Italian is a Romance language and it belongs to the family of Western-Italic Romance languages. Despite its long history, the most important changes in Italian came about within the last centuries, as the language had not been until then really unified at national level. Today Italian ranks 19 among world languages. It is spoken by about 62 or 63 million people in Italy, the Vatican, San Marino, Switzerland, Slovenia, Croatia, Malta. Italian is one of the EU official languages.
Italian is a Romance language belonging to the Western Italic Romance language family, thus being an Indo-European language. It is considered the most direct descendant of Latin, although this theory is true for vocabulary rather than the grammar. The closest languages to Italian within the family is Dalmatian – today extinct, but once spoken in Croatia, and Sicilian.
Italian is today the official language of Italy. Together with German and French, it is also the official language in the Vatican, San Marino and in Switzerland. What is more, some regions in Slovenia, Malta and Croatia use Italian as an official language as well.
The issue of dialects and varieties within the Italian language is rather complex. Italian was unified only to some extent as late as in the 14th Century by the works of the great Dante Alighieri. Still long after that Italy was separated into cities with the status of states and language developed its regional differences. This feature remains even today with each big city cherishing its uniqueness. The official language is based on the Tuscan dialect. Many of the existing dialects of Italian are in fact former languages or varieties of such – Sicilian, Venetian, Calabrian, etc.
Italian has a long history, dating back to the times of the Roman Empire. It is considered to be the most direct descendant of Latin – an undisputed fact as to geographical location and vocabulary, although other Romance languages have preserved more Latin grammatical features.
After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the territory developed around the strong cities, considerably independent from one another. Strong commercial centres, they grew in influence in the Western world and so did their languages. The first person to make an attempt to unify them, was Dante Alighieri in his 'Comedia'. Dante's language of the 14th Century was based on Tuscan dialect, which in fact remains the basis of standard Italian until present day.
In the Middle Ages, Italian suffered the strong influence of French. In fact, both languages were constantly in contact in various periods when Italy or France were the spring of modernity, arts and science.
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Italian is based on the several unified local dialects, most of which were separate languages. Italian gave birth to other new languages thanks to the Italian diaspora and the large groups of immigrants, especially in the Americas. Their native dialects – Venetian, Sicilian, etc. mixed with the local speech and gave birth to new dialects. Italian is the official language of the Vatican – the capital of the Catholic Church.