1902 Encyclopedia > Italy > The Italian Language - Introduction

Italy
(Part 40)




THE ITALIAN LANGUAGE

The Italian Language - Introduction


The Italian language is the language of culture in the whole of the present kingdom of Italy, in some parts of Switzerland (the canton of Ticino and part of the Grisons), in some parts of the Austrian territory (the districts of Trent and Gorz, Istria along with Trieste, and the Dalmatian coast), and in the islands of Corsica and Malta. In the Ionian Islands, likewise, in the maritime cities of the Levant, in Egypt, and more particularly in Tunis, this literary language is extensively maintained through the numerous Italian colonies and the ancient traditions of trade.

The Italian language has its native seat and living source in Middle Italy, or more precisely Tuscany and indeed Florence. For real linguistic unity is far from existing in Italy: in some respects the variety is less in others more observable than in other countries which osqually boast a political and literary unity. Thus, for example, Italy affords no linguistic contrast so violent as that presented by Great Britain with its English dialects alongside of the Celtic dialects of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, or by France with the French dialects alongside of the Celtic dialects of Brittany, not to speak of the Basque of the Pyrenees and other heterogeneous elements. The presence of not a few Slavs stretching into the district of Udine (Friuli), of Albanian, Greek, and Slav settlers in the southern provinces, with the Catalans of Alghero (Sardinia), a few Germans at Monte Bosa, and a remnant or two of other comparatively modern immigrations is not sufficient to produce any such strong contrast in the conditions of the national speech. But, on the other hand, the Neo-Latin dialects which live on side by side in Italy differ from each other much more markedly than, for example, the English dialects or the Spanish ; and it must be, added that, in Upper Italy especially, the familiar use of the dialects is tenaciously retained even by the most cultivated classes of the population.

In the present rapid sketch of the forms of speech which occur in modern Italy, before considering the Tuscan or Italian par excellence, the language which has come to be the noble organ of modern national culture, it will be convenient to discuss (A) dialects connected in a greater or less degree with Neo-Latin systems that are not peculiar to Italy; (B) dialects which are detached from the true and proper Italian system, but form no integral part of any foreign Neo-Latin system ; and (C) dialects which di / erge more or less from the true Italian and Tuscan type but which at the same time can be conjoined with the T scan as forming part of a special system of Neo-Latin dialects.






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