Finally there’s an emoji for that Italian hand gesture

Messaging your Italian friends is about to get that much easier with a new emoji representing one of Italy's best-known hand gestures.

Finally there's an emoji for that Italian hand gesture
How the new 'Pinched Fingers' emoji might look. Image: Emojipedia/Twitter

No more searching for a meme or GIF: the palm-up, fingers-closed hand gesture will appear among the new batch of emojis set for release in 2020.

Officially known as the 'Pinched Fingers' emoji, the Italian hand gesture is one of 62 new icons expected to make it onto devices by September or October this year.

The emoji dictionary Emojipedia defines the icon as “an emoji showing all fingers and thumb held together in a vertical orientation, sometimes referred to as the Italian hand gesture ma che vuoi [what do you want]”. 

The gesture will be familiar to pretty much anyone who's ever interacted with an Italian: usually performed while flicking the wrist up and down, it can mean anything from “are you serious” to “come on” to “what the hell”.

It is included in Emoji 13.0, the latest set of standardised emoji, following a request filed by US-based Italian journalist and entrepreneur Adriano Farano and two others, Jennifer 8. Lee and Theo Schear.

“Thanks to Italian immigration and the growing popularity of its way of life, Italian gestures are unique and bear a cultural meaning both in Italian speaking areas and worldwide such as to deserve a place as an emoji,” they argued in an official submission to the Unicode Consortium, the body that sets universal emoji standards.

“Adding the 'what do you want?' emoji would not only be a useful addition for the Italian diaspora abroad who is still proud of its origins. It would also, more broadly, offer users a much needed expression to engage in animated conversations by adding a touch of humour.”

Unicode's samples of how the Italian hand emoji might look on different systems. 

While uses vary, they suggest the gesture chiefly expresses “disbelief to what our interlocutor is pretending us to do or be, unless our interlocutor clarifies his/her intentions; modesty towards a compliment, as to say: 'what are you saying, it’s not true?'; sarcastic surprise when our interlocutor is exaggerating his/her arguments and we ask him/her to come to the point”.


While Farano identifies 'Pinched Fingers' as “the most important and visually distinct” Italian hand gesture, some may be hoping that it opens the door to the inclusion of more Italianisms in future updates. 

Italian developers have already created a separate app, Neapolicons, that provides users with images of gestures common in southern Italy.

Do you have a favourite Italian hand gesture? Sign to let us know in the comments below.

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IN MAPS: A brief introduction to Italy’s many local ‘dialects’

Are the Italians around you speaking a completely different language? Why are local dialects often so far removed from modern Italian? Here's what you need to know.

IN MAPS: A brief introduction to Italy's many local 'dialects'
A man wearing a t-shirt reading ''100% Venetian''. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

It's the problem italian language learners have faced for as long as anyone can remember. You've diligently studied your Italian grammar, and carefully practiced your phrases ahead of your first visit to Italy, only to realise upon arrival that the Italians around you seem to be speaking a different language entirely.

READ ALSO: Ten of the most common Italian language mistakes you should avoid

Italy's dialects are far more than just heavily-accented Italian. They seem like totally different languages because, in fact, that's exactly what they are.

It's not quite correct to call them “dialects”, which are actually variants on a standard language. These are different languages which evolved separately from Latin – or, in some cases, other languages.

And even when they switch to Italian, speakers of these dialects or languages often speak with a heavy accent, much to the dismay of anyone still getting to grips with with basic Italian. Even in a big city like Florence or Rome, Italian spoken in a thick local accent can be hard to decipher – even for native Italian speakers from other areas.

As the map below shows, every region and often province has its own local language. Some have more than one, and each town may also have a variation.

Many of these are part of language “families” and some are more closely related to Italian, or to Latin, than others.

The map below classifies them further and also shows how languages in different regions are connected.

Map: Antonio Ciccolella/Wikimedia Commons

This might look complicated, but anyone who lives in a small italian town will no doubt still be thinking that a more detailed map is needed, as there are actually many more, smaller variations within these categories.

Do people in Italy really still speak all of these dialects?

The language we call Standard Italian derives from 13th-century Florentine. Until then, there had been no written rules, and the languages of what is now Italy had mainly evolved by being spoken.

When Italy was unified in 1861, only 2.5 percent of the population could actually speak the Italian language. All spoke their regional languages. Now, that figure is in the high 90s, though around five percent still speak only or predominantly in their regional language.

While you might imagine that these dialects or languages are mainly used by older people and are slowly dying out, that's not usually the case. 
While they'll also speak standard Italian, you'll find young Italians proudly speaking their local lingo everywhere from central Naples to the valleys of South Tyrol.
Some are far more widely used than others. In fact the most widely spoken is Neapolitan, with over five million speakers today.
The least widely-used is Croato. This dialect is used by an ethnic minority from a region corresponding to present-day Croatia and is spoken in the southern region of Molise. Today it only around 1,000 speakers.
In the southernmost parts of Italy, such as Salento and Calabria, Griko dialects are thought to derive from ancient Greek.
Meanwhile, Sardinian is classified as an “endangered” language by Unesco,  Like Italian, Sardinian has roots in Latin – in fact, some linguists argue that, of all the modern Romance languages, Sardinian is the closest to Latin – but it also displays much older influences. Today, particularly younger people on the island speak a mix of both languages, a sort of “Sarditalian”.
For more details, here are our guides to getting started with some of Italy's regional languages: