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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.
The geographic distribution of the Italian language in the world: blue indicates where Italian is the main language; large Italian-speaking communities are shown in green dots; light blue indicates areas where the Italian language was used officially during the Italian colonial period. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.
For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help: IPA.
Its vowels are the second-closest to Latin after Sardinian.
During the Middle Ages, the established written language in Europe was Latin.
The incorporation into Italian of learned, or "bookish" words from its own ancestor language, Latin, is arguably another form of lexical borrowing through the influence of written language and the liturgical language of the Church.
In fact, the earliest surviving texts that can definitely be called Italian (or more accurately, vernacular, as distinct from its predecessor Vulgar Latin) are legal formulae known as the Placiti Cassinesi from the Province of Benevento that date from 960–963, although the Veronese Riddle, probably from the 8th or early 9th century, contains a late form of Vulgar Latin that can be seen as a very early Italian dialect.
Italian is known as the language of music because of its use in musical terminology and opera.
Its influence is also widespread in the arts and in the luxury goods market.
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.Dante is still credited with standardizing the Italian language.