THE ITALIAN LANGUAGE AND ITS DIALECTS
The Italian language stems directly from Latin. As the authority of ancient Rome fragmented, its language, Latin, also broke apart and formed several national European idioms. In the same way, numerous linguistic varieties, or dialects, took form within the Italian peninsula. They were the expressions of different centers of civilization within the larger Italian world.
In the 13 century a movement started in Sicily known as the Scuola Siciliana, poets in the court of Frederick II began to write poetry in the local language (Sicilian); later Tuscan writers imitate the style of the Sicilian writers. The dialect of Tuscany was assured linguistic supremacy by the political importance and geographical position of its principal city, Florence, and above all by the authority of the thirteenth-century Tuscan writers, Dante, Petrarca, and Boccaccio. Each of these men wrote works of major literary significance in their native Tuscan dialect. Eventually, the Tuscan dialect became recognized as the official Italian language.
However, for many centuries the Italian language remained a literary expression of only learned people. The different dialects continued to be spoken, a situation favored by the historical and political conditions of Italy, which remained a country divided into many separate city-states until the second half of the nineteenth century. The local dialect was often accepted as the official language of the court of that particular city-state. This was the case in Venice, a republic renowned for the skill of its diplomats. The eighteenth-century playwright, Carlo Goldoni, who has been called by critics the Italian Molièr, wrote many of his plays in Venetian. For example, in his dialect theater we find the word schiao, meaning "your servant," which is derived from the Latin word for slave, esclavum. This is the original version of the international greeting "ciao".
Today Italy has achieved political as well as linguistic unity, and with few exceptions everyone speaks Italian. The dialects, however, remain very much alive. Indeed, Italians may be considered bilingual because, in addition to speaking Italian, they also speak or at least understand the dialect of their own region or city.