Italian is spoken by around 85 million people worldwide…
It’s either the 20th or 21st most spoken language on the planet depending on the source. There are circa 65 million native Italian speakers, 15 million who speak it as a second language, and approximately 5 million foreigners who are fluent in Italian.
Italian is a widely sought-after language around the world, ranking in fourth place for those studying it. Surprisingly, despite its reputation as one of Europe's classic languages and its influence on many cultures worldwide, only 5th most popular among American learners who prefer Spanish or French over Italian--perhaps making learning this historic tongue even more special.
Although Italian is widely spoken by over 70 million people across the world, its official status as a national language exists only in one place - San Marino. This tiny microstate has long held onto this legacy of their 1,700-year history and serves to make them distinct from neighbouring Italy which does not recognize an official tongue for its citizens. Furthermore, it's also a minority language among various communities located in Brazil, Croatia and Slovenia alongside having recognition within Vatican City whose primary language remains Latin.
The regional diversity of Italy is seldom seen anywhere else in the world. From Sicilian to Venetian, 31 distinct languages are spoken throughout this historic land – each with their own unique culture and heritage. Cross over from one region to another however and you may find that comprehension between dialects can become difficult even within the same linguistic family.
Italians are known for their love of language, and this is evidenced by the 45% who speak in regional dialects! In fact, nearly a sixth - 14% - rely exclusively on their local tongue. So next time you visit Italy make sure to brush up on your area's native phrases.
How old is the Italian language?
It’s 1,000+ years old! Three documents vie for the title of oldest text written in Italian. You have the Placiti Cassinesi, a collection of juridical papers from 960-963; the Veronese Riddle, which was added to a prayer book in the late 8th or early 9th century; and the Commodilla catacomb inscription, which dates back to the beginning of the 9th century.
When the Roman Empire fell, it left behind an unlikely legacy. Commonly referred to as "vulgar Latin", this was the language of soldiers and peasants; far removed from Classical Latin used by elites in schools. Despite being disregarded for centuries, its influence survived - gradually evolving into becoming Italian, Spanish and other Romance languages we know today.
Dante Alighieri's iconic Divine Comedy was an influential milestone in the history of Italian, elevated by 16th century Venetian grammarian Pietro Bembo to national status. What is now a widely recognizable language grew out of what had become an unrecognizable version of vulgar Latin spoken in Florence during Dante’s time, making his work pivotal for its transition into literature. Unfortunately due to his death before seeing it realized, Bembo never saw this victory come to fruition - but without him there would be no modern-day Italy as we know it.
The Italian alphabet has just 21 letters.
That’s because no Italian words feature either j, k, w, x, or y. But foreign words that have these letters keep their original spelling.
Oddly, though, a bunch of surnames starting with i are alternatively spelled with a j, such as Jannacci and most famously Jacuzzi.