Modern Italian, as often happens with many national languages, is in fact a dialect that has succeeded in imposing itself as the proper language of a larger region than the one corresponding to the land where a dialect is spoken. In the case of Italian, the Tuscan dialect, spoken in Florence, Pisa and Siena, has become the dominant dialect.
Interestingly, this is not because of political or demographic reasons as normally happens, but thanks to the cultural prestige it carries due to the fact that it was the language of the famed “Divina Comedia”. This literary work written in the early years of the 14th century was considered the first literary work authored in the “modern language.”
The Tuscan dialect is indeed the one in which renown authors such as Dante Alighieri, Petrarca and Boccaccio wrote. These three authors were considered the most well known Italian Renaissance writers. The economic success and development of the Tuscan region during the late Middle Ages gave the dialect extra weight despite the continued influence of the Venetian dialect.
The Italian languaeg is related to the other two Italo-Dalmatian languages, Sicilian and the now extinct Dalmatian. These three languaegs are part of the Italo-Western familyof Romance languages. Italian is nearest to Latin in terms of vocabulary other Romance languages are closer to Latin in terms of noun declension, verb conjugation, and phonology.
In Italy, all languages spoken as the vernacular other than standard Italian are termed “Italian dialects”. These include various recognized dialects such as Friulian, Neapolitan, Sardinian, Sicilian, and Venetian.
Other dialects are generally not used in the public square and are largely limited to informal conversations. Demographically, the younger generations tend to speak standard Italian almost exclusively though local accents and idioms do continue to be present.
The Italian language is of course spoken mainly in Italy, where it is the national language and is spoken by approximately 63 million people. It also spoken in two cantons (Ticino and Grigioni) of Switzerland where it is also known as an official language.
Italian speaking communities however reach far beyond Italy. Italian speakers are found throughout Europe most notably in England, Belgium, the various republics of the former Yugoslavia, Monaco, Molta and Argentina Others are found Uruguay, Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico, Chile, United States and Canada.
A substantial community of Italian speakers is also found in Australia. Substantially smaller numbers of speakers in the former Italian colonies of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Lybia.