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.