Not Just Dante: Italian Speaking Countries In The World – Part Two

In addition to being the fourth most widely taught foreign language, Italian is also an official language in several states

Dear Italy lovers, following the first part of our journey throughout the Italian-speaking countries, we will now find out where else in the world Italian is an official language.

San Marino

The Republic of San Marino is a microstate of 33 thousand inhabitants. Landlocked by Italy, more precisely between Emilia-Romagna and Marche regions, Italian is the only official language of this Guinnes record-breaking republic, the oldest one in the world. Ineed, it was 301 A.D. when a christian stonemason from Dalmatia named Marinus, who was escaping the Great Persecution ordered by the Roman emperor Diocletian, found shelter on the other side of the Adriatic Sea, on the slopes of Mount Titano and very close to the coastal town of Rimini.

Here, he founded a chapel and a monastery, creating a little christian community that, after his death in 366, was finally freed from the oppressive powers of the Roman Empire and the Pope. The last words of Marinus, will of the newborn Republic, were: I leave you free from both men”. Thus, he was later venerated as Saint by the Roman Catholic Church and the namesake microstate was officially recognised by the Papal State in 1291. The Constitution of San Marino, enacted in 1600 (and the oldest one still in force in the world), is the only supreme law explicitly providing for Italian as the only official language of the state. The Constitution of Italy, on the contrary, does not foresee an article recognizing Italian as official language of the Republic. Thank goodness, Saint Marinus took care of it!

View of Mount Titano, San Marino

Vatican City

There is another record-high enclaved state in Italy, the smallest country in the world: Vatican City, a monarchical city-state ruled by the Pope, head of the Roman Catholic Church. Completely surrounded by the city of Rome, the Vatican has some one thousand citizens. Italian is the official language used for the legislation and the internal communications, as well as most spoken idiom among the workers and the representatives of the city state.

However, Vatican City shouldn’t be confused with the Holy See, the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Catholic Church and indipendent sovereign entity reigning over the Vatican and its several extraterritorial premises. Indeed, while the Holy See dates back to the first Century and represents the heritage of the apostles Peter and Paul, the Vatican City state was born with the 1929 Lateran Treaty. Then, the Head of the then Italian government Benito Mussolini and the Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Gasparri put an end to the long dispute between the Kingdom of Italy and the Holy See about the temporal power of the Popes over the city of Rome, by establishing the reciprocal spheres of influence and territorial sovereignties. This essential and peaceful agreement still remains in force today.

The Holy See instead, although using both Italian and French as working languages, keeps Latin as its only official language.

Pontifical Swiss Guard in Vatican City


We now leave the old continent to head towards the Horn of Africa, where Dante’s language still survives since the days of the Italian East Africa, the colonial experience carried out by Fascism in the mid-30’s of the last century. Although at the moment of its dissolution in 1941 the Italian colony encompassed almost the whole of Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, the Italian rule in Eritrea began way before, at the end of 19th century. Therefore, the country experienced the highest presence of Italian people in the region.

Despite the obvious historical contradictions, this land and especially its capital city Asmara were modernized, becoming an industrial center with new roads, bridges, railways and neighbourhoods in a modernist architecture style still visible today, and recently included in the Unesco World Heritage Sites. The Constitution of Eritrea ratified in 1997, did not adopt an official state language, establishing the equality between all local idioms and thus respecting the heterogeneous ethnicity of its inhabitants. In practice, Italian is included among the recognised national and working languages such as Tigrinya, Arabic, English, Tigre, Kunama, Saho, Bilen, Nara, Afar and Beja, and is most commonly used in Asmara, where the majority of Eritrean-born of Italian origin live.

Although most Italian native-speakers are old people who grew up during the colonial period, the Italian language is still taught in the primary and secondary schools of Asmara. What’s more impressive, it also influenced the most widespread language in the country, Tigrinya, full of words borrowed from Italian.

Harnet Avenue, Asmara


Last but not least, we go overseas, precisely in America, home to the largest communities of Italian descent in the world, a continent where millions of Italians migrated between the 19th and 20th century as labor force. The Italian presence in the Americas mainly concerns the Atlantic coasts, from the states of New York and New Jersey in the United States, to Argentina.

By the way, in South America, one particular statistic is especially significant: after Italy, the country with the largest number of Italian people all over the world is Brazil. About 18 percent of Brazilians has indeed Italian blood in the veins. Most of these live in the state of São Paulo. Nevertheles, in Espirito Santo, on the Atlantic Ocean, the Italian migration was so massive that, in the two municipalities of Santa Teresa and Vila Velha, Italian has been recently recognized as official ethnic language and started to be taught as a second national language in all the schools.

Furthermore, bilingual people can be met in the southernmost region of Brasil, Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul, where thousands of Italians from Veneto settled at the end of 19th century. When traveling in these places, it is not difficult to see signs and shops with Italian surnames and hear a strange but interesting idiom mixing up the Venetian dialect with the local Portuguese. In Brazil, this language is known as ‘Talian‘ and it is currently spoken by over one million people, thus obtaining the status of co-official language in the municipalities of Serafina Corrêa and Flores da Cunha.

Vila Velha, Brasil

To conclude, a curiosity about our French neighbours. While in the city where the ‘Hero of the two worlds’ Giuseppe Garibaldi was born, Nice, Italian has strongly influenced the local dialect, in the island of Corsica, sold to France in 1768, Italian was an official language until 1859.

Moreover, the Corsican language, due to its proximity to the Tuscan archipelago, is very similar to medieval Tuscan, on which the standard Italian (later becoming the official language of the newborn Kingdom of Italy) was based. What an amazing common thread!