The Italian Language

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©2007 Richard Willmer. All rights reserved.  
Updated 31 August 2009

Modern Italian

The lack of any central authority until the second half of the XIX century did not contribute towards any linguistic unity in the Italic Peninsula, though the achievements of the writers of the Middle-ages and the Renaissance helped to give Tuscan a leading start. The Unification of Italy in 1861 and the creation of the Kingdom led to the adoption of Tuscan, until then the language of the Tuscan higher classes, as the national language. This was a remarkable step, as only a minority could speak this rather artificial (much as Classical Latin was) language and it was only recently that most Italians began to master it.

The Italian presence as an imperial power in Northern Africa from the late XIX till the misadventures of the Fascist Period, when all colonies were lost, contributed to the spread of the language in countries like Libya, Ethiopia an Somalia, where it still retains a foothold as a language of commerce.

Even today dialect is very much alive and widely spoken, though virtually all Italians speak the standard language also. This use of dialect, causes foreigners who are learning or already speak the language, to feel they cannot understand Italian, when, in fact, they may be listening to “Friulano” or Sicilian.

The Italian which is spoken in Canada, the USA, Brazil, Argentina and Australia is not, however, the standard Italian language, but is more often dialect, as the immigrants were illiterate peasants who were fleeing desperate conditions in their home country and often were not able to speak standard Italian. Their descendants, when returning to Italy, are often shocked to find out that few people can understand them, unless they happen to return to the village from where their family came.

 
 


Latin and Romance
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Modern Italian
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