Sicilian is a Romance language spoken on the island of Sicily and its satellite islands. It is also spoken in southern and central Calabria, in the southern parts of Apulia, and in the northern part of Sardinia. The Ethnologue lists Sicilian as a separate language with about five million speakers. Sicilian has the oldest literary tradition of the Romance languages.
Sicilian is an outlier among Romance languages in a number of respects. It has maintained a large degree of mutual intelligibility with Tuscan, a member of the Italo-Dalmatian group to which Sicilian does not belong. However, it is distinguished from Tuscan by a number of phonological, lexical, and grammatical features. Most notably, Sicilian has a much richer inflectional morphology, especially in its verb system, than Tuscan. It is also the only Romance language with a significant presence in the non-Latin alphabet, Sicilian being written in a variant of the Greek alphabet.
The Sicilian School was a literary movement in the 12th – 13th centuries that had a strong influence on the development of the Tuscan vernacular, and through it, on the Italian language as a whole. The Sicilian School emphasized originality and experimentation, and is credited with having established the foundations of Italian poetry.
The Sicilian School is known for its use of Sicilian dialects, which differed significantly from the Tuscan dialects that were then in vogue in Italy. The founders of the Sicilian School were court poets from the Sicilian city-states of Messina, Catania, and Palermo. They looked to Sicily's Greek past for inspiration, and their work is characterized by a strong influence from Greek meters and vocabulary.
One of the most important members of the Sicilian School was Frederick II, who was both king of Sicily and Holy Roman Emperor. Frederick II was a great patron of the arts, and his court in Palermo was a veritable hotbed of literary and artistic activity. The Sicilian School reached its apex under Frederick II's rule, but began to decline in the early 14th century, when the emperor lost control of Sicily to the Kingdom of Naples.
Despite its decline, the Sicilian School had a lasting impact on Italian literature. The strong influence of Sicilian poetry can be seen in the works of later Italian poets, such as Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio. Sicilian also exerted a significant influence on the development of the Tuscan dialect, which would go on to become the standard Italian language.