The Italian language evolved from Vulgar Latin (sermo vulgaris, common speech), the spoken language of the people of the Roman Empire. In the centuries following the fall of the Roman Empire, many Latin-based dialects sprang up throughout the Italian peninsula. The earliest written evidence of these dialects dates to the 10th century A.D., in the form of legal documents found in Benevento, in the Campania region of southern Italy. Written Italian began to develop in the early part of the 14th century through the works of Dante Alighieri. In his Divine Comedy, Dante's native Tuscan dialect was strongly influenced by the dialects of the court poets of the Sicilian School, whom Dante admired. Given the dominant economic role of the Tuscan city-states in the 14th century, the influence of the Tuscan dialect spread. Several literary movements in the 15th and 16th centuries further solidified Tuscan Italian as the spoken and written standard for the peninsula.
The unification of Italy in 1861 brought about sweeping social and economic reforms. Mandatory schooling and the proliferation of means of mass communication and mass transit had an enormous impact on the formation of modern standard Italian. Local dialects, characterized as the language of the uneducated, began to fall out of favor in the decades following unification. As Benito Mussolini and his Fascist party rose to power in the early 20th century, the push toward a common language intensified. With the goal of solidifying his control over the Italian population, Benito outlawed the public use of dialects. Modern standard Italian was by now firmly established as the sole official language of the Italian state and the Italian people.
Despite being politically and geographically united, Italians do not possess a strong sense of national identity, as Luigi Barzini noted in his book The Italians. Florentines feel themselves distinct from Sicilians, who in turn feel themselves distinct from Romans. Since the end of fascism, there has been a resurgence of local identity and pride, a phenomenon in Italy known as campanilismo (derived from the word campanile, or “bell tower”). Literally speaking, campanilismo refers to the loyalty and pride that one would have for the bell tower in one's hometown. In contemporary Italy, it is not uncommon to find after-school or weekend programs for school-aged children taught in local dialects. In some cases, this localized pride has been harnessed by extremists, giving rise to political parties with platforms based on secession from the Italian state.
Though campanilismo exists in every corner of continental Italy and the islands, all Italians receive formal education in modern standard Italian. Almost all Italians are bilingual; that is, they speak Italian and their local dialect. Knowing Italian doesn't provide you with the key to one generic culture. Rather it opens the door to thousands of different cultures, each of which has made unique contributions in the areas of the visual arts, literature, science, politics, music, cinema, cuisine, and commerce. By studying Italian with the help of The Everything