Do you know that although modern standard Italian is used all over Italy, very few Italians use it as their first language?
Italian is the official language of Italy, and 93% of the population are native Italian speakers. However, most speak one of the 15 regional dialects as their first language. Many dialects are mutually unintelligible and thus considered by linguists as separate languages, but are not officially recognized.
Modern Italian evolved from spoken Latin via literary Tuscan, and the first example we have is a 12th century naval register from Pisa. The Tuscan dialect established dominance not because Tuscany was a greater military or financial power than other Italian regions, but because the three great writers of the Middle Ages, Dante, Boccaccio and Petrarca, wrote in the Tuscan dialect.
Opera, film and literature, from the great Renaissance works to modern writers, such as Luigi Pirandello, Italo Calvino, Sebastiano Vassalli and Leonardo Sciascia have all contributed to portraying Italian as the vibrant, melodic and rich language that it is.
For many of us, traveling to Italy means visiting our hometown and possibly meeting our living relatives. Often in these cases, the language may become a barrier unless we decide to hire a guide/translator or we start learning the language a few months before taking the trip. Italians will certainly welcome any attempt to communicate with them.
In addition, many more Italian Americans are pursuing Italian Dual Citizenship; Italian citizenship automatically makes one a citizen of the European Community – work, health insurance, etc. is thus available anywhere in Western Europe. Along with the Italian passport comes the desire to learn the Italian language; many of us regret the fact that our grandparents never taught the language with the exception, perhaps, of a few words, like “mamma mia”, “arrivederci”, “pasta”, etc.
Check with your local Italian clubs, contact the Italian Consulate that has jurisdiction over the State where you reside for information on Italian classes near you. Finally, encourage school administrators to offer Italian language education in middle and high schools throughout the U.S.!
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