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the official language of Italy and one of the official languages of Switzerland: the native language of approximately 60 million people. It belongs to the Romance group of the Indo-European family, and there is a considerable diversity of dialects
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a language of the Romance group of the Indo-European languages. Italian is spoken in Italy (about 54 million people; 1971, estimate), in San Marino, in the Swiss canton of Ticino (Tessin), on the islands of Corsica and Malta, and among Italian emigrants (more than 7 million people), most of whom reside in the USA, Canada, Australia, and the Somali Republic (where Italian is one of the official languages).

Italian developed from Vulgar Latin after the fall of the Roman Empire. The first written records, in various dialects, date from the tenth to 12th centuries; the first literary documents date from the 13th century (the “Sicilian School” of poets). Italian dialects are divided into three groups: northern Italian (Gallo-Italian dialects of the Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, Venice, and Istria), central-southern (Marche, Umbria, Latian, Campanian, Apulian, Abruzzese, Molise, Basilicata, and Sicilian dialects), and Tuscan (dialects of Florence, Siena, Arezzo, and Pisa). Some northern and central-southern dialects (the dialects of Venice, Milan, Naples, and Sicily) have written literary versions in addition to the spoken differences.

Common Italian was formed from the 14th-century Florentine dialect made popular by the Florentine writers Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio. In view of the fact that Italy lacked a single cultural and administrative center until 1871, Common Italian existed outside of Tuscany almost exclusively in written form as late as the 20th century and was accessible only to the literate segment of the population. In the 20th century, under the influence of radio and television, the oral literary norm is supplanting the dialects, adopting in turn a different dialect coloration in each region (italiano regionale).

The phonetic and morphological features of the Italian literary language (and the Tuscan dialects) include the following. All words in absolute final form end in a vowel sound. Seven stressed vowels (i, e, ε, a, ɔ, o, and u ) and a number of stressed diphthongs (uo, ie, io, ia, iu, and au) are distinguished. Vowel clusters occur frequently (lei, “she”; io, “I”; aiuola, “flower bed”; ghiaia, “gravel”). There is a characteristic opposition between single and double consonants (dita, “fingers”; ditta, “firm”; buco, “hole”; bocca, “mouth”). Articulation of the sounds is sharp and tense. Gender and number of nouns are expressed by inflection (rosa, “rose”;rose, “roses”; and capo, “head”; capi, “heads”), and definite and indefinite categories are expressed by articles (il/la, “the”; uno/una, “a”). There are no cases; their meanings are expressed by the use of prepositions (di, “of”; a, “to”; da, “from”). The grammatical meanings of person, number, tense, and mood are expressed by inflection of the verb. The indicative tense system consists of four simple and four compound forms. Word order is free.


Boursier, E. Osnovy romanskogo iazykoznaniia. Moscow, 1952. (Translated from French.)
Migliorini, B. Storia della lingua italiana [2nd ed.]. Florence, 1960.
Mauro, T. de. Storia linguistica dellTtalia unita.Bari, 1963.
Rohlfs, G. Grammatica storica della lingua italiana e dei suoi dialetti, vols. 1–3. Turin, 1966–68.
Camilli, A. Pronuncia e grafia delVitaliano, 3rd ed. Florence, 1965.
Battaglia, S., and V. Pernicone. La grammatica italiana, 2nd ed. Turin, 1968.
Cappuccini, G., and B. Migliorini. Vocabolario della lingua italiana. Turin, 1955.
Palazzi, F. Novissimo dizionario della lingua italiana, 2nd ed. Milan [1964].
Prati, A. Vocabolario etimologico italiano.[Turin, 1951.]
Battisti, G., and G. Alessio. Dizionario etimologico italiano [vols.] 1–.Florence, 1968.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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