Italian is a Romance language spoken by close to 62 million people, the majority of whom live in Italy. Standard Italian is based on the Toscan dialects and is a cross between the languages of Southern Italy and the Galo-Roman languages of the North. Italian has double (or long) consonants, similarly to Latin (but unlike the majority of modern Romance languages such as French and Spanish). As with most Romance languages (with the one notable exception of French), the accent is distinctive.
Italian is the official language of Italy, San Marino, and of the cantons or regions of Ticino and Graubünden in Switzerland. It is also the second official language of Vatican and of the border regions of Slovenia. In addition, it is spoken in Croatia (the peninsula of Istria). Some claim that the Toscan dialect, given its similarities to Latin, has become what is today known as ‘standard’ Italian, but other languages spoken in Italy are even more similar to Latin (e.g. the sardo-logudorese and other Southern Italian idioms). It is not even about the beauty of Dante’s language but rather about the economic power that Tuscany had at the time, particularly Pisan influence. Furthermore, the rising importance of Florentine culture during the age of Humanism (before Renaissance) contributed to its everyday, ‘vulgar’, language being rapidly imported to Rome.
Italian is also the language used to describe musical terminology, such as pianoforte, fortissimo, etc. Many local versions are spoken in Romance-speaking countries, and there are no clear distinctions between “language” and “dialect”. Clearly distinct versions include national languages (French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian), plus Catalan, Occitan, Sard, Reto-romance, and Valean. There are controversies regarding all the other ones: is Galician, for exemple, a separate language or a Portuguese dialect with strong Spanish influence, or a language that has Portuguese as its dialect? From a historical point of view, the first separation occurred between the Sard language and the rest. The second occurred between Romanian in the East and the others in the West. The third major separation occurred between Italian and the Galo-Iberic group.
The Italian Language – Systems of Denomination in the Romance Area, with Special References in Italian.
Lorenzo Renzi, Ph.D., University of Padoa