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. Humanists began forming new beliefs in various forms: social, political, and intellectual. The ideals of the Renaissance were evident throughout the Protestant Reformation, which took place simultaneously with the Renaissance. The Protestant Reformation began with Martin Luther‘s rejection of the selling of indulgences by Johann Tetzel and other authorities within the Roman Catholic Church, resulting in Luther’s eventual break-off from the Roman Catholic Church in the Diet of Worms. After Luther was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church, he founded what was then understood to be a sect of Catholicism, later referred to as Lutheranism. Luther’s preaching in favor of faith and scripture rather than tradition led him to translate the Bible into many other languages, which would allow for people from all over Europe to read the Bible. Previously, the Bible was only written in Latin, but after the Bible was translated, it could be understood in many other languages, including Italian. The Italian language was able to spread even more with the help of Luther and the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg. The printing press facilitated the spread of Italian because it was able to rapidly produce texts, such as the Bible, and cut the costs of books which allowed for more people to have access to the translated Bible and new pieces of literature. The Roman Catholic Church was losing its control over the population, as it was not open to change, and there was an increasing number of reformers with differing beliefs.
Italian became the language used in the courts of every state in the Italian peninsula. The rediscovery of Dante’s De vulgari eloquentia and a renewed interest in linguistics in the 16th century, sparked a debate that raged throughout Italy concerning the criteria that should govern the establishment of a modern Italian literary and spoken language. Scholars divided into three main factions:
- The purists, headed by Venetian Pietro Bembo (who, in his Gli Asolani, claimed the language might be based only on the great literary classics, such as Petrarch and some part of Boccaccio). The purists thought the Divine Comedy was not dignified enough because it used elements from non-lyric registers of the language.
- Niccolò Machiavelli and other Florentines preferred the version spoken by ordinary people in their own times.
- The courtiers, like Baldassare Castiglione and Gian Giorgio Trissino, insisted that each local vernacular contribute to the new standard.
- A fourth faction claimed the best Italian was the one that the papal court adopted, which was a mix of Florentine and the dialect of Rome.
Eventually, Bembo’s ideas prevailed, and the foundation of the Accademia della Crusca in Florence (1582–1583), the official legislative body of the Italian language led to publication of Agnolo Monosini‘s Latin tome Floris italicae linguae libri novem in 1604 followed by the first Italian dictionary in 1612.
The continual advancements in technology plays a crucial role in the diffusion of languages. After the invention of the printing press in the fifteen century, the number of printing presses in italy grow rapidly and by the year 1500 reached a total of 56, the biggest number of printing presses in all of Europe. This allowed to produce more pieces of literature at a lower cost and as the dominant language, Italian spread.