The Italian language is a Romance Language as it has Latin origins like its cousins, French and Spanish. Italy is unique in the sense that each Italian region has its own dialect with the same origin. Often, an individual from one part of Italy will not understand the speech of an individual from a different region in Italy.
For example, the Italian spoken in Rome has some evident linguistic differences when compared to the Standard Italian dialect. For example, the -nd- sound in Standard Italian is pronounced -nn- such as quanno instead of quando meaning “when”. Another example is a substitution for /r/ in the position of /l/. For example Romans tend to say er core rather than the standard il cuore “the heart”.
For the sake of a common understanding, standardized testing and political speeches, a standard dialect had to be selected as the dominant Italian. The Italian dialect spoken in Florence in the region of Tuscany is the standard Italian language. How did the Italian language come to be and why was Tuscan Italian chosen to be the Standard Italian dialect?
Language changes happen slowly but impactfully. Slow changes were apparent from Latin to Vulgar Latin (Latin slang) to eventually become the Italian language (Spanish and French followed a similar pattern). These linguistic changes were apparent from historical texts, such as the Judicial Records from Monte Cassino, the Umbrian Formula of Confession and the song of St. Francis of Assissi from the 12th century (Solodow, 2010). These documents are religious manuscripts, court documents and songs as evidence for language change. When analysing the texts, many words are written in a language which is definitely not Classic Latin and resembles Italian, but isn’t the classic Italian we know (or pretend to know when traveling — grazie). For example, in the Monte Cassino judicial records, a sound change is seen in the word “trenta” meaning “thirty”, which is “triginta” in Latin. This word demonstrates the linguistic sound change from /g/ to /y/ in Vulgar Latin/early Italian.
The dialect spoken in the Tuscan region of Florence is the Standard dialect of Italian. Florence was an incredibly politically powerful state. As well, the Italian literary kings known as “the three crowns of Italian literature”, Dante, Boccaccio and Petrarca were Florentine, affecting the popularity of the Tuscan dialect. In the late 19th century, the dialect of Italian spoken in Florence became the standard.
Italian dialects are split into three main families and then split even more into regional varieties (Italicissima, 2016). The map (left) is a map listing the names of the different Italian dialects.
Each Italian dialect is considered to be so unique that Italians are considered to all be bilinguals, speaking their native Italian dialect as well as the standard Italian.
Dworkin, Steven. A History of the Spanish Lexicon. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Print.
“The Dialect Families.” Italicissima. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.