The Italian Language

Everyone knows a bit of Italian.
Words like pasta, pizza, espresso, are now being used everywhere – not to mention famous people or brands like Ferrari.

But what many people don’t know is that Italian is both an old and a young language.

How can it be?! It’s either old or young!

Well, let’s start from the very beginning.

Once upon a time when Italy was populated by many different tribes. One day some of these tribes united and founded a city called Rome (753 BC). Have you ever heard about it?
Eventually, Rome defeated all the other people living in Italy (and in the whole Mediterranean…) and it’s language, the Latin, was spread all over its territories.

When Rome fell (476 AC), many different people came (mostly from the North) and took what once was the land of the Romans… And every different culture left its mark. So new words were added to the late Latin spoken by the Italians of the Middle Ages.

When the Langobards (or Lombards) arrived in 568, the political unity of the peninsula was lost for centuries, until1861, to be accurate. This determined different histories for the many regions of Italy, and different evolutions of the Latin language: the so called dialects.

But it would be wrong to think that during these thirteen centuries no one used the Italian language: indeed, it was during these centuries that it came to light.


Through writing. Literature, most of the time.
The Italian language has been crafted by literature, expecially poetry.
Now you understand why it is so musical and beautiful.

The first documents written in vulgar Italian – where vulgar means spoken by the vulgus, the people, and not obscene – are the Placiti Cassinesi, four juridical documents written by the Benedictine monks. They were written between 960 and 963, under the rule of the Langobard Princes of Capua.

Talking about literature itself, a good early exemple is the Canticle of the Creatures written by Saint Francis of Assisi around 1224 (surely before 1228).

But it was not only the Church to contribute to the written language.
A few years later, starting from 1230, a group of poets gathered around the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Sicily Frederick II formed what is now known as the Sicilian School of poetry. Its most famous member, Giacomo da Lentini, wrote love poems that are still very comprehensible even today.

Dante Alighieri

This poetry was very appreciated by a group of Tuscan literates, including the notorius Dante Alighieri (1265 – 1321), who is often considered the Father of the Italian language – even though his poetry requires lots of notes for native speakers Italian students…

What Dante and his friends really liked was the balance and the musicality of this language, so much that they decided to follow these steps in their own writing.
But actually, the Sicilian Poetry read by the Tuscans was no more purely Sicilian, but filtered through South and Center Italy. Indeed, back then every text had to be handwritten again to produce a copy. This led to minimal changes made by every single writer, who would partly adapt the language to its own. So the strongest elements of the Sicilian language would be removed in favour of milder, more common words or sounds.

And this is how hand writing generated a language.

Published by Aniello Troiano

Hi! I am a 28 years old Italian teacher. I have been training in International House London with the full-time Italian CLTA (Certificate in Language Teaching to Adults). I have a Master's Degree in History (Middle Ages and Renaissance) and a Bachelor's Degree in Modern (Italian) Literature. I published three books, but unfortunately they haven't been translated. Not yet, at least! ;)

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