)

Some examples:

Singular Plural
il pollo (the chicken) i polli (the chickens)
lo scampo gli scampi
la gallina le galline
un pollo (a chicken) dei polli (some chickens)
uno scampo degli scampi
una gallina delle galline


There are a few sounds in Italian that don't exist in the English language and we have our first example in the words gli and coniglio which contain the same sound you will encounter in the word aglio (garlic).

A proposito (by the way), gatto is NOT a kind of meat; it means "cat". :)


Italian grammar (wikipedia entry in English)

Grammatica italiana (wikipedia entry in Italian)

I think this will keep you busy for a while. I know it kept *me* busy for more than I had expected. Although I've been doing web development since 1995, I've never really created audio files before so after I had the text for my post ready, I went to the Apple store to get a microphone (the built-in mike in my laptop didn't quite cut it) and then researched audio editing software for the Mac. I ended up buying Audio Hijack Pro and Fission and spent the best part of yesterday getting acquainted with my new equipment and testing it out. I recorded all my words four times in a row because I kept forgetting to turn on the mike. Ahem…

Anyway, I hope you find this helpful and that the vegetarians will forgive me for this beginning. It wasn't planned, and you can blame it on Pipie.

P.S. I am still working on design elements, typography and the like, so you'll notice some changes as time goes by.

12 Responses to “Pollo”

  1. carlene Says:
    OMG, this was GREAT! I have always wanted to learn Italian (I studied French in high school & college) and this is a great start...with food! And...that's YOU! You recorded these for us. I can't believe it. Really, this is so great. Can you tell I'm excited.
  2. karen Says:
    Gatto-pipie, visit my house for dei polli. That's as much of a translation I can manage so far (: Cute sketches!
  3. kaisakaisa Says:
    Grazie mille! This is so interesting and made me hungry for Italian food (and I'm a vegetarian). Even if I didn't find the movie here in Finland and there are area restrictions on the US download sites, I'm definitely feeling inspired by this culinary and language adventure. Thank you for doing this for us! I've studied some Latin, but never Italian. I just know a few random expressions, because I've visited Italy (Padova and the Veneto area around it).
  4. Susanne Says:
    Hi Francesca, This is great, thanks! I am a vegetarian, but I'll forgive you! It will prevent me from ordering the wrong pizza again when visiting Italy! ;) Susanne
  5. Francesca Says:
    Ah, two vegetarians already! Not to worry; there will be plenty of non-meat words soon, I promise. In the meantime, Pipie is busy making travel arrangements to go get un po' di pollo a casa di Karen (some chicken at Karen's house).
  6. kris Says:
    aha, so that's where pecorino cheese comes from! mmmm cheese ... :) great post, francesca!
  7. karen Says:
    ciao Pipie...just appear at the back door and look sad and hungry! Francesca, the newest Saveur magazine has "Classic Pasta - The Secrets of Italy's Greatest Food Revealed..." on the cover. I'll leave it to you to determine if they got it right!
  8. Peggy Says:
    I'm a vegetarian too, but my two dogs (one of whom we call la dogaressa, don't ask) are NOT. Are your cats bilingual? The new blog is lovely! And it's so impressive how you've turned right around and started something new. It's inspiring.
  9. WendyM Says:
    I can tell this new blog is going to be high on my list of 'must reads'. I am not a vegetarian and will be eagerly following you on this new adventure. It just occurred to me that my cook-book orders will no doubt increase - the shelves are already groaning!
  10. Lydia Says:
    Thank you for adding the audio files, it really makes a difference. I took years of Spanish before I took a few Italian courses, and now both languages suffer: I speak Spatalian and Italish. Maybe your lessons will help my Italian. I appreciate your hard work!
  11. Laura Says:
    Oh, you can't even imagine how much I'm enjoying your audio files. It's almost like having you right here in my condo!!!! Amazingly, Cosmos did not bark, even though he generally finds "foreign languages" offensive. It must be the topic; he considers meat a universal unifier.
  12. Ava Says:
    I'm really impressed! Thanks!