When you begin a goal — especially one with a defined time constraint — the first priority is always getting straight to work, which is exactly what I did with Italian. Once I had clearly defined my goal, I set my self out toward doing it. Now here I am, more than two months into learning the Italian language, and I haven't really even taken the time to smell the roses. So today, we'll just look at some interesting facts about Italian, and we'll get back to the details of speaking it later.
Who speaks Italian?
According to Wikipedia, there are approximately 60 million native Italian-speaking people in Italy, and perhaps another 10 million descendants around the world, meaning as many as 70 million native speakers of Italian. And then there are an estimated 125 million people who speak Italian as a foreign language.
In addition to being the language of Italy, Italian is also the official language of San Marino. It is recognized as one of four official languages in Switzerland. It is the primary language in Vatican City. And it is also recognized as an official language in Croatia and Slovenia. (I also know several people who would argue that Italian is the official language of New Jersey!)
Indeed, the Italian language is quite well-known.
There are more than one version of Italian!
When I first set out to start using music to learn Italian, I was quickly introduced to the reality that there are several languages spoken in Italy, and thought of as being Italian. Standard Italian — the official language of Italy — is based on the Tuscan dialect which was spoken in Florence at the time of the unification of Italy.
But in addition to Tuscan, one finds Friulian, Sardinian, Sicilian, Ligurian, Ventian, and — as I found when searching for several popular songs — Neapolitan. There are also several others. And to keep things even more interesting, there is healthy debate over what is a language and what is a dialect, but I'll leave that to the scholars. For my purposes, they're all dialects of Italian.
A long history, shaped by recent events
While Italian bears the closest relation to Latin of all the Romance languages, it's still significantly different. The earliest texts that are recognizably Italian date around 960 c.e., which puts 1000 years between them and the glory years of Rome.
Dante's The Divine Comedy, published in the 14th century, is consered to be the source of The Tuscan dialect's foothold. Dante mixed several southern Italian dialects in with his native Tuscan, creating an epic poem to which all of Italy could relate.
So, there's a nice look into the Italian language. There are certainly many more details to be learned by anyone with the interest. I think it's nice to learn about the history of a language while learning the language itself. Not only does it give you some clues into the origins of words and grammar, but it also gives you a sense of connecting to the culture that uses the language.
Want to see my favorite language resources and courses?
I listed them here.