Italian is a member of the Italo-Dalmatian group of languages, which
is part of the Italo-Western grouping of the Romance languages, which
are a subgroup of the Italic branch of Indo-European.
Italian is the official language of Italy, San Marino and an
official language in the Ticino and Grigioni cantons or regions of
Switzerland. It is also the second official language in Vatican City
and in some areas of Istria in Slovenia and Croatia with an Italian
minority. It is widely used by immigrant groups in Luxembourg, the
United States, and Australia, and is also spoken in neighbouring Malta
and Albania. It is spoken, to a much lesser extent, in parts of Africa
formerly under Italian rule such as Somalia, Libya and Eritrea.
89% lexical similarity with French, 87% with
Catalan, 85% with
Sardinian, 82% with Spanish, 78% with Rheto-Romance, 77% with
Standard Italian is based on the Tuscan dialects
(Florence) and is somewhat
intermediate between the languages of Southern Italy and the
Gallo-Romance languages of the North. The long-established Tuscan
standard has, over the last few decades, been slightly eroded by the
variety of Italian spoken in Milan, the economic capital of Italy.
Italian has double (or long) consonants, like Latin (but unlike most
modern Romance languages, e.g.
French and Spanish). As in most Romance
languages (with the notable exception of
French), stress is
Italians say that the best spoken Italian is lingua toscana in
bocca romana - 'the Tuscan tongue, in a Roman mouth.' The formative
influence on establishing the Tuscan as the elite speech is generally
agreed to have been Dante's Commedia, to which Boccaccio affixed the
title Divina in the 14th century.
The dialects of Italian identified by the Ethnologue are Tuscan,
Abruzzese, Pugliese, Umbrian, Laziale, Central Marchigiano,
Cicolano-Reatino-Aquilano, and Molisano. Many of the so-called
"dialects" of Italian spoken in Italy are different enough from
standard Italian that they are considered to be separate languages by
Enyclopaedia Britannica distinguishes
the following dialects: Northern Italian, or Gallo-Italian; Venetan, spoken
in northeastern Italy; Tuscan (including Corsican); and three related groups
from southern and eastern Italy—(1) the dialects of the Marche, Umbria, and
Rome, (2) those of Abruzzi, Puglia (Apulia), Naples, Campania, and Lucania,
and (3) those of Calabria, Otranto, and Sicily.