Italian, the official language of Italy and San Marino, is perhaps the closest living language to Latin, from which it most certainly derives.
Rome, a significant part of the Roman Empire, saw the rise of a language with fixed grammatical rules, syntax and meaning. This model language, developed by Cicero, Horace and Virgil was widespread throughout the Empire and by the time of Caesar was regarded as a perfect model.
The fall of the Roman Empire in 476 A.D. had an impact on this “perfection”. Classical and spoken Latin became markedly divided. Scholars and academics were the only people to continue to use Classical Latin. The spoken form became more and more influenced by its speakers and was ultimately affected by Germanic invasion. Over time, Latin ceased to be the principal spoken language, and was replaced by numerous regional dialects.
First written records of the vernacular language do not appear until the 13th century. During this period the world famous poets Dante, Boccaccio and Petrach made huge literary contributions to the Italian written language. Many credit Dante alone with standardising the Italian language. Future generations would use this literary, standard Italian as a model.
Italy, linguistically and culturally, has always been a very regional country. There was even what could be described as a linguistic war, as many of the dialects tried to rule supreme. It was, however, the economic growth of Florence, alongside its cultural and political expansion which eventually led to the Florentine language becoming and developing into a standard Italian. In spite of this standardisation, it wasn’t until 1861 with the unification of Italy that Italian became established as a common language and widespread throughout the regions.
Today the proverb “lingua toscana in bocca romana” which can be translated as “the Tuscan dialect spoken with a Roman accent, is the ideal” is still used. This perfection however, is not widespread. Even today, travelling through the different regions in Italy the visitor can hear different dialects, which are not always distinguishable as Italian and often incomprehensible to even native Italians.