How can we begin this post about the history of the Italian language? An introduction could be “a young language with a long history!” Stay with us to discover how the Italian language has evolved until becoming what we know today.
History of the Italian language
Between 3000 BC and 1000 BC, populations of Indo-European origin arrived from Central and Eastern Europe and mixed with the Mediterranean peoples, including those living on the Italian peninsula (Etruscans, Ligurians, Sardinians, etc.). Some of them settled in Latium and founded Rome.
Latin and the birth of the Neo-Latin languages
The inhabitants that resulted from the mix of Central and Eastern Europeans with the Mediterranean peoples were called Latins. So, the Latin language was a blend between the Mediterranean and Indo-European languages. Finally, when the ancient Romans conquered the territories of the peninsula, their language mixed with the pre-existing ones. Latin also influenced other languages spoken by European populations, giving rise to new Neo-Latin languages (Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Romanian).
Regional languages, Tuscany and Florence
When the Roman Empire collapsed, Latin continued as the language that educated people spoke in Rome. However, regional languages spoken by common people developed in other parts of Italy. By the end of the first millennium, Tuscany’s central position in the Italian peninsula favored trade between Rome and the rest of Europe, especially Florence became an increasingly important trading post.
The great Tuscan writers of the Middle Ages
Economic development spawned Tuscan writers such as Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio. They wrote beautiful and vernacular works in Florentine. So engaging was the content they produced that it spread rapidly. Their work was famous throughout Italy. And these writers became a reference point for all other writers born in the following centuries.
The Florentine vernacular as a cultured language
Great Tuscan scientists and artists (Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo Galilei, Michelangelo, Botticelli, etc.) used Florentine vernacular instead of Latin. Hence, Florentine vernacular experienced growth through these contributions. In the other regions of Italy, there was a low literacy level. So, vernacular dialects continued among the uneducated.
Florentine spreads in Italy!
In the mid-1800s, Italy was a land of conquest contested by the French, Spanish, and Austrians. But Italians were determined to free themselves from the invaders and become an independent nation. Many writers, in this sense, decided to use the Florentine language as the only national language to write their works.
The Italian language and the Unity of Italy
The Milanese writer Alessandro Manzoni, contributed to the Risorgimento. He did it through his most famous work, I promessi sposi. This movement led to the unification of the Italian regions into a single independent state. Italy’s unification took place in 1861.
Italian language and other regional languages
Throughout Italy, Italian became the only written and spoken language. But, due to poverty, regional languages remained all around the country. These regional languages are mistakenly called dialects. But they are languages that evolved from Latin independently from Italian. So, they can not be considered Italian dialects. Southern and northern regions have stronger regional languages.
The Italian language is spoken by all Italians
With the end of the Second World War, Italy experienced strong economic growth. The 50s and 60s were good years for Italy’s economy. Efforts were made to educate the Italian people. Most Italians in this new generation went to school. And thus, the country finally began to use one main language. At last, the Italian language was adopted by the masses.
Did you like this short journey through the history of the Italian Language? Would you like to read more? Click here to check out some amusing facts about this beautiful romance language.