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The official language of Italymarker is Standard Italian, a descendant of the Tuscan dialect and a direct descendant of Latin (some 75% of Italian words are of Latin origin), but several regional languages are also spoken to varying degrees. Other languages are spoken by a substantial percentage of the population due to immigration.

The Italian language since unification

The Tuscan dialect (or Florentine dialect) spoken in Tuscany was promoted as the standard due to the socio-economic power associated with Florence as well as its literary heritage (Dante's Divine Comedy is often credited with the emergence of the Tuscan dialect as a standard). Pietro Bembo, a Venetian influenced by Petrarch, also promoted Tuscan as the standard literary language (volgare illustre). The spread of the printing press and literary movements (such as petrarchism and bembismo) also furthered Italian standardization.

When Italy was unified in 1861, Italian existed mainly as a literary language. Many Romance regional languages were spoken throughout the Italian Peninsula (Italian dialects), each with local variants. Following Italian unification Massimo Taparelli, marquis d'Azeglio, one of Cavour's ministers, is said to have stated that having created Italy, all that remained was to create Italians (a national identity).

The establishment of a national education system led to a decrease in variation in the languages spoken across the country. Standardization was further expanded in the 1950s and 1960s thanks to economic growth and the rise of mass media and television (the state broadcaster RAImarker helped set an Italian standard).

Languages spoken in Italy

Other historic Romance languages spoken in Italy include Emiliano-Romagnolo, Friulian, Ladin, Ligurian, Lombard, Neapolitan, Piedmontese, Sardinian, Sicilian, Venetian and Romansh. These languages have given way to regional varieties of Italian. Variety is often used in idioms and folk songs.

In addition to the regional linguistic varieties and dialects of standard Italian, a number of languages having some form of official recognition are spoken, some of which do not belong to the Romance family:


Since Italian unification, and especially since the Second World War, the Italian language has become the primary language of most Italians and it has undergone a process of homogenisation. Education and mass media, especially television, have rendered the Italian language accessible to all Italian people. Some argue that the same phenomenon has brought about a simplification and banalisation of the language.

A law passed in 1999 recognises the existence of twelve linguistic minorities which are thus officially protected. These are Albanian, Catalan, Croatian, Franco-Provençal, French, Friulian, German, Greek, Ladin, Occitan, Sardinian, and Slovene.Some of these minority languages had already been given recognition prior to 1999, notably German and French through national laws, while Friulian,Ladin,Slovene and Sardinian were given recognition through regional deliberations.

The remaining minority languages do not enjoy official recognition, nor are they regarded as genuine languages by the Italian government, who insist on categorising them as dialects of Italian, contrary to accepted linguistic classification. Of these languages, many have been recognised by international bodies, most notably by UNESCOmarker as reported in the Red Book of Endangered Languages. These are: Emiliano-Romagnolo, Ligurian, Lombard, Neapolitan, Piedmontese, Sicilian, and Venetian. These are also omitted from the minority languages list compiled by the European Union, although the list has been declared flexible and thus likely to be subject to future amendments.To some extent, popular perception reflects the official line held by the Italian government, as most Italians call these languages "dialects" and perceive them as being purely oral, syntactically poor and inferior languages (a sort of broken Italian). However, this is a largely Italocentric view which does not consider that many of these languages have had a long written tradition, some having been the court language of relatively powerful states (most notably Venetian) and were regularly used in official written communication. And in any case, the concentration on the use of the languages in writing or as codes employed by those with political power is irrelevant to their linguistic status. So-called dialects are every bit as rich in the details of phonology, morphology, and syntax as standard Italian, and often are more complex than the standard, as is the case - for example - with the Lombard numerals, or with the Neapolitan tripartite gender system.

Languages and language groups

Dialects of Italy by groups

Romance languages






  • Italkian (Jewish language form; term coined in the mid-20th C. Spoken by a small minority of Jews in Italy.)


Southern Romance

Albanian language

Germanic languages

Greek languages

Indo-Iranian languages

Slavic languages

See also


  1. proposta di legge costituzionale (C648), presentata il 24 ottobre 2006, il quale, modificando l’art. 12 della Costituzione con l’aggiunta di un 2° comma, afferma il carattere ufficiale della lingua italiana. Recita, infatti, il disposto: “L’italiano è la lingua ufficiale della Repubblica nel rispetto delle garanzie previste dalla Costituzione e dalle leggi costituzionali”. Year 2007
  2. Mercator project
  3. McKee, S. (1995) Households in Fourteenth-Century Venetian Crete. Speculum. 70: 27-67.
  4. Ali, Linguistic atlas of Italy
  5. Linguistic cartography of Italy by Padova University
  6. Italiand dialects by Pellegrini
  7. AIS, Sprach-und Sachatlas Italiens und der Südschweiz, Zofingen 1928-1940

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