Italian in the UK by Viv Edwards
Italian is spoken by some 70 million people. It is the official language of Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Slovenia, Vatican City, and the Istria county of Croatia and one of the official languages of the European Union. It is also spoken in countries such as Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, the UK and the USA where large communities of Italians have settled. It is generally held to be the language which resembles Latin most closely.
Historically, Italy was made up of a number of city-states, each with its own dialect. When these states were united in 1861, the standard national language was based on the dialect of Tuscany, one of 20 different dialects still officially recognised.
The first significant migration of Italian speakers to the UK dates back to the middle of the nineteenth century. Those who arrived before World War II mainly came from northern and central Italy and settled in many parts of the country. After 1945, new arrivals came almost exclusively from rural areas of southern Italy to work in the brick-making industry in Bedford and Peterborough or in rural areas as agricultural workers. More recently Italian immigration tended to draw on young people from all over Italy seeking temporary work.
A national network of classes for children of Italian heritage who want to maintain their mother tongue receives considerable support from the Italian Embassy in London.