Italian Language History

View of Florence, birthplace of the Italian language
View of Florence, birthplace of the Italian language

If you’re serious about learning the Italian language, you should certainly learn it in Florence, the heart and birthplace of the Italian language.

Florence was home to Dante Alighieri, the author of The Divine Comedy (“La Divina Commedia”), whom Italians call “il sommo poeta”, the greatest poet, and “il padre della lingua italiana”, the father of the Italian language.

Dante death anniversary was celebrated all year during 2021: he died in 1321, so it was the 700th anniversary of Dante’s death.

Still today, the best Italian is spoken in Florence, Siena and in Tuscany, their region, generally.

Italian was the first modern language historically to acquire literary status.

Until the 13th-14th centuries, Latin was still the language of literature. Books were written only in Latin, and the other European languages were only spoken.

At the end of the Roman empire, the Latin language left a legacy of different dialects in many regions of Europe, including Italian regions.

All these dialects descended from spoken Latin (called “vulgar Latin”, as opposed to classical, literary Latin).

In Italy, different regions adopted different dialects.

In the 14th century, the Florentine dialect imposed itself throughout Italy as the main, most prestigious common language. The reason can be summed up in one word: Dante.

The reason is because the greatest Italian writers of the 14th century, Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio, all used Florentine in their poetry and prose works. These works, read with admiration beyond Tuscan borders as well as within, have become models for the written language. These great authors’ grammar, vocabulary and style were imitated by cultured and powerful people throughout the Italian peninsula.

Dante was particularly influential and responsible for this, through his De Vulgari Eloquentia, a work written in Latin to argue the case for establishing a literary tradition in the so-called vulgar languages, the languages actually spoken by the people. You can still see Dante’s House in Florence today.

It was not until the political unification of Italy, completed in 1870, that the Italian language, up to then only spoken in Tuscany and by cultivated people outside Tuscany, became widespread among the Italian population, who had only spoken regional dialects.

Basically, the modern Italian language is the Florentine dialect of the 1300s.