Italian is considered by many to be the most beautiful of the world's languages. As the transmitter of the great culture of the Renaissance, its influence on the other languages of Western Europe has been profound. Besides being spoken in Italy, it is one of the four official languages of Switzerland, and is also widely spoken in the United States, Canada, Argentina, and Brazil. All told there are about 60 million speakers of Italian.
Italian is one of the Romance languages, and has remained closer to the original Latin than any of the others. its dialects, however, vary tremendously, often to the point where communication becomes a problem. The literary standard came into being in the 14th century, largely through Dante's Divine Comedy and the works of Petrarch and Boccaccio. Since these eminent authors chiefly used the dialect of Tuscany (especially Florentine), modern literary Italian is essentially Tuscan. Since 1870 the dialect of Rome has gained considerable prestige but it has still failed to eclipse the Florentine standard.
The Italian alphabet consists basically of 21 letters j, k, w, x, and y appear only in foreign words. The letter c is pronounced k before a, o, and u, but ch before e and i (e.g., carcereprison). Ch and cch are also pronounced k (chiavekey, bicchiereglass). G is pronounced as a hard g before a, o, and u (gambaleg), but as j before e and i (giornoday). Gg before e and i is also pronounced j (oggitoday), gh before e and i is a hard g (lunghezzalength), gli followed by a vowel is pronounced lli as in "million" (bigliettoticket), gn like the ny in "canyon" (ognievery), and gu followed by a vowel as gw (guerrawar). Z and zz are generally pronounced ts (ziouncle, prezzoprice), but sometimes as dz (pranzodinner, mezzomiddle). Sc before e and i is pronounced sh (pescefish).
The stress in Italian generally falls on the next to last or third from last syllable. The only written accent is the grave, which is used when-ever a word of more than one syllable stresses the final vowel (cittàcity). It is also used on words of a single syllable to distinguish between two words that would otherwise have the same spelling, as for example e, meaning "and," but è, meaning "is." And it also appears in a few miscellaneous words such as più (more) and già (already).
English words of Italian origin include umbrella, spaghetti, macaroni, broccoli, balcony, studio, casino, fresco, gusto, volcano, lava, stucco, gondola, regatta, malaria, bandit, incognito, vendetta, and inferno. In the field of music there are piano, viola, opera, sonata, concerto, oratorio, soprano, aria, solo, trio, quartet, allegro, andante, tempo, libretto, staccato, crescendo, maestro, and virtuoso.