Italian (italiano) is a Romance language spoken by about 60 million people in Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, the Vatican City, Malta and Eritrea. There are also Italian speakers in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Australia, Canada, the USA and the UK.
Italian first started to appear in written documents during the 10th century in the form of notes and short texts inserted into Latin documents such as lawsuits and poetry. For a long time there was no standard written or spoken language in Italy and writers tended to write in their own regional dialects. In northern Italy, which was often ruled by the French, French and Occitan were used as literary languages. During the 13th century such writers as Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), Petrarch and Boccaccio were influential in popularising their own dialect of Italian - the Tuscan of Florence (la lingua fiorentina) - as a standard literary language. By the 14th century the Tuscan dialect was being used in political and cultural circles throughout Italy, though Latin remained the pre-eminent literary language until the 16th century.
The first grammar of Italian with the Latin title Regule lingue florentine (Rules of the Florentine language) was produced by Leon Battista Alberti (1404-72) and published in 1495.
During the 15th and 16th centuries both Latin and Italian were used for technical and scientific texts. The Italian used was full of Latin words and over time Latin was used less and less as Italian became increasingly popular.
Today the Tuscan dialect is known as Italian (Italiano) and is the offical language of Italy. It is the main language of literature and the media. Each region of Italy also has its own dialect, some of which are so distinct from standard Italian that they are mutually unintelligible. The Sicilian dialect for example, is sometimes regarded as a separate language and has a literary tradition older than Italian itself.
In Italy, many Romance languages exist, which are spoken along with “standard” Italian, but they differ from it in vocabulary and grammar: these are called “dialects”. Most of these dialects are languages to all intents and purposes: it is therefore hard, if not impossible, for a person from Milan, for example, to understand a person who is speaking the dialect of Naples. However, dialects are not normally used in mass communication and are usually employed only in oral form among native speakers of the area and in informal situations. In the past, the people who would speak dialects were considered as belonging to the lower social class and of limited education. Recently, dialects are not used as much as in the past (even though this statement cannot be applied to every region of Italy), but generally speaking, it can be said that dialects are facing the risk of disappearing. Nevertheless, differences in pronunciation, locution, as well as vocabulary are still widespread.
- Tuscan dialect (the base of modern Standard Italian, but there are many differences)
- Central Italian dialects
- Corsican is generally considered to be related to Italian, and particularly to the dialects of Tuscany.
- Regional variants of Italian language influenced by regional languages
- influence of Piedmontese language (Piedmont)
- influence of Franco-Provençal language (Valle d'Aosta)
- influence of Ladin language (Trentino-Alto Adige)
- influence of Western Lombard (Western Lombardy, Eastern Piedmont, Swiss) and intermediate Western-Eastern Lombard dialects
- influence of Eastern Lombard (Eastern Lombardy, Western Trentino)
- influence of Western Lombard (Western Lombardy, Eastern Piedmont, Switzerland) and intermediate Western-Eastern Lombard dialects.
- Influence of the Milanese variety of Italian. Western Lombard has been argued to also have an "indirect" influence on the development of a modern standard Italian, as the regional Italian spoken in Milan has become increasingly important in the Italian sociolinguistic scenario due to the strong socio-economic position of Milan. In this case, however, the linguistic influence comes fom the Italian spoken in Milan, not from Milanese (hence from the Milanese dialect of Italian, as opposed to the Milanese dialect of Western Lombard), although the two are necessarily related, for the latter has served as substrate to the development of the former.
- influence of Venetian language (Veneto, Eastern Trentino, Julian March)
- influence of Emiliano-Romagnolo language (Emilia-Romagna, Northern Marche)
- influence of Ligurian language (Liguria)
- influence of Corsican language and Gallurese (Corsica and Northern Sardinia)
- influence of Sassarese language (Northern Sardinia)
- influence of Sardinian language (Central and Southern Sardinia)
- influence of Friulian language (Friuli)
- influence of Neapolitan language in Southern Italian (Campania, Abruzzo, Molise, Northern Apulia, Northern Calabria, Basilicata)
- influence of Sicilian language (Sicily, Southern Calabria, Southern Apulia)