Learn To Speak The
The Italian language is a Romance language spoken in Italy and other countries where Italians have settled. 47 Romance languages and dialects are spoken by 690 million people in Europe, primarily in Italy, France, Spain and Portugal and their former colonies in North Africa and North and South America. The earliest surviving Italian texts are legal formulae dating from 960 AD.
Italian Language History
Romance languages descend from Latin, the language of ancient Rome. In the early 14th century, Italian writer Dante Alighieri standardized the Italian language when he published his collection of poems known as the Commedia. Dante rejected the customary Latin and instead blended southern Italian languages, in particular Sicilian, with his native Tuscan. Due to the popularity of his writing, this form of Italian came to be used throughout the Italian peninsula. The various city-states modified it with features of their local speech, producing various versions. In 1582, the Accademia della Crusca, the official legislative body of the Italian language, was founded in Florence, leading to the eventual adoption of the Tuscan dialect as the official language of Italy in 1861.
Italian Language Usage
Italian is currently spoken by about 63 million people, primarily in Italy. It's also one of Switzerland's four official languages, mainly in the Ticino and Grigioni cantons, and is the official language of San Marino and the Vatican.
Italian is widely used in Monaco and Malta, and widely understood in Albania. There are over one million speakers in France, particularly in Corsica and the county of Nice, areas that were originally Italian and spoke Italian dialects before being annexed to France. It is the second official language in some areas of Istria, Slovenia and Croatia. Speakers using Italian as second language are estimated at around 110-120 million.
Italian is also spoken in former Italian colonies in Africa &150; Libya, Somalia and Eritrea &150; but usage has declined sharply since the end of the colonial period. Here is a list of the countries where Italian and Italian dialects are widely spoken:
In the United States, Italian speakers are most commonly found in four cities: New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago and Boston. In Canada there are large Italian-speaking communities in Montreal and Toronto.
Italian is the second most commonly-spoken language in Australia, where 353,605 Italian Australians, or almost 2% of the population, reported speaking Italian at home in the 2001 Census. In 2001 there were 130,000 Italian speakers in Melbourne, and 90,000 in Sydney.
Italian is widely taught in many schools around the world, but rarely as the first non-native language; it is generally the fourth or fifth.
Italian Language: Historical Popularity
Starting in late medieval times, Italian language variants replaced Latin to become the primary commercial language for much of Europe and Mediterranean Sea (especially the Tuscan and Venetian dialects). This became solidified during the Renaissance with the strength of Italian banking and the rise of humanism in the arts.
During the Renaissance, Italy held artistic sway over the rest of Europe. All educated European gentlemen were expected to make the Grand Tour, visiting Italy to see its great historical monuments and works of art. It was therefore expected that educated Europeans would learn at least some Italian; the English poet John Milton, for instance, wrote some of his early poetry in Italian.
In England, Italian became the most common modern language learned after French; the classical languages, Latin and Greek, came first. However, by the late eighteenth century, Italian tended to be replaced by German on the curriculum. Yet Italian words continue to be used in most other European languages in matters of art and music.
Italian Language Variations and Dialects
- Derived Languages
From the late 19th to the mid 20th century, tens of thousands of Italians settled in Argentina, Uruguay and southern Brazil. In some instances, colonies were established where variants of Italian dialects were used and continue to be used. In Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, Talian is used. In the town of Chipilo, near Puebla, Mexico, inhabitants speak a form of Venetian dating back to the 19th century. Cocoliche, an Italian-Spanish pidgin, was once spoken in Argentina, in Buenos Aires and Lunfardo.
Rioplatense Spanish, and particularly the language of Buenos Aires, has patterns of intonation that resemble those of Italian dialects. Initially the italian settlers were from Northern Italy, but since the beginning of the twentieth century they were predominantly from the South.
In Italy, all Romance languages commonly spoken, excluding standard Italian and non-Italian languages, are labeled "Italian dialects". Many Italian dialects are, in fact, historical languages in their own right. These include Friulian, Neapolitan, Sardinian, Sicilian, Venetian, and regional variants such as Calabrian.
Non-Italian languages still spoken by minorities in various regions of Italy include Albanian, Greek, German, Ladin, and Occitan.
Learning The Italian Language
If you have an Italian background, obviously you'll have an advantage when learning to speak Italian. Even if you never actually spoke it yourself, as long as you heard older members of the family talking Italian or one of its dialects, your brain will sense a familiarity with the sounds and cadences. This will enable you to remember your lessons more easily.
Even if you have no prior connection with Italian, it's an easy language to learn, at least compared to English, because it has far fewer rules of grammar and spelling. Once you learn the basics, you'll be able to build on it. And when in doubt, you can always use your hands!
Here are two online resources we've found to help you learn Italian. You can learn more about their programs by clicking on the affiliate graphics below.
The first offers free Italian lessons via podcasts:
The second method also offers ipod downloads: