History of the Italian Language Part I

By | February 19, 2022

According to remzfamily, a common national language has been achieved through a centuries-old process. In the early Middle Ages, the various languages ​​had to be less distant from Latin, but in other respects even more different from each other than they are today. Latin was used as a common written language, which clerics learned in schools. The first examples of sentences written in the vernacular are the formulas contained in four documents of the territory of the principality of Capua-Benevento between 960 and 963, concerning the assets of the monastery of Montecassino and others that depended on it. These are formulas already prepared, which the witnesses repeated when testifying. The first says: “Sao ko kelle terre, per kelle purposes que ki contene, thirty years the part Sancti Benedicti possessed”; that is: “I know that those lands, within those confines of which we speak here, the monastery of San Benedetto owned it for thirty years ». When people began to write down the spoken language, they tended to refocus it: it was written in a dialect because a common language did not exist, but by eliminating the local peculiarities that diverged it too much from Latin and neighboring dialects. In the first centuries of the language it is therefore relatively easy to identify the approximate area of ​​origin. Of the sec. 11 ° and 12 ° remains a certain number of texts in the vernacular from various regions and of different characters (private writings and memories, sermons, rhythms, from which we can reconstruct the existence of jesters who wandered through the small ecclesiastical or secular courts and crude verse compositions were sung there).

At the beginning of the thirteenth century the vernacular was widely used for practical purposes, but by now the Canticle of Brother Sole (about 1224) and the poems of the Sicilian School, technically very elaborate, opened the way for the vulgar as a literary language. There is an uncertain knowledge of the linguistic forms of the poets of the Sicilian School, because the manuscripts of their lyrics were copied in Tuscany, at the end of the 13th century, and Tuscanized. The influence of the illustrious Sicilian made itself felt not only on the direct imitators of the first poetic school, on the so-called Sicilian-Tuscans (Bonagiunta, Guittone, etc.), but throughout the later literary tradition.

A complex of circumstances – the political importance, the development of its trading companies scattered throughout Western Europe, the artistic flourishing – gave Florence in the last years of the 13th century. and in the first half of the 14th century a position of absolute privilege over the other cities of Tuscany and throughout Italy. Dante’s work was of decisive importance for the fate of the Italian language; his multiform experiences of art and poetic technique, the theoretical meditations made him a precursor and a driving force: the fame of the Comedy spread throughout the Italy and imitations began. In the following generation the works of F. Petrarca and G. Boccaccio became popular; the three authors, so different, soon formed an ideal triad, models to be imitated on a stylistic and grammatical level.

The emergence of Humanism in the last decades of the fourteenth century and in the early fifteenth century seemed to threaten the fate of the vernacular, due to the contempt with which the rediscoverers of the classics looked at the language of the plebs. The vulgar, however, resisted and once again imposed itself, also because Latin became, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, purer due to direct contacts with ancient writers, but at the same time more rigid and less suitable than medieval Latin for expressing the notions of modern life; furthermore distinguished humanists (Poliziano, Italy Sannazzaro, P. Bembo etc.) also cultivated, in a double experience, the Latin and the vernacular. During the sixteenth century the physiognomy of Italian, very fluctuating in Italy northern and southern, it stabilized and clarified: grammars and vocabularies fixed the rules.Grammatical rules of the vulgar language (Ancona 1516), followed by the most important Prose of the vulgar language of P. Bembo (Venice 1525) and towards the middle of the century the treatises multiplied.

One of the dominant aspects of the culture of the sixteenth century is constituted by linguistic disputes (‘question of language’), which went to the limit of pretext subtlety and pedantry: a vital problem, however, for the very fate of literature, in a country without of political unity and a stable cultural reference point. There are three currents: the archaic one represented by Bembo, who supported the adoption of the language of Petrarch and Boccaccio, a puristic choice based only on the literary Florentine, and a winning thesis as it is closer to the tastes of Renaissance classicism; the ‘courtesan’ or ‘Italian’ current (B. Castiglione, GG Trissino), which was inspired by an eclectic ideal of language, composed of elements drawn from the language spoken in the various Italian courts; the ‘Florentine’ position (N. Machiavelli), which proposed a geographically circumscribed model, that is the modern Florentine, spoken by the educated, expressive and changeable. The taste for codification and the norm led, in terms of the lexicon, to the compilation of the Vocabulary promoted by the Accademia della Crusca, published in 1612 but elaborated during the sixteenth century, which made the requests of Bembo its own (choice of words preserved in their ‘purity’ by the literary tradition, not contaminated by spoken usage) and archaic (choice of words taken from ancient authors, with the exclusion of contemporary innovations). If the Italy it could not reach political unity in the sixteenth century, it reached a decent cultural unity; however, there was no possibility of an act of linguistic policy that had the effect that the ordinance of Villers-Cotteret (1539) had in France, which prescribed the exclusive use of French in all judicial acts of the kingdom.

History of the Italian Language 1