Language experts: When did Italian officially branch off from Latin?

I’ve been working on a book that takes place in the middle ages and I’m trying to stay as true to reality as possible except where it’s needed for the plot. Part of this is trying to reflect that there’s more then one language in Europe(which most fiction invovling the middle ages seems to forget, it seems).

As a particular plot arc invovles the main character, who is German(but also speaks Latin due to being church educated) going to Italy. Obviously, when he’s around church/government(presumably) officals, Latin will suffice. However, I’m aware that a lot of people can’t speak Latin, but rather Italian.

The problem is that I’m not really sure when Italian and Latin became separate languages. The story takes place the 9th century, so I’m not sure if I should mention characters having to translate from Latin to Italian, or are the languages still close enough that someone speaking only Italian can more or less understand what something in latin means, even if they miss a word or three.

IANA language expert but found this:

*What would come to be thought of as Italian was first formalized in the first years of the 14th century through the works of Dante Alighieri, who mixed southern Italian languages, especially Sicilian, with his native Tuscan in his epic poems known collectively as the Commedia, to which Giovanni Boccaccio later affixed the title Divina. Dante’s much-loved works were read throughout Italy and his written dialect became the “canonical standard” that all educated Italians could understand. Dante is still credited with standardizing the Italian language and, thus, the dialect of Tuscany became the basis for what would become the official language of Italy.

If that doesn’t answer your question, the rest of the wiki might.

At your date, Italian would probably still be considered a spoken form of the same language, even though the two had diverged widely in pronunciation and grammar. Wiki says the earliest written Italian is 10th century, though to be fair that’s earliest surviving vernacular writing. People don’t necessarily have a problem with the spoken and written languages being so different as to be mutually unintelligible.

Your character would probably expect to be able to communicate with educated folks but know that communicating in the vernacular would be difficult to impossible, in different parts of the German-speaking world as well as Italy. Slow, pidginized Latin would probably be understood well enough for basic communication, especially assuming he’s using Church Latin pronunciation, but not for anything more complicated.

At that date, wouldn’t there be a crapload of mutually difficult-at-best dialects in Italy? Proto-tuscan, venetian, piedmontese, whatever?

Because there were so many localized dialects and variants of languages at that time, there was certainly a trade language that was used to communicate among the many different groups.

In what is now Italy, some version of Latin would be the best candidate.

But seriously, if you’re trying to do any kind of real research for such a novel, get off the Internet and travel to the library and start pounding some thick texts. You can’t do proper historical research on the Internet yet. Only books will give you the details you need.

This is not my field of study, but as a “language expert,” I’d like you to have some realism in your responses.

Yeah, the dialects thing. Bear in mind that Italy wasn’t a unified nation or culture in the 9th century, and dialects and customs would differ widely even from one city to the next.

So, where exactly in Italy is your German guy going?

Rome, on pilgramage. Of course, once he’s there he’s going to be meeting people from all over, notably people from the rest of the pennisula.

that should actually help with the intelligibility issue, because Rome will be a bit of a melting pot, and there will likely be plenty of natives to the city who are used to dealing with all the different dialects. So you could give your protagonist a local guide or companion who can help him communicate with the variety of people he’ll meet.

I am, but for this, I didn’t want to go and delve deeply into the language part because it’s really not going to be that big a part of the book. It’s more of to get a sense of “how difficult is communication going to be with non-latin speakers from other countries?”

Granted, having the characters nearly unable to understand each other will make add an interesting dynamic to quite a few situations that I hadn’t considered. Especially among characters who don’t really trust each other to begin with.

The same applies all through the main road, once he gets to it; pilgrims to Rome were a relatively common sight. And most people understood Latin, remember that one of the main sources of entertainment of the time was going to church; remember also that the different romance languages which were evolving weren’t as separate from it as they are now, and currently a Spaniard, Portuguese and Italian can have a conversation with each one speaking in his own language and only the occasional need for clarification.

If he leaves the main road he’d get in trouble a lot more easily.

A few centuries later, but The Name of the Rose featured an Austrian novice accompanying his English master to visit an Italian monastery.

Even if you pin down some timeline, though, hard to see how you’d be able to do it convincingly if you don’t know either Latin or Italian.

I am not a linguist, but I don’t think you can use the term “branched off”. Latin was spread over a large part of the land around the Mediterranean and many regional dialects developed here and there that later turned into different languages, so you can say that all (or none) of them are present day Latin.

You’re absolutely correct in terms of the development of spoken Latin. Another factor, though, is that literary Latin continued in use alongside the developing vernaculars. Although literary Latin also changed in both grammar and pronunciation, it did so more slowly and in different ways than the spoken Romance languages did. I’m not sure when the divergence is first great enough to consider them separate languages in Italy, but I’d guess sometime between the so-called fall of the Empire in the fifth century (i.e. after decreasing multiregional institutional maintenance from the political establishment) and the first vernacular Italian text in the tenth.