General Question

janbb's avatar

When and how did Latin become Italian?

Asked by janbb (44137 points ) March 28th, 2014

My Grammar corrected me on a pm and it started me wondering. I don’t know when Classical Latin evolved in (medieval? Renaissance?) Italian. I know I could Google it but I’m curious to see what jellies know about it.

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20 Answers

LostInParadise's avatar

Without cheating by using Google, I would guess that Italian was created the same as all the other Romance languages. Various tribes invading the former Roman empire combined their languages with Latin. Italy was closer to the source, so Italian most resembles the original.

CWOTUS's avatar

Knowing how badly Americans spell – and most of them speak, read and write only one language (other than txtspk) – I would guess that “Latin” was an historic misspelling of “Italian” in the first place, by people who spoke many languages but couldn’t read or write any of them.

Or vice versa.

bolwerk's avatar

Probably very gradually. I think modern Italian literature, or the modern sense of it anyway, is considered to start with Dante, so a distinct language had to exist before. There is probably at least half a millennium of vernacular evolution that is poorly accounted for between the fall of the Western Empire in the late 400s and the High Middle Ages (circa 10th-11th centuries). Look at how much English changed from 800–1400, before the advent of print. And how relatively little it changed after.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Italian was a combination of Etruscan than Latin and finally a dialect used only in Rome.

gailcalled's avatar

Only because I was very recently doing a little research for a doggie I know did I learn that Dante, who lived in Florence, wrote in his vernacular (Tuscan) and started the whole thing.

To this day, there are regional versions of standard Italian. For exmple, in and around Venice, several million people speak Veneziano, which is closer to anothe language than a regional variant of Italian. Most of them speak standard Italian as well.

In Donna Leon’s mystery novels that take place in Venice and star the inestimable Commissario Guido Brunetti, who speaks Veneziano and when is often an integral part of the story.

janbb's avatar

Ah Tuscan! No wonder Frodo had problems with the translating!

It’s interesting because I know Italy was not a nation until very recently (and just heard that Venice may be trying to secede) so I would imagine there were many different dialects or even separate languages that were either bastardized or derived from Latin and other languages.

I need to study more about Italian history and language. But right now, I have to go listen to Frodo’s lecture.

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zenvelo's avatar

The tribe of the Latins resided in an area of west central Italy around where Rome and Ostia are. The region was called Latium.

The origin of the name Italy is in dispute. Some believe it came from the Greek Viteliu meaning “land of young cattle.” During the Augustinian reign it was used to describe the whole peninsula.

@gailcalled is right, Modern Italian derived from Florentine.

By the way, most Italians can’t understand someone from Sicily. And when I took tourist Italian a few years ago, a teacher we had from Liguria had taught us certain pronunciations and idioms, that were corrected by a substitute teacher from north of Venice near the Austrian border.

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cazzie's avatar

Saying that Latin became Italian is like saying Pict became English. aww… well… when I think about it… I guess I’m exaggerating.

DominicX's avatar

@cazzie Well, not really, since Pictish was a Celtic language, in a completely different branch of the Indo-European family, whereas Italian is ultimately an evolution of Vulgar Latin, which was the common spoken variety of Latin.

To answer the question, people are right in saying that what is now modern Italian arose from the Florentine/Tuscan dialect in the high middle ages and Dante is largely responsible for that dialect eventually becoming the standard throughout the country (in the 14th century). It was during the Renaissance that this standard variety began to be used throughout Italy in the courts but it wasn’t even until the 19th century that Italian became even more widespread in the country (since Italian was not unified for much of this time).

The Tuscan dialect arose from Vulgar Latin. Vulgar Latin was not a separate language, but merely the spoken variety of Latin among the common people, whereas Classical Latin was a standardized literary language used by the elite. This common variety always existed alongside Classical Latin and continued to persist as Classical Latin began to die out in the 3rd century. Vulgar Latin continued to persist and change and evolve and eventually in the middle ages, developed into the Romance languages (depending on where it was spoken). In Italy, it became the local Italian languages (Sardinian, Sicilian, Piedmontese, Tuscan, etc.) and the Tuscan variety was the basis of what is now “standard Italian”.

janbb's avatar

@DominicX And here’s another hug to add to the ones on the other thread! Great answer.

JLeslie's avatar

@DominicX What struck me about the information you provided was that it was the more commonly used version of Latin; literally, the language of the common people that actually took hold and now today is spoken more than Latin itself. It has me thinking about a recent Q about grammar and how many of us argued grammar and standard English is important, although we realize English evolves over time. I personally was pretty harsh about Ebonics for instance, but also wondered as black people climb the socioeconomic ladder and get more power if eventually parts of their dialect will become so mainstream that it is considered standard English.

To bring it back to Italian, I wonder why exactly Latin died out? Was it just a matter of numbers? More people speaking “Italian?” Or, was it more than that? Were the common people gaining more power?

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LostInParadise's avatar

This question inspired me to do a Google search for something that I always found curious. The city that we know as Florence is Firenze in Italian. Before you go blaming English speakers for having a tin ear, it is actually the Italians who are responsible for the difference.

kritiper's avatar

The word “Italian” originated in the 15th century.

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