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 theCommedia. 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 - Libya, Somalia and Eritrea - 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.
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 on this page:
The first offers free Italian lessons via podcasts: