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The Accademia della Crusca oversees the correct spelling and grammar of the Italian language. It is the accepted authority on all linguistic aspects of Italian.
The Accademia della Crusca is also one of the oldest academies of its kind anywhere in the world. It was founded in 1583 and officially inaugurated in 1585. In 1612 the Academy published the first edition of its dictionary of the Italian languages.
It seems hard to believe that the Italian language was not properly standardized until the early 20th century. The language evolved from Vulgar Latin, which was spoken in the Middle Ages, and the Tuscan dialect spoken in the 13th and 14th centuries. Up until the end of the 19th century, the majority of people in Italy spoke dialects and regional versions of Italian. For centuries, Italian was primarily a “written language” and was only used by the country’s educated classes.
Standardization of the spoken Italian language only really took hold in the era of Italian political unification and in the wake of World War I. But the main impetus for standardization came – perhaps unsurprisingly – from television. Similar to Germany’s economic miracle of the 1950s, Italy also underwent its own “miracolo economico italiano”. This enabled more and more families to buy a television, and as people all over the country watched the same programs they gradually picked up “standard” Italian. Nevertheless, Italy’s regional dialects continue to flourish even today.
Different sources estimate the number of native Italian speakers worldwide at around 69 or 70 million. And some five million people speak Italian as a foreign language. Italian belongs to the Romance branch of the Indo-European language family. The earliest surviving Italian texts date back to the 8th or 9th century. Italian is an official language in Italy, Switzerland, Vatican City and San Marino. It is also one of the official languages of the EU.