8th World Italian Language Week: 20-26 October 2008

This has apparently been happening for the past seven years but I only found out about it yesterday! It is run by Italy’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs and by its leading language authority, the Accademia della Crusca.

This year’s theme is L’Italiano in piazza, literally “Italian, the language of the square”, but – as the Ministry for Foreign Affairs website states – it’s more than that:

La piazza, intesa non solo come luogo architettonico, è teatro di ogni aspetto della vita quotidiana e centro catalizzatore dell’attività politica e della produzione culturale e artistica, e una storia della piazza è anche storia delle tradizioni linguistiche italiane, dalla loro fioritura dialettale fino all’italiano lingua nazionale.

The square seen not only as an architectural feature but as the stage where scenes of everyday life are acted out, a place that is the catalyst at the heart of Italy’s political activity, and its cultural and artistic output.  The history of the square is also the history of Italy’s linguistic tradition, the burgeoning development from local dialects to a national Italian language.

The Accademia della Crusca is an extraordinary institution – what better way to remember Italy’s leading linguistic body than to name it after a by-product of milling, bran and chaff – in order to symbolise its mission to “clean up” the language. The Accademia’s symbol was a sieve to indicate its task of sifting good words from the general chaff. Its original members were also named after grains or flour-related products.

Its origins are evident from the website where a row of flour shovels doubles as the interactive menu.

The Accademia della Crusca – literally ‘the Bran Academy’ – was founded in Florence between 1582 and 1583 on the initiative of five Florentine men of letters. One of them was Lionardo Salviati, inventor of a complete cultural and language-coding programme. The name “Accademia della Crusca” was derived from their lively meetings, playfully called “cruscate” (‘bran-meetings’ – or things of no importance).

The newly founded institution adopted as its motto a line from a poem by Francesco Petrarca: “il più bel fior ne coglie” (‘she picks the fairest flower’) and built up a rich symbology based on wheat and bread.

Its main achievement was the publication of a dictionary in 1612 (reprinted and enlarged several times until 1923). In the original introduction, the authors outlined their motives as follows:

Quindi è, che vedendo noi, per manifesti argomenti, salire ogni giorno in più stima la nostra lingua, e con numero degli studiosi di quella, sì dentro, come fuora d’Italia, crescere insieme la vaghezza di conoscer le sue bellezze;giudicammo non dovere esser senza lode, nè senza grado, la fatica, e lo studio, che a prò di quella fosse impiegato. Cotale opinione mosse in tutti noi disiderio grandissimo di giovarle, dal quale nacque appresso il proponimento di compilare il presente Vocabolario. [translation to come]

Of course, in 1612 Florence was still the capital city of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, ruled by the Medici family, but while political unification was still some 250 years away, the sense of a national Italian language had been around for nearly three centuries – thanks to the influence of Petrarch, Dante, Bocaccio and others.

Vocabolario della Crusca, 1612

Vocabolario della Crusca, 1612

The original Vocabolario served as a model for the French dictionaries of the later 17th century, as well as Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language (1775).

Anyway, having strayed a little too far off the beaten track, the 8th World Italian Language week will be marked by numerous events in major cities worldwide – wherever there is an Italian Embassy or Cultural Institute.  Try searching here for a list of instititions – or even visit one on Second Life (I can’t comment because I’m not registered!)

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About Lucy Byatt

I'm a translator, from Italian into English. I also teach Italian Renaissance history and write.
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3 Responses to 8th World Italian Language Week: 20-26 October 2008

  1. What a well-written article, I found few blogs that concern themselves with the history of the Italian language. I might add that without the Crusca we would not have standard Italian as we know it because the “cruscanti” (as they called themselves) were inspired by Cardinal Bembo’s model – this used the prose style of Boccaccio, modeled on Cicero, and Petrarch’s vocabulary – this new language was essentially amended of what Bembo thought were the excesses of Dante’s and Boccaccio’s “impressionist” language – although by “sifting” the bran, much of the colloquial and technical terms did not pass the test. Bravo.

  2. lucy says:

    Thanks, Mauro. As in numerous other areas, Italians led the way in the 16th and 17th centuries and others followed. I wish I could say the same of modern Italy! It’s fascinating what you say about Cardinal Bembo. It’s an area that interests me and I’d love to work more on it – time permitting!

  3. I think we live in a world where there is little space for art, or poetry – and everything must have a market value to be either broadcast or printed.

    Language history is not any different from any other subjects but has to be explained in a way that everyone understands – how it impacts on the way we speak today and that is what I and others are trying to do – I am afraid I am not very good at that.

    I have listed a number of Italian language resources and bibliography in the blog (right column, bottom) – but if you need something specific I would do my best to point you in the right direction or even pass you original language material you can use for your research.

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