Italian 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
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.
The letters j (i lunga), k (cappa), w (vi/vu doppia) x (ics) and y (i greca)
do appear in Italian but are thought of as foreign letters. They are used
mainly in foreign loan words and their pronunciation depends on the word
they appear in.
Sample text in Italian
Tutti gli esseri umani nascono liberi ed eguali in dignità e diritti.
Essi sono dotati di ragione e di coscienza e devono agire gli uni verso
gli altri in spirito di fratellanza.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They
are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another
in a spirit of brotherhood. (Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)