THE ITALIAN LANGUAGE TODAY
Italian is the official language spoken in Italy, in some neighboring countries (Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City), and it’s one of the official languages in the European Union.
It is one of the Romance or Neolatine languages, this means that it derives from the Latin spoken in ancient Rome (and until now in the Catholic Church), such as Spanish, French, Portuguese, Romanian, and other minor languages.
It was formed and evolved by the Florentine vernacular written and spoken in Tuscany in the Middle Ages and during the Renaissance.
It is spoken as mother tongue by approximately 60 million o Italians and by about 4 million Italians living abroad. It is one of the most spoken languages in other countries by about 3 million people. Italian is spoken as a second language in Malta, Albania, Monaco, Corsica, and in the neighboring territories of France, Slovenia, Croatia, and Austria.
It is also spoken as a second language by about 80 million descendants of Italian origin who emigrated abroad in the last century (especially Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, England, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela), by about 5 million immigrants residing in Italy, and by a considerable number of Italian language learners who have studied and are studying Italian for cultural, scholastic, professional reasons, or simply for passion.
It is currently in the twentieth place among the most spoken languages in the world. According to a recent survey made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Italian appears to be the fourth most studied language in the world. There are approximately one million Italian language learners who study Italian in Italy in Italian language schools and in universities for foreigners, and abroad in Italian language schools, universities, Italian culture institutes, in the committees of the Dante Alighieri societies, in innumerable cultural associations.
It is regulated by the Accademia della Crusca, a prestigious linguistic center based in Florence, founded back in 1583 when the Florentine vernacular began to spread as a cultured national language.
Although in everyday communication about 10 thousand words are used, it is made up of about 800 thousand words.
It is a constantly evolving language. Each year, new words are added to the spoken jargon that has become everyday use, new words deriving from science and technological discoveries, and new words borrowed from other languages (especially English).
In its vocabulary, there are many words of various origins, Latinisms, Anglicisms, Frenchisisms, and to a lesser extent also from Germanisms and Iberians. Often these words are pronounced as original as in the language of origin, other times they are adapted to Italian phonetics and writing.
Although the written Italian language is unique throughout Italy and in the world, the language spoken is flanked by different regional dialects with accents, words, and characteristics often totally different from each other. An Italian always understands the regional provenance of another Italian who speaks with his own dialectal inflection. The macro areas of Italian dialects are: northern, Venetian, Tuscan, Roman, central, southern, Sicilian, Sardinian.
Italian is an important language especially for the rich culture that Italy has expressed in its long history in every period. From art to architecture, from literature to science, from opera to light music, from cooking to food products, from high fashion to design, from cinema to Made in Italy. No other country in the world has produced such a varied and vast culture. No other country in the world has influenced world culture so decisively.
Istituto Il David – Italian language school - Florence
SHORT HISTORY OF ITALIAN LANGUAGE
A young language with a long history.
Between 3000 BC and 1000 BC, populations of Indo-European origin arrived from Central and Eastern Europe. They mingled with the Mediterranean people, including those who lived in the Italian peninsula (Etruscans, Ligurians, Sardinians, etc.). Some of them settled in Lazio and founded Rome. People of that population were called Latins and mixing the Mediterranean and Indo-European words gave rise to Latin. When the ancient Romans conquered the territories of the peninsula, their language mingled with the pre-existing languages. Latin also influenced other languages spoken by European populations giving rise to new neo-Latin languages (Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Romanian).
With the ruin of the Roman Empire, while in Rome people continued to speak Latin as a cultured language, in other parts of Italy the vulgar languages spoken by the people developed. At the end of the first millennium, the central position of Tuscany in the Italian peninsula favored trade between Rome and the rest of Europe, especially Florence became an increasingly important point of exchange. With its economic development, also the culture grew, giving birth to Tuscan writers such as Dante, Petrarca, and Boccaccio. They wrote beautiful and important literature works in the vernacular Florentine that quickly spread and became very famous throughout Italy becoming an inspiration for all the other writers born in the following centuries. Great Tuscan scientists and artists (Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo Galilei, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Machiavelli, etc.) contribute the growth of the Florentine vulgar using it instead of Latin. The vernacular dialects continued to be spoken in the other regions of Italy because of the low literacy.
In the mid-1800s when Italy was a land of conquest disputed by the French, the Spanish and the Austrians, the desire of Italians to be free from invaders and to become an independent homeland grew. Many writers decided to use the Florentine as the only national language to write their literature works. The most important was the Milanese writer Alessandro Manzoni, with his most important work, The Betrothed. It was the main contributor to the Risorgimento that led to the unity of Italy in 1861 when Italian regions became a single independent state.
While throughout Italy Italian became the only cultured language written and spoken, due to poverty, the regional vernaculars generated a second spoken language: the dialect, different in every region of Italy, more pronounced in the southern and northern regions. With the end of the Second World War, thanks to the strong economic growth of the ‘50s - ‘60s and the strong political will to make literate the Italian people, all Italians could go to school and be able to communicate in one language: the Italian language.
Istituto Il David – Italian language school - Florence
Italian is the fourth most studied language in the world according to a recent study which took place in universities all over the world.
The unexpected victory of Italian over growing economic nations like China and Russia is sure to give a boost to public and private efforts to promote the study of the language, which has become a main goal of the Italian government.
The increasing interest in Italian was recently provided with a new resource, the Quality Italian Language Certification. The program, created by universities in Siena, Perugia, and Rome, allows lovers of Italian to be officially certified in the language.
The Italian language is very complex, with an ambitious syntax, a wide vocabulary, and nuances linked to the ancient history of the country. Language tells of a population more than anything else, and Italian tells us that the people have a complex and fascinating culture.
Of all the languages in the world, Italian the one which is most studied for culture and pleasure. This is linked to a passion for Italian culture, which possesses extraordinary strength.
Italy’s contributions to the western world are endless, as the country has been the home to some of the greatest civilizations in history.
Italian artistic traditions are well known; according to UNESCO, most of the world’s art treasures are found in Italy. Italian is an important language for research in art history, philosophy, literary studies, archaeology and music.
The Rinascimento or Renaissance is generally considered to have begun in Florence in the 1400s, and it was here that conventions for notating music were slowly developed. The local Tuscan dialect was used to write down musical directions such as crescendo or diminuendo, and the Italian language is still used as a kind of musical lingua franca today for musicians all over the world. Opera, meanwhile, is entirely an Italian creation, with its heady mix of high drama, high notes, and high ceilings. The language is considered ideal for singing, with its gently rhythmical intonation and clear-cut vowels. A large majority of Italian words end with vowels.
A growing obsession with food is also linked to the Italian language’s increasing popularity, as Italy is the culinary leader of the world. The name of restaurants, dishes, and products find their roots in Italian, from pizza and pasta, to latte macchiato and tiramisu.
The status and current state of the Italian language on a global scale will be discussed in an official meeting organized by the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Education and Cultural Heritage, taking place in Florence this fall. It will focus on new challenges and means to promote the language and culture within modern society. The consortium will also look at how Italian can play a larger role in universities and academic institutions, taking into consideration the differences between geographic areas. The main goal will be to celebrate and reaffirm the Italian language worldwide, while also finding a shared and updated agenda aimed at strengthening it further.
The new study is evidence that learning Italian is a passport to one of the world’s richest cultural traditions, and to one of Europe’s most dynamic contemporary societies.
Istituto Il David - Italian language school - Florence