Italian is a Romance language spoken in Italy (55 million); the Republic of San Marino (30,000); parts of Switzerland (principally in the canton of Ticino), where it is an official language (c. 300,000); Croatia, where it is an official language in Istria (around 70,000); Slovenia (4,000); and it is spoken by large immigrant communities in North America, Argentina, Brazil and Australia. Until 1934, it was also an official language in Malta. In many respects, in relation both to pronunciation and to grammar, Italian has evolved less from its Latin origins than have its main sister languages: French, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian.
Italy is one of the most dialectally diverse countries in Europe. In many countries local dialects are dying out, or have already disappeared, but in many parts of Italy they are, in relative terms at least, still flourishing. The main dialectal areas are: (northern) Piedmontese, Lombard, Venetian, Ligurian (Genoese) and Emilian-Romagnol; (central) Tuscan, Umbrian and the dialects of the Marche and the Abruzzi; and (southern) Apulian, Campanian, Calabrian and Sicilian.
Other Romance forms of speech within Italy that are sometimes considered as dialects of Italian are more usually classified as distinct languages.
Friulan in the northeast, spoken by around 700,000 people (with large communities in Romania, North America and elsewhere), and the two small Ladin-speaking communities in valleys of the Dolomites, numbering around 30,000 speakers in all, compose, together with the Romansh dialects of the Grisons canton in Switzerland, the Rhaeto-Romance sub-group of Romance languages. Sardinian, one of the most conservative of the Romance languages, is also divided into a number of dialects, and estimates of the total number of Sardinian speakers range from 1,2 to 2,5 million.
The first known text in Italian dates from the tenth century. Various dialects were written in succeeding centuries, but in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries a literary language based on Florentine Tuscan was used by three of the main Italian writers of the time – Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio – and that form of Italian was adopted as the basis of the official language.
Austin, P. K., 2008. 1000 Languages - The Worldwide History of Living and Lost Tongues. 1st ed. London: Thames & Hudson, p 40.