History of the Italian Language
The history of the Italian language is quite complex but the modern standard of the language was largely shaped by relatively recent events. The earliest surviving texts which can definitely be called Italian (as opposed to its predecessor Vulgar Latin) are legal formulae from the region of Benevento dating from 960-963 C.E. Italian was first formalized in the 14th century through the works of Dante Alighieri, who mixed southern Italian dialects, especially Sicilian, with his native Tuscan in his epic poems known collectively as the Commedia, to which Boccaccio later affixed the title Divina. Dante's much-loved works were read throughout Italy and his written dialect became the canonical standard that others could all understand. Dante is still credited with standardizing the Italian language.
Linguistically speaking, the Italian language is a member of the Romance group of the Italic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages. It is spoken principally in the Italian peninsula, southern Switzerland, San Marino, Sicily, Corsica, northern Sardinia, and on the northeastern shore of the Adriatic Sea, as well as in North and South America.
The grammar of the spoken, popular Latin language from which standard modern Italian descended was already a good deal simpler than that of the Latin of classical literature. Even so, the emergence, over time, of specifically Italian regional languages from spoken Latin carried the simplification much further. Much of what Latin had communicated by inflectional modification of words was now communicated by separate words or phrases, and especially by word order (which in Latin had been extremely flexible because logical relations between words could be detected from word endings alone, regardless of word order).
The changes in grammar gradually made it harder and harder for speakers of the current regional languages of the Italian peninsula and Sicily to understand the Latin language still used in Christian religious services and in legal documents. Ultimately, the desire to ennoble and to give prestige and literary permanence to current speech moved certain classically educated writers in Florence (in the Tuscan region of what is today Italy) to create a new "Italian" written language by polishing and enriching (using neologisms and turns-of-phrase borrowed from classical Latin) the spoken Tuscan language of the late 1100’s and early 1200’s that was their familiar vernacular. This new written language became the literary vehicle of Dante and later of Ariosto, Boccaccio, Tasso and the other authors of the Italian Renaissance.