Is Italian a language?
What language do Italians speak? Ever asked yourself such a question? If yes, read on.
Italian is a Romance language of the European language family that evolved from the Roman Empire’s Vulgar Latin. When regional and minority languages are considered, Italian is said to be the closest to it among the national languages and the least divergent from it, along with Sardinian. Many countries worldwide have Italian as their official language.
Italy’s official language
Italian is the official language of Italy, and native Italian speakers account for 93 percent of the population. Although approximately 59,000,000 people speak it, regional languages coexist with the standard language. As a result, some people are native bilinguals of Italian and a regional language, and others may only use Italian as a second language.
Some of these regional languages (such as Sardinian, Sicilian, and Lombard) are very different from standard Italian and are frequently incomprehensible to speakers of other regional languages or traditional Italian. In addition, due to the presence of Italian immigrants in many other countries, Italian is also spoken by minority groups outside of Italy.
Several other countries have Italian as their official language. Italian is a Romance language that is a direct descendant of Latin, specifically vulgar Latin. The Tuscan language of Florence in the 14th century served as the foundation for today’s standard Italian.
Authors such as Dante Alighieri, Petrarch, and Boccaccio, who all wrote in their native language, Tuscan, and scholars such as Pietro Bembo, provided the impetus for an Italian linguistic standard.
Because of Florence’s political and cultural importance in the 14th century, Tuscan quickly became a lingua franca for cultured Italy, and no alternative ever challenged Tuscan’s position as a national language. The first Italian grammar compiled by Leon Battista Alberti was a hand-written manuscript titled Regole Della Lingua Fiorentina published in 1454.
(Rules of the Florentine language), a first attempt to codify vernacular language to challenge Latin’s literary hegemony. However, today’s Tuscan pronunciation differs significantly from standard Italian, particularly the ‘g’ sound, which sounds like an aspired ‘h.’
Italian is also the official language (or languages) of the following Italian speaking countries:
- San Marino
- Slovakia (in the Western Istra region)
- Croatian (in the Western Istra region)
- Vatican City
Italian is also widely known and taught in Monaco and the neighboring island of Malta, where it served as the country’s official language until English was enshrined in the 1934 Constitution. It’s also popular in France (Corsica and Nice) and Albania.
As the language of Italian emigrants, Italian has spread widely worldwide. It is now spoken in 23 countries, including Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Egypt, Eritrea, Israel, Libya, Liechtenstein, Paraguay, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Uruguay, and the United States.
Minority languages are official national languages in other countries but are spoken by local minorities in Italy, such as German and Slovene. As a result, they differ from Italy’s unique regional languages. In addition, Italy is one of the nations that has seen the most drastic changes in its territory, from the Roman Empire to today’s Italian Republic.
This, combined with the fact that it is located in the heart of Europe and has experienced successive waves of invasion, explains why, in addition to standard Italian, there are so many minority languages spoken in Italy. Minority groups in Italy speak German, Slovene, and Griko, expanding the Italian language map.
The group of Italian languages discussed here can be divided into minority languages that are regional languages in another country (such as Catalan) and minority languages that are national languages in another country.
So, the main difference between the regional languages of Italy and the minority languages listed here is that the minority languages listed here are NOT specific to Italy alone.
They are also spoken in other countries or regions, even if they have developed a local variant within Italy, such as Molise-Croatian and Griko. Minority languages that are also the national language of another country, or variants of such languages include:
- German is spoken in the northern Italian province of South Tyrol and north-eastern Italian regions and was previously influenced by the ancient Austro-Hungarian empire and awarded to Italy after WWI. German is the first language of approximately 300,000 Italians.
- Slovene is spoken by approximately 80,000 Italians who live in the north-eastern region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia near the Slovenian border.
- Molise Croatian is a diaspora dialect of Croatian spoken in Montemitro, San Felice del Molise, and Acquaviva-Collecroce in the central-southern Italian region of Molise, with approximately 3,500 speakers. They come from people who had migrated from the Balkans during the Middle Ages.
- As a result of past migrations, 80,000 to 100,000 Italians speak Arbresh Albanian in several pockets in the provinces of Avellino, Potenza, Taranto, Cosenza, Catanzaro, and Palermo in Southern Italy and central Sicily.
- Italiot Greek (Graecanic, Griko), an endangered language with only 15000-20000 speakers left, most of whom are over the age of 50, in two areas of Southern Italy, Greca Salentina in Puglia and Bovesia or Greca Calabra in Calabria.
- Scholars such as linguists Gerhard Rohlfs and G. Hatzidakis consider the ancient Magna Graecia (when Greek colonists reached Southern Italy and Sicily in the 8th and 7th centuries BC) to be one of the last surviving traces of the region’s Greek heritage with traces of Doric, Byzantine Greek, Italian, and Romance dialects.
Others, such as the Italian researchers O. Parlangeli and G. Morosi, believe the origins are more “recent,” dating back to the Hellenic Immigration of the Middle Ages. According to a third theory, medieval immigration simply reinforced an already-existing Greek-speaking community since ancient times.
Minority languages that are the official language of a region or community in other countries (not specific to Italy):
- Franco-Provençal (called Patois in France) is spoken by approximately 70,000 people in the Aosta Valley region. Also, Valle d’aosta dialects (Patoé Valdoten, Valdotain, Valdostano), Faeto (Faetar), Celle San Vito.
- Around 15,000 Catalan speakers live in the Alghero area of Sardinia’s northwestern corner, believed to result from a large group of Catalans migrating from Barcelona in the past.
- Corsican: spoken on Maddalena Island off Sardinia’s northeast coast.
Even today, differences in local accents allow residents of one town to distinguish themselves from residents of a neighboring town, which may be only a few miles (a few kilometers) away.
Immigrants’ arrival has also resulted in many new languages, including Arabic, Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, Turkish, Kurdish, Mandarin Chinese, etc. Lena Island is off the coast of Sardinia’s northeast coast.
Other languages Spoken in Italy
You may be wondering what language do people speak in Italy besides Italian. There are many other languages spoken in Italy, 31 of which, according to UNESCO (The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization), are vulnerable in varying degrees.
Due to its long history of strongly independent regional identities, Italy maintained a wide variety of regional languages until its relatively recent unification in 1861. Some of them have gained official recognition (like Sardinian).
These regional languages are not simply dialects but distinct languages from standard Italian. They are frequently incomprehensible to speakers of other regional Italian languages. Northern regional languages are more similar to French and Occitan than to traditional Italian or southern varieties:
- Sardinian (Sardo, Sardu) speakers constitute the most prominent non-Italian speakers (about 1.6 million people). There are four dialects of Sardinian: Gallurese-Sardinian, Logudorese-Sardinian, Campidanese-Sardinian, and Sassarese-Sardinian.
- Friulian, a Rhaeto-Romanic language spoken in the provinces of Udine, Gorizia, and Venice, is spoken by another large community of approximately 350,000 people in Friuli.
Additional different types of Italian regional languages include:
- Cimbrian (Tzimbro, Zimbrisch): a west-germanic language spoken in Giazza (Glietzen, Ljetzen), Roana (Rabam), and Lusern in Sette and Tredici Communi (Sieben und Dreizehn Gemeinde) south of Trent Province, possibly extending to adjacent Venetia Province.
- Italkian (Judeo-Italian) is primarily spoken in urban areas of Rome and central and northern Italy.
- Piedmontese, a language with significant French influence distinct from standard Italian to be considered a separate language, is spoken in Piedmont (northwestern Italy), (except in the Provençal and Franco-Provençal-speaking Alpine valleys). It is also widely spoken in Australia and the United States.
- Ladin (ladino), a Rhaeto-romance language, is spoken by 35,000 Italians in the Dolomite Mountains, Trentino-South Tyrol, and Veneto regions.
- Ligurian is a language that is more closely related to Piemontese, Lombard, and French than to standard Italian.
- Lombard is a language that differs significantly from standard Italian. A group of dialects (Milanese, Bergamasco, and so on) that may or may not be separate languages. Western Lombard dialects (Ticino and Graubnnden) are mutually intelligible. Speakers in more conservative valleys may use a ‘standard’ dialect to communicate with speakers of other Lombard dialects.
- Neapolitan-Calabrese (Napoletano-Calabrese), is a southern Italian language spoken in the provinces of Campania and Calabria. Alternative names: Napoletano (Neapolitan, Tirrenic) and Northern Calabrese-Lucano are two dialects (Lucanian, Basilicatan).
- Southern Calabrian is thought to be a Sicilian dialect. On the other hand, the dialects of Neapolitan and Calabrese are said to be very different.
- Emiliano-Romagnolo: A structurally distinct language from Italian, related to Lombard, spoken in Northwest Italy, including parts of Emilia and Romagna, southern Pianura Padana (all provinces), southern Lombardia (Provinces Mantova and Pavia), northern Toscana (Lunigiana), and northern Marche (Province Pesaro). San Marino has its own dialect. Western Emiliano, Central Emiliano, Eastern Emiliano, Northern Romagnolo, Southern Romagnolo, Mantovano, Vogherese-Pavese, and Lunigiano are the dialects.
- Venetian is spoken in Northern Italy, particularly in Venice and the Tre Venezie and in parts of Venezia Eugànea, Venezia Tridentina, and Venezia Giulia, including Trieste. Bisiacco, a Venetian dialect, is spoken in Gorizia Province. Istrian, Triestino, and Venetian Proper are some other dialects. Croatia and Slovenia also speak Venetian.
- Sicilian (Calabro-Sicilian, Sicilianu, Siculu) differs enough from standard Italian to be classified as a separate language. Western Sicilian (spoken in Palermo, Trapani, and Central-Western Agrigentino), Messinese, Pantesco, and other dialects are also spoken. In addition, Pugliese and Southern Calabrese are said to be Sicilian dialects.
- Mócheno is a language related to Bavarian and Cimbrian that approximately 1,900 Italians speak in Valle del Fersina (Trentino). Speakers can understand Bavarian, Cimbrian, and Standard German to some extent. Fierozzo (Florutz), Pal (Palai), and Frassilongo are some dialects (Gereut).
- Vastese is so uncommon that the people only speak it of Vasto. Most native speakers are between 80 and 90 years old, with only auditory command of the language among middle-aged adults. Furthermore, Vastese is a language that most children do not understand. Therefore, it is regarded as a distinct language rather than an Italian dialect.
- Toitschu is an Alemannic dialect spoken throughout Italy’s Piedmont and Aosta Valley. This dialect, also known as Walser German, is incomprehensible to Swiss or Standard German speakers.
- The Griko language is spoken by the Griko people, who descended from Ancient Greek communities in Southern Italy. As a result, the Griko language is regarded as a living Magna Graecian artifact. This language belongs to the Hellenic language group, under the Italiot Greek sub-category, and has between 40,000 and 50,000 second-language speakers.
- Gardiol is an Occitan dialect spoken in the town of Guardia Piemontese in the region of Calabria.
Nine Things You Never Knew About the Italian Language
1. Between 63.4 million and 85 million people speak Italian as their first language worldwide: Italian is ranked 21st on Ethnologue’s list of the world’s most widely spoken languages. As one might anticipate, most Italian speakers (approximately 58 million) live in Italy. However, native Italian speakers account for 64 million individuals in the European Union. It is thus the EU’s third most frequent native language.
2. Italian is more than just Italy’s official language: Italian is also the official language of Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, Croatia’s Istria County, and Slovenia’s Slovene Istria. Italian is one of the 24 official and working languages of the European Union. However, nations recognize it as a minority language, including Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, and Romania. Furthermore, Italian is Argentina’s second most widely spoken language. It is a regional language in some parts of Brazil, and schools are obligated to teach it. This means that there are a lot of other countries that speak Italian.
3. “The language of love” is Italian: At the very least, one of them. The Italians and the French appear to be perpetually vying for the championship. However, native English speakers rated Italian as the “sexiest accent” in a CNN poll. There’s something about all those vowels that appeals to me.
4. Italian is also a musical language: Even if you don’t play an instrument now, you most likely acquired a few Italian words in elementary school during music class. For example, tempo, crescendo, and soprano are all Italian terms. But why is it the case? One reason is that Guido d’Arezzo, the composer of modern musical notation, was Italian. Another reason is that these musical phrases were created during or shortly after the Renaissance. As a result, Italian composers dominated European music during this period.
5. Italian was originally a literary language, used mainly by poets and writers: Regional languages developed throughout Italy after the fall of the Roman Empire, breaking out from Latin through time. Then, at the height of the Renaissance, Elite Italians began to adopt the Tuscan form spoken in and around Florence in the 14th century. Finally, thanks to writers like Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio, it was the primary source for the conventional Italian used today.
6. It was not until 2007 that Italian became Italy’s official language: Yes, exactly. Is it surprising to you? Take a look at this example: It is a relatively innovative, standardized Italian. Italy was a collection of city-states before its union. In terms of culture, they shared a lot. They did; however, they spoke various languages that were closely related. If you’ve read The Divine Comedy, you’ll recall that the multiple city-states were not always friendly. It was until 1861 that Italy became an independent country. Only about 10 percent of Italians spoke standard Italian at the time. Children began learning standardized Italian in classrooms after the unification. As a result, the number of people who speak Italian has increased dramatically. Even now, half of all Italians speak a regional language and their native tongue.
7. What dialect of Italian do you speak? Italian features regional dialects and regional languages: This is where things start to get a little muddled. Some linguists consider the languages spoken before unification, such as Venetian and Neapolitan, distinct languages. After all, they developed independently of Latin and can be somewhat dissimilar. However, these regional languages are frequently referred to as dialects. Meanwhile, there are Italian dialects in the more conventional sense of the term, referring to regional variances in standard Italian pronunciation. The underlying regional language often influences these dialects. For example, take a look at these three alternative interpretations for the phrase “we are arriving”: Standard Italian: Stiamo arrivando; Venetian: sémo drio rivàr; Venetian dialect: stémo rivando.
8. Over one million people in the United States of America speak Italian at home: In recent years, the number of Italian speakers in the United States has decreased. However, there are still specific communities where Italian is spoken, especially in the Northeast. For example, it’s the sixth most frequent non-English language in New York and the seventh in New Jersey. This has ramifications for healthcare providers, insurers, schools, and other service providers in terms of compliance.
9. The term “America” is derived from the Italian language: That’s correct. Amerigo Vespucci inspired the name “America.” This Italian explorer from the 15th century was the first European to recognize that North and South America were separate continents, not parts of Asia.
Questo è un Involucro!
Indeed Italian is a language people speak in Italy and across many other countries around the globe. Apart from being the official language of Italy, it is widely spoken in other countries as their national language. However, there are other minority languages used by people in Italy by minority groups found and living in Italy.
Most of these languages are national languages of other countries from where they come from. Those Italian immigrants stay in different countries and speak the Italian language. They remain there as minority groups in those countries. Besides the Italian language, other regional languages are spoken by people from different corners of Italy.
The natives in Italy still embrace these languages. Did you know that: between 63.4 million and 85 million people speak Italian as their first language worldwide? Moreover, Italian is more than just Italy’s official language and is spoken in many other countries.
Italian is the language of love and a musical language. Italian was originally a literary language, used mainly by poets and writers.
Furthermore, It was not until 2007 that Italian became Italy’s official language, Irrespective of which dialect of Italian language you speak? Italian features regional dialects as well as regional languages. Over a million people in the United States of America speak Italian at home. In addition to these, the term “America” is derived from the Italian language.
Many dialects are mutually incomprehensible and thus considered separate languages by linguists but are not officially recognized. Friulian is one of these dialects spoken by 600,000 people in northern Italy, accounting for 1 percent of the total population.
Other northern minority languages include Ladin, Slovene, German (equal recognition with Italian in Alto-Adige), and French (legally recognized in the Val d’Aosta Alpine region). Albanian, Croatian, and Greek are spoken by 0.2 percent of the population, primarily in southern Italy.
Catalan is spoken by approximately 0.07 percent of the population in one city, Alghero, on the island of Sardinia. However, over one million people speak Sardinian on the rest of the island, equivalent to 1.7 percent of the Italian population.
Therefore, we can authoritatively say that Italian is more than just a language in Italy. It is has spread to many corners of the world as a medium of communication and passing information.