Italian uses the Latin Alphabet, like all the other Romance languages. In the Italian version, however, only 21 letters are used. The letters j, k, w, x, and y are not officially part of the alphabet, but they do appear in loan and foreign words. In addition, there may be some ‘accents’ or marks on vowels as well, denoting a shift in vowel sound.
The history of Italian, like all Romance languages, stems from the later periods of Latin, when Vulgar Latin, the spoken variety at that time, started to be replaced by more regional varieties. However, standard Italian as we know it today is very influenced by the literature and poetry, as opposed to its spoken form.
Throughout its history, Italy was always conceptualized as a group of independent city-states until recently. With this city-state perspective, different dialects also existed based on these city-states. These dialects were quite different in characteristics such as pronunciation and word choice. At the same time, they reflected the identity of the citizens of certain city-states. The people identified more with their city-state as opposed as to Italy as a whole. Beginning in the middle ages, however, Florence began to gather much economic clout. Because of this recognition from other regions as well, the Italian spoken and developed in this particular region, Tuscany, became the basis of an Italian language.
During the Renaissance, between the 14th-17th centuries, many events occurred that helped shape the Italian language to what it is today. A unification of Italy on a political scale started to occur, beginning with the invasion of Napoleon, and continuing with other political events among the Kingdoms and other political entities that existed in Italy at that time. Because of such developments, an overall Italian identity emerged, and along with technological advances such as the printing press, the Tuscany variety of Italian continued to be pushed as a standard variety across all Italian-speaking regions. With a concept of a unified Italian identity that had developed because of the previously mentioned sociopolitical contexts, there also emerged a question of what language to use as a representation of this new identity. At the time, this was termed ‘questione della lengua’ or the problem of language. This also helped encouraged a standardized Italian language and has helped Italian develop into the language as it exists today.
In modern times, Italian remains an important language, especially of literature, art, and music. Much literary work stemmed from the renaissance, a cultural movement that started in Italy and overtook Europe. Italian is also known as the language of music; a lot of the musical terminology that exists today come from Italian. Italian cuisine and cooking techniques are also famous throughout the world, and with this, the spread of the Italian language in relation to these fields are also prominent. Names of common food items, dishes, and certain cooking techniques come from Italian, with obvious examples being pizza and pasta. Italian is also an important religiously as it is the main language of the Holy See, and the lingua franca in the Roman Catholic church. Finally, it is the third most spoken language in terms of native speakers in the European Union.