Italian is the official language of the Italian Republic and is the third most widely spoken language in the European Union. Around the world, Italian is spoken by 85 million people. It is one of the major 'Romance' languages, along with Spanish, Portuguese, French and Romanian. The origin of the 'Romance' languages was 'Vulgar Latin' and Italian, along with Sardinian, which is one of the minor 'Romance' languages, are the two that are closest to the original Latin. Italian is one of the most commonly taught languages in the world.
Before the unification of Italy in 1861, there were many different languages and dialects spoken in the different regions of Italy, many of which remain in use today. During the Middle Ages, the language of Florence gained wider acceptance, alongside its political and artistic influence. Dante Alighieri, Italy's most famous writer and poet, was born in Florence. He wrote in the Florentine language and his influence has led him to be called 'the Father of the Italian Language'. When this language was adopted by the newly formed Italian State in 1861, only 2.5% of the country could speak it!
Italian is spoken in the Vatican and is the official language of the Holy See. It is also widely spoken in Malta and parts of Slovenia and Croatia. Many other people will be familiar with Italian words through its use in opera and musical terminology.
The differences between different dialects are legendary. Here are some examples of the same paragraph read in the traditional dialects of different regions:
"Un anno fa mio nonno, che ieri ha compiuto ottant'anni, raccontò a me e a mia sorella questa storia:"