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Connecting the dots between Italian and its ‘sister’ languages


Ninety-nine percent of the monthly lessons we present are designed to help our readers learn our heritage language. It is also helpful to understand the evolution of Italian from Latin and its connection to many Italian dialects and other related languages. For those who are not linguistic scholars, Italian and Spanish are often considered to be the closest related languages in the Latin “family.” However, some linguists and historians differ in their opinion on this relationship. They opine that it’s Spanish and Portuguese that are the closest Latin “siblings” that are historically associated as a language.

So where does Italy and Italian fit into this discussion? Which other European country has close ties to Italy and the Italian language than to Spain and Spanish? For some historians and linguists an obvious link is with France and French! In our June 2023 lesson we focused on why some linguists suggest that Italian and French are closer in many ways than Italian and Spanish. To explain this rationale, let’s learn a bit about the historic connections between France and Italy.

The Italian tricolor flag originated in 1797 when the French Cispadane Republic decided to adopt a new flag, inspired by the banner of the Revolution. The current Italian branch of carabinieri was founded in 1814 by King Vittorio Emanuele I of Savoy and was modeled on the French Gendarmerie Nationale.

The Albertine Statute is another link between Italy and France. This statute was the constitution presented by King Charles Albert of Sardinia to the country of Sardinia on March 4, 1848. The document was inspired by the charter granted to the French by King Louis XVIII in 1814. The statute was written in French and Italian and later became the constitution of a unified Italy. It remained in force, albeit with some changes, until 1948.

The office of the prefect, who were government officials in the provinces, originated in 1861 and was inspired by the Napoleonic prefects, introduced by Napoleon during the French occupation.

But the greatest innovation was the Napoleonic Code, introduced in Italy at the beginning of the 19th century, which brought a series of reforms to a still poor and backward country.

Finally, Napoleon III of France was the most important ally of Vittorio Emanuele II. As the last monarch of France, he contributed, even if reluctantly, to the liberation of Milan in 1859. While Italy has historical and linguistic ties with Spain and Portugal, the country is also closely tied to France. Like all siblings, they are family but not always friends.

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