A BRIEF HISTORY ABOUT THE ITALIAN LANGUAGE
Find out about some of the language's curiosities, cultural and historical factors that influence the translation to Italian.
By Giuseppina Gatta
The Italian language, along with other “Romance languages", namely Spanish, Portuguese, French, Romanian and Catalan, derives from Latin.
Latin is still used for legal procedures in the Vatican, but considered a dead language.
Italian may be considered the most direct descendant of Latin, but, despite its ancient origin, the official Italian language does not have a long history owing to historical and political reasons. One of them is that it took a long period of time for Italy to be considered and declared a “nation", but also due to the influence of the Catholic Church and several dominations and invasions to which Italy was subjected over many centuries.
A first example of what will become of Italian in the future may be seen and found during the Middle Ages, with the so-called “volgare", which means the language used by the people (“vulgus" in Latim), distinct from the official Latin language.
One of the most prominent and popular poets to use the “volgare" in his works was Dante Alighieri.
He was born in Tuscany, which was later chosen by another important Italian author, Alessandro Manzoni, who gave rise to the first Italian language through his romance “I promessi sposi" (The bride and groom), first published in 1827.
Alessandro Manzoni was born in Milan, but thought it was important to go to Florence, in Tuscany, with aim to “risciacquare i panni in Arno” (wash his clothes in the Arno river), that is, he needed to purify his language with the Tuscan dialect, which is considered the foremost and purest among Italian language prototypes.
At the time “I promessi sposi" was published, Italy was still ruled by Austria and hadn't yet achieved a country status.
Nonetheless, the origin of the official Italian language may be definitively identified by the publication of that masterpiece of Italian literature. “I promessi sposi" is still studied today in public schools and is part of the mandatory Italian literature program.
Beyond Italy, Italian is the official language of the following countries and territories.
Switzerland (Canton Ticino), the Vatican, the Republic of S. Marino and some areas of Slovenia and Croatia.
Also, Italian is taught and spoken in other countries, such as Albania, Eritrea, Libya, Ethiopia.
It is estimated (source:
CIA – The World Factbook) that nearly 200 million people speak Italian in the world: around 75 million are native speakers, whilst the rest use it as a second language.
Italian has also been influenced by other languages other than Latin.
We can find many examples of terms that derive, among others, from Greek (in particular medical and scientific terms), from Arabian (especially those associated to mathematics, chemistry and accounting), from French, German, and more recently, English).
In many areas such as marketing, advertising, journalism, it is considered elegant to use terms in English, at times with a slightly different meaning than the original.
The many inflows of other cultures, languages and people, which had many roles over the history of Italy and its language, may be observed in a great variety of dialects spoken in different regions.
Those dialects represent an important linguistic and cultural heritage.
Many prefer to express themselves in their own dialect, and they often don't have much in common with the official Italian language and are hardly understandable to the non-local population.
In order to name some examples, in the province of Lecce, southeast Italy, the local dialect, called “griko", has much more in common with Greek than Italian, owing to the fact that Italy was a Greek colony for many centuries.
Neapolitan was strongly influenced by the domination of Bourbon and has much in common with Spain.
The list could go on forever, but these few examples show that any language is the “summa" of different cultural, historical and political events that shape the history of its speakers.