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What would come to be thought of as Italian was first formalized in the early 14th century through the works of Tuscan writer Dante Alighieri, written in his native Florentine.
Dante's epic poems, known collectively as the Commedia, to which another Tuscan poet Giovanni Boccaccio later affixed the title Divina, were read throughout Italy and his written dialect became the "canonical standard" that all educated Italians could understand.
The most characteristic differences, for instance, between Roman Italian and Milanese Italian are the gemination of initial consonants and the pronunciation of stressed "e", and of "s" in some cases: e.g.
va bene "all right": is pronounced for Milanese and generally northern.
They are often mutually unintelligible, and are better classified as distinct languages.
The standard Italian language has a poetic and literary origin in the writings of Tuscan writers of the 12th century, and, even though the grammar and core lexicon are basically unchanged from those used in Florence in the 13th century, the modern standard of the language was largely shaped by relatively recent events.
With the great majority of people illiterate, however, only a handful were well versed in the language.
In Italy, as in all other countries, the majority would instead speak the vernacular (native tongue) of their region.
Its development was also influenced by other Italian languages and to some minor extent, by the Germanic languages of the post-Roman invaders.
Its vowels are the second-closest to Latin after Sardinian.
During the Middle Ages, the established written language in Europe was Latin.
It is the third most widely spoken first language in the European Union with 65 million native speakers (13% of the EU population) and it is spoken as a second language by 14 million EU citizens (3%).
Italian is the main working language of the Holy See, serving as the lingua franca (common language) in the Roman Catholic hierarchy as well as the official language of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.Italian was also one of the many recognised languages in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.