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With the great majority of people illiterate, however, only a handful were well versed in the language.

The Renaissance era, known as il Rinascimento in Italian, was seen as a time of "rebirth", which is the literal meaning of both renaissance (from French) and rinascimento (Italian).

During this time, long-existing beliefs stemming from the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church began to be understood from new a perspectives as humanists—individuals who placed emphasis on the human body and its full potential—began to shift focus from the church to human beings themselves.

Italian was also one of the many recognised languages in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Italy has always had a distinctive dialect for each city because the cities, until recently, were thought of as city-states. As Tuscan-derived Italian came to be used throughout Italy, features of local speech were naturally adopted, producing various versions of Regional Italian.

Italian has been reported as the fourth or fifth most frequently taught foreign language in the world.

Its development was also influenced by other Italian languages and to some minor extent, by the Germanic languages of the post-Roman invaders.In contrast to the Gallo-Italic languages of northern Italy, the Italo-Dalmatian Neapolitan language and its dialects were largely unaffected by the Franco-Occitan influences introduced to Italy mainly by bards from France during the Middle Ages, but after the Norman conquest of southern Italy, Sicily became the first Italian land to adopt Occitan lyric moods (and words) in poetry.Even in the case of Northern Italian languages, however, scholars are careful not to overstate the effects of outsiders on the natural indigenous developments of the languages.Thus the dialect of Florence became the basis for what would become the official language of Italy.Italian often was an official language of the various Italian states predating unification, slowly replacing Latin, even when ruled by foreign powers (such as the Spanish in the Kingdom of Naples, or the Austrians in the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia), even though the masses spoke primarily vernacular languages and dialects.The incorporation into Italian of learned, or "bookish" words from its own ancestor language, Latin, is arguably another form of lexical borrowing through the influence of written language and the liturgical language of the Church.