THE ITALIAN LANGUAGE
THE ORIGINS OF THE ITALIAN LANGUAGE
The rulers of the Roman Empire decreed that their language was to be used officially in all territories under their rule, and also attempted to spread it as a spoken language. However, as a spoken language, many varieties existed and these were used by the different social classes. This vernacular was significantly inferior to the literary language used by writers and the educated few. We can follow the evolution of literary Latin through the works of various authors, from antiquity to the Middle Ages, but we have no way of knowing how spoken Latin evolved. However, it was precisely this Latin vernacular which, blending with other local languages spoken in the various territories of the Empire, which gave rise to the different “Romance” languages. These are all, in different ways, derived from the Roman vernacular and so were defined by the Mediaeval expression “romanice loqui”. At first they were only spoken languages but later (after 1000) were also used in written works.
In Italy, the first documents written in the vernacular date back to the 7th and 8th centuries (place-names), the 9th century (a riddle), the 10th century (evidence given by farmers in a civil case between the monastery of Montecassino and a certain Rodelgrino d’Aquino). However, it wasn’t until the 13th century that the vernacular was used in poetic works (in Umbria, Lombardy and Veneto for religious literary works and in Sicily and Tuscany for works with romantic or civil themes). Much credit is due to the Sicilian poets at the court of Frederick II of Svevia who attempted to develop a vernacular worthy of literary use that would be used by writers from all regions. This vernacular, perfected by the Tuscans (in particular Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio), went on to become the Italian literary language.