- Official language – Standard Italian
In my opinion, to fully understand a language, one should have a basic grasp on its history. By ‘understanding a language’, in this context however, does not mean whether or not you can hold a conversation, know your conjugations, etc. Rather it is to understand where it came from and evolved into the beautiful language we hear and study today.
The Italian language was not always the official language of Italy. In fact, Italy is considered a ‘young’ state. Prior to 1861, Italy was fragmented – divided into city and regional states. The Republic of Venice is an example. At that time, it had been known as the Kingdom of Italy. On 17 March 1861, Victor Emmanuel II announced the official unity of Italy, and was thereby the first king of Italy. Last March marked the 150th anniversary of that unification, or in Italian, il Risorgimento. To accompany Victor Emmanuel in this victorious process, he had inspirational nationalistic leaders like Giuseppe Garibaldi.
Italy then became a democratic republic after WWII on 2 June 1946 after the abolishment of the monarchy. 1 January 1948 is the date on which Italy’s constitution came into effect. This date is also important to those who have a woman in their jure sanguinis line. That however is a post unto itself.
As a democratic republic, the official language was declared as standard Italian. At the time of Italy’s unification, it is said only 2.5% of the population could speak it. With governmental implementations, such as the standardization of language usage within the classroom, and through media, that number has since increased exponentially.
So, you ask, if it has only been during more recent history that the country has been speaking a standardized language, what were Italians speaking before that?
To read more about the history of Italy, you can visit the NIAF's Ambassador magazine article, History of Italian Unity Made Easy, on page 21. Note: it is a PDF file.