Friday, July 3, 2020

Translating English Words with the Letter J into Italian – What Happens to the Letter J?




The question


The letter J in Italian, called i lunga, though not part of the Italian alphabet appears frequently enough to make you think it might be. It can appear in:

  • surnames, such as Juliano
  • place names, such as Jesolo (Veneto) and Jesi (Marche)
  • loan words, such as jeans, jujitsu
  • foreign names, such as Johannesburg


The letter J is part of the English alphabet and even if it's not used that often – it’s the fourth least frequently used letter – we would miss its absence. We got to thinking about the letter J when writing or speaking words Italian words like iniezione (injection) or coniugale (conjugal). We wondered how many other English words have a corresponding Italian word have where the letter J is "missing", as well as the state of J in the Italian language.


We started with some commonly used words in English such as project and injection, and checked their Italian equivalents, proggetto and iniezione. But we soon ran out of ideas and turned to the lists you can easily find for words with J, like Scrabbleguru and TheFreeDictionary.

The answer


We are not cunning linguists! Rather, just ordinary folks who like to make lists to help us organize and learn things better, like the Italian language. Our musings here are just that. 

Given that disclaimer, what we found is that there are five translation categories of English words (with J) into Italian, including the “missing” letter J phonetically “substituted” with another letter, “removed” all together or not applicable because the translated word has a different root. Here are the five cases.


Case 1: The Italian word phonetically “replaces” the letter J with the letter I (along with other minor changes). Examples: adjacent => adiacente, conugal => coniugale, injection => iniezione.


Case 2: The Italian word phonetically “replaces” the letter J with the letter G (along with other minor changes). Examples: conjecture => congettura, pajamas => pigiama, project => proggetto.


Case 3: The Italian word has a different word root altogether, they are not cognates. Examples: abject => miserabile, rejection => rifiuta.


Case 4: The word is used as a loan word and there are no changes. Examples: marijuana, ninja, jujistu, and mahjong.


Case 5: The letter J is completely dropped. Example: majestic => maestoso. We could not think of any more examples in this category.


So, what did we learn during this word treasure hunt? Well, we learned a bunch of new words and that’s a good thing. And we learned that while we thought initially case 1 (substitution with letter I) would be common, it really isn’t. In fact, it seems case 2 (transformation of letter J to letter G) is more common. In our admittedly biased and small sample, case 2 is twice as common.

The list


In the list of over 70 words below, keep these points in mind:

  • Each English word includes the letter J at least once.
  • Words are either (n) = noun, (v) = verb, (adj) = adjective or (p) = proper name.
  • We do not list all forms of a word, just one representative example. For example, we have hijack (n), and the other related forms: hijack, hijacked, hijacking, etc. have a similar translation.
  • For Italian translations, we give one of possibly many meanings, selecting the one closest in spelling just for illustration.
  • Just because the Italian word looks like the English word does not mean it has the same etymology; we are just looking at what looks the same.
  • There are many more words falling in case 3 than are shown here, that is, words have a different root and are not cognates.


Case
English word
Italian word
3
abject (adj)
miserabile
1
abjure (v)
abiurare
1
adjacent (adj)
adiacente
2
adjective (n)
aggettivo
3
adjust (v)
regolare, aggiustare
3
bejewel (v)
addornare
3
cajole (v)
persuadere
2
conjecture (n)
congettura
2
conjoin (v)
congiungere
1
conjugal (adj)
coniugale
2
conjunction (n)
congiunzione
2
conjunctivitis (n)
congiuntivite
3
conjure (v)
far apparire q/c
3
dejection (n)
abbattimento
1
ejaculate (v)
eiaculare
3
eject (v)
espellere
3
enjoin (v)
imporre
3
enjoy (v)
piacere a, divertire a
1
hallelujah
alleluia
3
hijab (n)
velo
3
hijack (n)
sequestro
3
hijinks (n)
avventure
1
injection (n)
iniezione
3
injudicious (adj)
sventato, imprudente
2
injunction (n)
ingiunzione
3
injure (v)
far male
3
injury (n)
ferita  
2
injustice (n)
ingiustizia
2
jaguar (n)
giaguaro
3
jamb (n)
stipite
4
Japan (p)
Giappone
2
jardiniere (n)
giardiniera
3
jaundice (n)
itterizia
4
jazz (n)
jazz
3
jejune (adj)
immaturo
2
jewelry (n)
gioielli
3
jeopardize (v)
arrischiarare, mettere a rischio
2
jocose (adj)
giocoso, allegro
4
jojoba (n)
jojoba
2
Joseph (p)
Giuseppe
2
journalist (n)
giornalista
2
jubilant (adj)
giubilante, esultante
2
judicious (adj)
giudizioso
2
jugular (n)
giugulare
4
jujitsu (n)
jujitsu
2
jujube (n)
giuggiola
2
junction (m)
giunzione
4
mahjong (n)
mahjong
5
majestic (adj)
maestoso
4
marijuana (n)
marijuana
1
majolica (n)
maiolica
2
major (n)
maggiore (grado militare)
3
major (adv)
importante
2
marjoram (n)
maggiorana
4
ninja (n)
ninja
2
object (n)
oggetto
3
objurgation (n)
duro rimprovero
3
overjoyed (adj)
pieno di gioia, felicissimo
2
pajamas (n)
pigiama
2
pejorative (adj)
peggiorativo
3
perjury (n)
falso giuramento
2
prejudice (n)
pregiudizio
2
project (n)
proggetto
1
project (v)
proiettare
1
projectile (n)
proiettile
3
rejection (n)
rifiuta
3
rejoin (v)
riunire, rispondere
2/3
rejuvenate (v)
ringiovanire
2
sojourn (n)
soggiorno
2
subject (n)
soggetto
2
subjective (adj)
soggettivo
3
subjugate (v)
soggiogare
1
trajectory (n)
traiettoria

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