Italian ( italiano or lingua italiana) is a Romance language spoken as a native language by about 70 million people in Italy, Malta, San Marino and parts of Switzerland, Croatia, Slovenia and France. Many native speakers are native bilinguals of both standardized Italian and regional varieties.
In Switzerland, Italian is one of four official languages, spoken mainly in the Swiss cantons of Grigioni and Ticino. It is also the official language of San Marino, as well as the primary language of Vatican City. The Italian language adopted by the state after the unification of Italy is based on the Tuscan dialect, which beforehand was only available to upper class Florentine society. Its development was also influenced by other Italian dialects and by the Germanic language of the post-Roman invaders.
Italian derives diachronically from Latin and is the closest national language to Latin. Unlike most other Romance languages, Italian retains Latin's contrast between short and long consonants. As in most Romance languages, stress is distinctive. In particular, among the Romance languages, Italian is the closest to Latin in terms of vocabulary. Lexical similarity is 89% with French, 87% with Sardinian, 85% with Catalan, 82% with Spanish, 78% with Rhaeto-Romance and 77% with Romanian.
Italian is most closely related to the other two Italo-Dalmatian languages, Sicilian and the extinct Dalmatian. The three are part of the Italo-Western grouping of the Romance languages, which are a subgroup of the Italic branch of Indo-European.
Italian is the official language of Italy and San Marino, and one of the official languages of Switzerland, spoken mainly in the cantons of Ticino and part of Graubünden (Grigioni in Italian), which together are a region referred to as Italian Switzerland. It is also the official language with Croatian and Slovenian in some areas of Istria, where an Italian minority exists. In the cities of Santa Teresa and Vila Velha it enjoys official status alongside Portuguese, being "knighted" as an ethnic language. It is the primary language of the Vatican City and is widely used and taught in Monaco and Malta. It served as Malta's official language until theMaltese language was enshrined in the 1934 Constitution. It is also spoken to a significant extent in France, with over 1,000,000 speakers (especially in Corsica and the County of Nice, areas that historically spoke Italian dialects before annexation to France), and it is understood by large parts of the populations of Albania and coastal Montenegro, reached by many Italian TV channels.
Italian is widely taught in many schools around the world, but rarely as the first foreign language; in fact, Italian generally is the fourth or fifth most taught foreign language in the world.
In the United States, Italian is the fifth most taught foreign language after Spanish, French, German, and American Sign Language, respectively. Throughout the world, Italian is the fifth most taught foreign language, after English, Spanish, French, and German.
In the European Union, Italian is spoken as a mother tongue by 13% of the population or 65 million people, mainly in Italy. In the entire EU, it is spoken as a second language by 3% of the population or by 14 million people. In addition, among EU states, the Italian language is most likely to be learned as a second language in Malta by 61% of the population, as well as in Slovenia by 15% the population, in Croatia by 14% of the population, Austria by 11% of the population, Romania by 8% of the population, and by France and Greece by 6% of the population. Italian is also one of the national languages of Switzerland, which is not a part of the European Union. Italian language is also well known and studied in Albania, another non-EU member, due to the historical and geographical proximity between the two countries.