3 Interesting Facts About The Italian Language

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.

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Author: Yearlyglot
I'll lead you through a 12 month journey from knowing absolutely nothing about a language to having professional fluency.

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  • Love smelling those roses! For another really nice summation of the history of the Italian language check out Dianne Hales book: La Bella Lingua: My love affair with Italian, the World's most Enchanting Language" for a very enjoyable and very thorough overview of the rise and fall and rise of the Italian language! (as a bonus a bonus...it is now available in paperback!)

  • A bonus would be making it available as an eBook for my iPad. :)

  • chissa' forse è disponibile! who knows...it just might be available for iPad (love the ipad!!!)

  • I enjoyed the book, which I found to be a light read- particularly the many idiomatic Italian phrases that she weaves into every paragraph. What aroused my skepticism, however, was her parochial insistence that Italian is the most expressive/precise/poetic language in the world because of its association with the Renaissance- the hallmark of any person who has fallen in love with a language and has effectively acculturated themselves by adopting a new persona belonging to that country. It's an attitude I've encountered in regards to German ("it's the most PRECISE LANGUAGE IN THE WORLD- they've got a word for everything, and always say exactly what they mean!), Latin ("sculpted by poets of old, and belonging to the greatest empire on earth- LATIN MAKES YOU THINK MORE CLEARLY AND IS UNPARALLELED IN ITS LITERARY TRADITION!), French, and American Sign Language (DEAF PEOPLE ARE INNATE ACTORS, AND THEIR LANGUAGES CAN CONVEY NUANCES THAT NO SPOKEN LANGUAGE CAN CAPTURE!).
    Still, it's worth reading just for her unbridled enthusiasm.

  • I agree that people tend to fall in love with the thing that interests them most, often attributing unrealistic virtues to it... however, you might find this newsweek article interesting (I did!): https://www.newsweek.com/id/233778
    It describes how language and culture are indeed interwoven, and leaves me thinking that there is, in fact, some truth to the idea that learning a language helps to shape your thinking. Or, to put it more accurately, tends to confirm for me that which I had already suspected to be true. :)

  • I've heard that Romansh(Romansch, Romanch, etc.) is the closest Romance language to Latin...

  • Interesting that I was talking to a Romanian about this very thing today..

  • I'm no expert in this, but the person that told me that statement said it is because Roman soldiers settled in the Swiss Alps, and had little outside contact.

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