The Origin of the Italian Language: Part 2

Last Wednesday, December 9, 2009, our Society President, Flavio Andreatta gave a lecture on the Origin of the Italian Language – Part 2. He began by mentioning that there are several major languages commonly spoken in Italy. These include Albanian, Bavarian, Catalan, Cimbian, Corsican, Croation, Friulian, Slovene. Other minor languages are also spoken including German in the north, Greece  and Latin in the south, plus many dialects. Major branches or groups of Italian dialects include Gallic, Italic, Latin, Greek and Venetic. They vary in phonetic pronunciation and use of vowels.

Before 1935 in Malta, Italian was the primary language. After 1935, Maltese grew to become the dominant official language in Malta. Italian is a minor language in Somalia, Eritrea, Libya, Ethiopia, and Tientsn China. Italian is widely spoken in Monaco, Corsica (a French territory) and 29 other countries.

In 1890, only about 2 percent of Italians spoke official Italian. Otherwise they spoke a dialect. But they could still understand Italian if it was spoken to them. By 1900, over 30 percent of Italians could speak Italian. This was largely due to schooling. By 1930, over 80 percent of Italians were fluent in Italian.

It is interesting to note that back in Italy, dialects still change over time. This is not the case after Italian immigrate to another country. Brazil has the largest population of Italian immigrants at over 1.5 million, as does Argentina. The people of Malta speak Italian today largely due to media broadcasts. Italian officials once refused to recognize Friulian as an official language. Today Friulian is not only an official language, it is also taught in schools. In Chipilo, Mexico, there is a population of light skinned people who speak a Venetian dialect that is well maintained to this day. This is thought to go back to Venetian Italian immigrants to the area from around 1865.

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The Origin of the Italian Language: Part 1

Last Wednesday, November 11, 2009, Flavio Andreatta, President of the Italian Genealogy and Heraldry Society of Canada, gave a seminar on The Origin of the Italian Language: Part 1. The Italian language an official language not only in Italy, but also in Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, Slovenia, Croatia, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, and the European Union (EU). Italian is also widely spoken in Malta, Eritrea, Somalia, France, and Greece.

The Italian language has its roots in the Latin language. The goes back to our ancient Indo-European ancestors known as the Aryans. Those Indo-Europeans who settled across much of Europe and eventually into what is now known as Italy, were called the Italics. Of the Italics in Italy, a large tribe known as the Latins settled in the Lazio – Latium region where Rome is. Their language became dominant in the region and became known as the Latin language. This is why Latin was the official language of ancient Rome.

Over time, three languages became common in the broader region – Latin, Greek and the local dialect. After the fall of the Roman empire around 476 AD and the last Emperor was dethroned, the use of Latin declined and the use of the local language or dialect was increased. The local dialect was generally a dialect of Latin. Verbal use of language was common for local usage. For communications beyond that, written use of language was necessary. For 1,000 years, the locals only spoke the local Latin or dialect. The common people were otherwise illiterate as only Roman Catholic monks were allowed to read and write.

By 1200 AD, the Toscana – Lazio region of Italy had become the centre of Italy. There was active commerce, banking and a demand for formal schooling. By 1300 AD, this region had become the commercial centre of the world. This forced the need for one formal language. Famous authors like Dante and Macciavelli wrote in “lingua franca” or the language of the people. This helped make the local Tuscan dialect more common. The high level of local commerce, art, culture and formal schooling fostered a need for writers and a formal standard language. Eventually the Italian language arose from the local dialect of the Toscana region, especially Firenze.

Flavio Andreatta will continue with The Origin of the Italian Language: Part 2 at our general meeting at the Ciociaro Club next Wednesday, December 9, 2009 at 7:30 p.m. Click on the link in the sidebar for a map and directions.