Italian is one of the many Romance languages spoken widely in Europe. The main regions where Italian is spoken include Italy, San Marino, Switzerland, the Vatican city, and by minority and immigrant communities in Australia and the Americas, in addition to France, Malta, Slovenia, Somalia, Croatia, Libya, and Monaco.
The European Union estimates that approximately 65 million people in the EU, or about 13 percent of the total EU population, speak Italian as a first language. These people are mainly located in Italy. About 14 million more speak the language as a second language in countries that are not a part of the EU but still a part of Europe, such as Albania and Switzerland, bringing the total number of Italian speakers to greater than 85 million.
Italian is a Romance language that comes from Latin, and of the nationally spoken Romance languages, it is the closest to Latin in its grammar and structure. Unlike the majority of other Romance languages, Italian has held on to the contrast found in Latin between long and short consonants. Similarly to most Romance languages, there are distinctions in the placements of stress. Furthermore, Italian is the Romance language that most closely resembles Latin where vocabulary is concerned. Beyond that, 89 percent of the words in Italian are similar to French, and 82 percent are similar to those in Spanish and Portuguese.
The first modern novel written in Italian was The Betrothed, written by Alessandro Manzoni in 1827. The language is most closely related to two other languages of Italo Dalmatian origin; one is Sicilian and the other is Dalmatian, which is extinct. The three languages are subsets of the Italo Western subset within the Romance language family, while the Romance languages themselves are a subset of the Italic part of the Indo European language family.
Italian is taught in a number of schools around the world today, but it is rarely taught as the first foreign language for students to learn. Rather, Italian is widely considered to be the fifth or fourth most commonly taught second language in the world, after languages such as English, Spanish, and French. In the United States, Italian is taught after Spanish, French, German, and the American Sign Language.
There are 21 letters in the Italian alphabet, compared to 26 in the English alphabet. The letters y, x, w, k, and j are not present, although they frequently appear in loan words such as taxi, whisky, and jeans. The letter x is also commonly found in standard Italian in modern times due to the prefix extra, although in traditional Italian, the prefix stra is used in place of extra.
Italian grammar is similar to that of other Romance languages such as French, Spanish, and Portuguese. There are a variety of cases for pronouns, such as the nominative, objective, dative, and accusative, but these cases do not exist for nouns. Two genders are present, and articles, adjectives, and nouns inflect for both gender and number, such as singularity or plurality.