Italian is one of the Romance languages. The official language of Italy and San Marino, Italian is spoken by approximately 70 million people worldwide.
Italian is a language of many dialects. These dialects are categorized into groups. The Northern dialects, Gallo-Italian and Venetian, are believed to have traces of a Celtic language. Tuscan is the major dialect in the south. Other dialects are scattered throughout Italy. For those who reside outside Italy, their Italian dialect is affected by adoption of words and terms from the language of their adopted country.
Italy was a region of many dialects as most cities were considered "city-states" until unification was achieved in 1871 after much conflict, when Rome consented to its inclusion as the capital city.
The Tuscan dialect of Florence, without local idioms, became dominant in the 13th and 14th century. Florence during these centuries was a cultural center and the work of Durante degli Alighieri (1265 – 1321), famously known as Dante, among others, assisted in the rise of the Florentine dialect. This dialect, considered a daughter language of Latin, assumed some of the idioms of Rome as well. It would become, in time, modern standard Italian.
Prior to the ascendency of the Florentine dialect, records were written in Latin. The earliest written texts in Italian, legal formulae, are dated from the 10th century. The works of Dante were prized and read throughout Italy. Dante used a combination of southern dialects and Tuscan in his epic poems. All educated people could read his vernacular and Dante is credited with creation of a standardized written Italian language.
In the 16th century, Italy was divided as to how to establish a modern standard of Italian. Purists believed a standard should be based on literary classics. Machiavelli headed a group who supported a version common to the ordinary people. Courtiers backed the proposition the new standard should include contributions from each local dialect. The Purists eventually succeeded.
The Accademia della Crusca, an official legislative body, was established in 1582 to oversee the Italian language. The first Italian dictionary was published in 1612.
Two invasions during the next three centuries would have an effect on the Italian language. The Spanish occupation would simplify Italian grammar in the manner of the Spanish language and Napoleon’s occupation would unite Italy and elevate the Italian language to a status of lingua franca.
Alessandro Manzoni, through his 1840 literary Italian novel "I Promessi Sposi", contributed his interpretation to the standard written Italian language.
Italian today is still a language of many diversely spoken dialects. Standard Italian is the means of communication for cultural life and arts in Italy, although it is also becoming more prevalent throughout Italy due to immigration within the country. The written standard Italian language is taught in primary school, where most Italians are first exposed to it.
Italian is considered a language of art and is thought to be the optimum language in which to sing. It has been culturally influential since the Renaissance.