The Most Beautiful Language in the World?

I read this article recently, suggesting that Italian is the most beautiful language in the world. I was intrigued, thinking that obviously the idea of beauty in any terms is going to be subjective, but I could also see why many people would choose Italian, so I read on.

As you can read in more detail in the article, there are couple of arguments in favour of Italian being the most beautiful language. The first is that it’s more inspired by creative writers than others. This is mainly because Italy was unified relatively recently, in the mid-19th century. Before then, there was no official, administrative Italian through which a centralised government communicated. Rather, people in each region spoke their own quite distinct dialects. Even today, it’s not uncommon to hear people use these dialects. Because of this lack of “official” Italian for a long time, most people using Italian were writers and poets, who therefore influenced the development of modern Italian.

It also seems that the mechanics of the language itself are inherently attractive to many listeners. The language features many more vowel sounds compared to English, for example, and most words end in vowels, creating an open, rolling sound. Italian also has a higher variation in tone than English, creating the impression of a sing-song staccato rhythm. And having a quick look around the internet, it seems that a lot of people agree with the writer of the article.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, French generally seems to be considered the second-most beautiful language, and I suspect that if you polled only English speakers, we’d choose French as the most beautiful. We like the rhythm of Italian, but we seem to find French much more romantic. It shares some of the features of Italian such as a Latin basis and long, round vowel sounds. But, it’s also a little more similar to English, with more consonant clusters, and particularly more words ending in consonants. These consonants tend to be much softer than in English, like the N in Macron, for example. And maybe that’s why we’re so attracted to French: it’s got the sing-song openness of Italian, but is also familiar to us because it’s closer to English (and we’ve borrowed more French words too). I think French sounds like a romantic version of English then, with similar words, only with softer consonant sounds and seductively drawn out vowel sounds. It’s exotic, but still familiar.

I’m not sure what I’d pick as the most beautiful language. I see the appeal of Italian, and it can sound beautiful, but I’m also quite used to it perché parlo solo un poco’, ma more so because I’ve heard it so much as a teacher (good luck trying to get 15 hyperactive Italian 14-year olds to speak English in class). I probably would’ve chosen French in the past, but now I’m certainly much too capable in that language not to find the sound of it pretty commonplace.

What about English though, which is what I’m supposed to be writing about in the first place anyway? Not many people seem to consider English to be the most beautiful language in the world, and I’m not really surprised. Not that it sounds bad, but there’s such a variety of English dialects and accents that someone may like one form of the language, but not others. There’s a world of difference between the way, for example, a doctor from the leafy suburbs of South Dublin uses English compared to a sheep farmer in a remote spot of New Zealand. Plus, English doesn’t have such a unified series of sounds compared to French or Italian. We have many words with similar Latin rhythms, but they’re combined with more monotone words of Germanic origins. You can easily imagine what French, Italian or German sound like, even if you can’t speak any of them. But what about English? What does it actually sound like? I think it’s too much of a mish-mash of different influences to have a distinctive, recognisable sound, and that makes it hard to consider beautiful.

Of course it can be beautiful, in the right hands. Just listen to a great actor recite Shakespeare. Personally, I’m also very fond of Charles Dicken’s writing voice. So much of what he wrote just sounds beautiful when you read it. I think that’s often the case with Joseph Conrad too, particularly impressive considering he was writing in his third language which he learned in his twenties.

So while English might not always sound beautiful, I think it’s still beautiful in the range of possibilities it offers for different modes of using it, either to write or to speak. And with the right person using it, it can be truly bello, magnifique!

What do you think the most beautiful language in the world is? Italian? French? English? Or something else entirely.

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