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Italian language, member of the Romance group of the Italic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages. The official language of Italy and San Marino, and one of the official languages of Switzerland, Italian is spoken by about 58 million people in Italy, 30,000 in San Marino, 840,000 in Switzerland, another 1 million in other European countries, and approximately 5 million in North and South America. Historically, Italian is a daughter language of Latin. Northern Italian dialects are the Gallo-Italian—including Piedmontese, Ligurian, Lombard, and Emilian—and Venetian. Further south, the major dialects are Tuscan and various others from Umbria to Sicily. Sardinian, spoken on the island of Sardinia, is sufficiently distinct from other dialects to be considered by some a Romance language in its own right. The Rhaeto-Romance forms, similar to the dialects of northern Italy, are spoken in the border region between Italy and Switzerland. It is not known exactly when Italian could be distinguished from its parent tongue; however, no text in Italian is recorded before the 10th cent. A.D.
Italian is most closely related to the other two Italo-Dalmatian languages, Sicilian and the extinct Dalmatian. The three are part of the Italo-Western grouping of the Romance languages, which are a subgroup of the Italic branch of Indo-European.
In Italy, all Romance languages spoken as the vernacular, other than standard Italian and other unrelated, non-Italian languages, are termed "Italian dialects". Many Italian dialects are, in fact, historical languages in their own right. These include recognized language groups such as Friulian, Neapolitan, Sardinian, Sicilian, Venetian, and others, and regional variants of these languages such as Calabrian. The division between dialect and language has been used by scholars (such as by Francesco Bruni) to distinguish between the languages that made up the Italian koine, and those which had very little or no part in it, such as Albanian, Greek, German, Ladin, and Occitan, which are still spoken by minorities.
Classical Literature Companion: Italy, a word perhaps meaning ‘land of calves’; the name appears to have been originally applied to the southern half of the toe of Italy. By 450 BC it meant all of the south-west peninsula (now Calabria), subsequently inhabited by the Bruttii, and by 400 it also included Lucania (the mountainous district of south Italy north of Calabria). By the third century BC it meant the whole Italian peninsula south of Liguria and Cisalpine Gaul. After the death of Julius Caesar in 44 BC Cisalpine Gaul too became part of Italy. At the beginning of historical times, at the end of the sixth century BC, the Italian peninsula as a whole was inhabited by a variety of races: Celts in the north, Etruscans south of these, Greeks in the south of the peninsula, and in the centre an agglomeration of kindred tribes, Umbrians, Sabellians, Oscans, and Latins. These peoples differed from each other to a greater or lesser degree in race, language, and culture. The physical characteristics of the country are no less varied, from the Apennines and other mountain ranges, which produced a hardy, frugal mountain people, to the warm southern seaboard, where Greeks led an easy and luxurious life, e.g. at Sybaris and Croton. The achievement of Rome during the republican period was to conquer and absorb all the inhabitants of the peninsula, receiving from them in return influences which are clearly reflected in Roman literature.
The history of the Italian language is long, but the modern standard of the language was largely shaped by relatively recent events. The earliest surviving texts which can definitely be called Italian (or more accurately, vernacular, as opposed to its predecessor Vulgar Latin) are legal formulae from the region of Benevento dating from 960-963. What would come to be thought of as Italian was first formalized in the first years of the 14th century through the works of Dante Alighieri, who mixed southern Italian languages, especially Sicilian, with his native Tuscan in his epic poems known collectively as the Commedia, to which Giovanni Boccaccio later affixed the title Divina. Dante's much-loved works were read throughout Italy and his written dialect became the "canonical standard" that all educated Italians could understand. Dante is still credited with standardizing the Italian language and, thus, the dialect of Tuscany became the basis for what would become the official language of Italy.
The economic might and relative advanced development of Tuscany at the time (Late Middle Ages), gave its dialect weight, though Venetian remained widespread in medieval Italian commercial life. Also, the increasing cultural relevance of Florence during the periods of Humanism and the Renaissance made its dialect, or rather a refined version of it, a standard in the arts.
National Anthem of: Italy
Fratelli d'Italia,
l'Italia s'e' desta,
dell'elmo di Scipio
s'e cinta la testa.
Dov'e la vittoria?
Le porga la chioma,
che schiava di Roma
Iddio la creo'.
Stringiamoci a coorte,
siam pronti alla morte.
Siam pronti alla morte,
l'Italia chiamo'.
Stringiamoci a coorte,
siam pronti alla morte.
Siam pronti alla morte,
l'Italia chiamo', si'!
Noi fummo da secoli
calpesti, derisi,
perche' non siam popoli,
perche' siam divisi.
Raccolgaci un'unica
bandiera, una speme:
di fonderci insieme
gia' l'ora suono'
Uniamoci, uniamoci,
l'unione e l'amore
rivelano ai popoli
le vie del Signore.
Giuriamo far libero
il suolo natio:
uniti, per Dio,
chi vincer ci puo'?
Lyrics by Goffredo Mameli

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