Official Language of Italy
Italy is located in Western Europe, where it juts out into the Mediterranean Sea. It has a multicultural population of over 60 million inhabitants, who speak a diverse range of languages from minority languages to regional dialects. The official language spoken in Italy, however, is Italian. This language is spoken by around 85 million people throughout the world and serves as one of the working languages of the Council of Europe. It is considered a Romance language and is more closely related to Latin than any other Romance language. Italian has its roots in the Tuscan dialect of the Italo-Dalmatian subgroup, which belongs to the Indo-European language family. This dialect was used by the upper class and by writers of the Florentine society during the 1100’s. In fact, the famous author Dante Alighieri is often given credit for standardizing the language. Today, Italian is not listed by the constitution as the official language, although several courts have made legal decisions identifying the language as such.
Minority Languages of Italy
A number of minority languages are also spoken in Italy. Many of them have been classified as historical language minorities by the government of Italy, including French, Greek, German, Sardinian, Albanian, Occitan, Croatian, Slovene, Ladin, Friulian, Catalan, and Franco-Provencal.
Of these languages, Sardinian belongs to its own group within the Romance languages. Around 1 million people speak Sardinian, the majority of which live on the island of Sardinia. It is considered an indigenous language and has been influenced by Catalan, Byzantine Greek, Spanish, Italian, and pre-Latin languages. Like Italian, it is very closely related to Latin. Sardinian is divided into two principal varieties: Logudorese and Campidanese. According to UNESCO, both varieties are endangered, as Italian is becoming more prominent. Around 68.4% of the population of Sardinia can speak this language, while only 13% of children are considered fluent.
Other Languages Spoken in Italy
A number of other languages are spoken in Italy as well, 31 of which are considered to have varying degrees of vulnerability according to UNESCO. Severely endangered languages of this country include Griko (in both Calabria and Salento), Gardiol, Vastese, Toitschu, and Molise Croatian.
Griko is the language of the Griko people, who are believed to be descendants of the Ancient Greek communities in Southern Italy. Because of this, the Griko language is considered a living artifact of Magna Graecia. This language has between 40,000 and 50,000 second language speakers and belongs to the Hellenic language group, under the Italiot Greek sub-category.
Gardiol is considered a dialect of the Occitan language, spoken in the town of Guardia Piemontese in the Calabria region.
Vastese is so rare that it is only spoken by the inhabitants of the town of Vasto. Most of the native speakers are between the ages of 80 and 90, while middle-aged adults have only auditory command of this language. Most children have little to no comprehension of Vastese. It is considered a separate language and not a dialect of Italian.
Toitschu is a dialect of Alemmanic and is spoken throughout the Piedmont and Aosta Valley of Italy. This dialect is also known as Walser German, and is not mutually intelligible with Swiss or Standard German.
Molise Croatian is a dialect of Serbo-Croatian. It is spoken throughout the Campobasso province of Italy by the Italian Croats population. Today, this language has less than 1,000 native speakers.