most italians did not speak italian

David Gilmour in delanceyplace:

DanteIn 1861, when the Italian peninsula was finally united into a single political entity, only 2.5 percent of “Italians” spoke the Italian language. In fact, the citizens of every major Italian city — Rome, Venice, Florence, Milan, and others — each spoke a different language. The situation was similar in the other countries of Europe: “The posthumous role of Dante Alighieri in the development of Italian has long been treated with reverence and solemnity. The great Florentine poet was, according to one scholar, not only 'the father of the Italian language' but also 'the father of the nation and the symbol of national greatness through the centuries'. It is doubtful that Dante would have thought the second part of the description applicable to him, especially as he believed Italy should be part of the Holy Roman Empire and not a nation by itself. Yet he did write The Divine Comedy (or, as he himself called it, simply La Commedia) in Italian and extolled the virtues of the vernacular, the 'new sun' that would put Latin in the shade, in De vulgari eloquentia, a book he wrote in Latin.

“The works of Dante, like those of his younger fellow Tuscans Petrarch and Boccaccio, advanced the cause of the Florentine vernacular in the later Middle Ages, even though Petrarch usually wrote in Latin and Dante thought bolognese a more beautiful language. By the sixteenth century it was widely felt that the peninsula's literary language should be close to theirs, a feeling which suggests that, if the great trio had been born in Sicily, the island's dialect would have been adopted as Italian, which foreigners would have had great difficulty in understanding. Pietro Bembo, the Venetian scholar and cardinal, argued that, if writers in Latin imitated Cicero and Virgil, then writers in the vernacular should model themselves on Petrarch and Boccaccio. … Later, around 1600, another towering Tuscan, the Pisan astronomer Galilee, demanded that scientific work also should be conducted in the vernacular, arguing that more people would then be able to understand his work — an argument which the papacy failed to appreciate. …

More here. (Note: For Margit and Abbas)