1902 Encyclopedia > Italy > The Italian Language - Tuscan, and the literary language of the Italians

(Part 44)


The Italian Language

D. Tuscan, and the literary language of the Italians.

We have now only to deal with the Tuscan territory. It is bounded on the W. by the sea. To the north it terminates with the Apennines; for Romagna Toscana, the strip of country on the Adriatic versant which belongs to it administratively, is assigned to Emilia as regards dialect. In the north-west also the Emilian presses on the Tuscan, extending as it does down the Mediterranean slope of the Apennines in Lunigiana and Garfagnana. Intrusions which may be called Emilian have also been noted to the west of the Apennines in the district where the Arno and the Tiber take their rise (Aretine dialects); and it has been seen how thence to the sea the Umbrian and Roman dialects surround the Tuscan. Such are the narrow limits of the " promised land" of the language which has succeeded and was worthy to succeed Latin in the history of Italian culture and civilization,'—the land which comprises Florence, Siena, Lucca, and Pisa.—The Tus-can type may be best described by the negative method. There do not exist in it, on the one hand, any of those phe-nomena by which the other dialectal types of Italy mainly differ from the Latin base (such as ii = u; frequent elision of unaccented vowels; ba=gua; i=fl; nn = nd,&c), nor, on the other hand, is there any series of alterations of the Latin base peculiar to the Tuscan. This twofold negative description may further serve for the Tuscan or literary Italian as contrasted with all the other Neo-Latin languages; indeed, even where the Tuscan has a tendency to alterations common to other types of the family, it shows itself more sober and self-denying,—as may be seen in the reduction of the t between vowels into d or of c (k) between vowels into g, which in Italian affects only a small part of the lexical series, while in Provencal or Spanish it may be said to pervade the whole (e.g., Prov. and Span, mudar, Ital. mutare; Prov. segur, Span, seguro, Ital. sicuro). It may consequently be affirmed without any partiality that, in respect to historical nobility, the Italian not only holds the first rank among Neo-Latin languages, but almost consti-tutes an intermediate grade between the ancient or Latin and the modern or Romance.—What has just been said about the Tuscan, as compared with the other dialectal types of Italy, does not, however, preclude the fact that in the various Tuscan veins, and especially in the plebeian forms of speech, there occur particular instances of phonetic decay; but these must of necessity be ignored in so brief a sketch as ths present. We shall confine our-selves to noting—what has a wide territorial diffusion— the reduction of c {k) between vowels to a mere breath-ing {e.g., fûôho, fuoco, but porco), or even its complete elision ; the same phenomenon occurs also between word and word {e.g., la hasa, but in casa), thus illustrating anew that syntactic class of phonetic alterations, either quali-tative or quantitative, conspicuous in this region also, which has been already discussed for insular and southern Italy (B. 2 ; C. 2, 3), and could be exemplified for the Roman region as well (C. 4). As regards one or two individual phenomena, it must also be confessed that the Tuscan or literary Italian is not so well preserved as some other Neo-Latin tongues. Thus, French always keeps in the beginning of words the Latin formulas cl, pi, fl {clef, plaisir, fleur, in contrast with the Italian chiave, piacere, fiore); but the Italian makes up for this by the greater vigour with which it is wont to resolve the same formula within the words, and by the greater symmetry thus pro-duced between the two series (in opposition to the French clef, clave, we have, for example, the French œil, oclo ; whereas, in the Italian, chiave and occhio correspond to each other). The Italian as well as the Roumanian has lost the ancient sibilant at the end {-s of the plurals, of the nomina-tive singular, of the 2d persons, &c.) which throughout the rest of the Romance area has been preserved more or less tenaciously ; and consequently it stands lower than old Provençal and old French, as far as true declension or, more precisely, the functional distinction between the forms of the casus rectus and the easus obliquus is concerned. But even in this respect the superiority of French and Provençal has proved merely transitory, and in their modern condition all the Neo-Latin forms of speech are generally surpassed by Italian even as regards the pure grammatical consistency of the noun. In conjugation Tuscan has lost that tense which for the sake of brevity we shall continue to call the pluperfect indicative ; though it still survives outside of Italy and in other dialectal types of Italy itself (C. 3 b ; cf. B. 2). It has also lost the futurum exactum, or perfect subjunctive, which is found in Spanish and Roumanian. But no one would on that account maintain that the Italian conjugation is less truly Latin than the Spanish, the Roumanian, or that of any other Neo-Latin language. It is, on the contrary, by far the most distinctively Latin as regards the tradition both of form and function, although many effects of the principle of analogy are to be observed, sometimes common to Italian with the other Neo-Latin languages, and sometimes peculiar to itself.

Those who find it hard to believe in the ethnological explanation of linguistic varieties ought to be convinced by any example so clear as that which Italy presents in the difference between the Tuscan or purely Italian type on the one side and the Gallo-Italic on the other. The names in this instance correspond exactly to the facts of the case. For the Gallo-Italic on either side of the Alps is evidently nothing else than a modification—varying in degree, but always very great — of the vulgar Latin, due to the reaction of the language or rather the oral tendencies of the Celts who succumbed to the Roman civilization. In other words, the case is one of new ethnic individualities arising from the fusion of two national entities, one of which, numerically more or less weak, is so far victorious that its speech is adopted, while the other succeeds in adapt-ing that speech to its own habits of utterance. Genuine Italian, on the other hand, is not the result of the com-bination or conflict of the vulgar Latin with other tongues, but is the pure development of this alone. In other words, the case is that of an ancient national fusion in which vulgar Latin itself originated. Here that is native which in the other case was intrusive.—This greater purity of constitution gives the language a persistency which approaches permanent stability. There is no Old Italian to oppose to Modern Italian in the same sense as we have an Old French to oppose to a Modern French. It is true that in the old French writers, and even in the writers who used the dialects of Upper Italy, there was a tendency to bring back the popular forms to their ancient dignity; and it is true also that the Tuscan or literary Italian has suffered from the changes of centuries; but nevertheless it remains undoubted that in the former cases we have to deal with general transformations between old and new, while in the latter it is evident that the language of Dante continues to be the Italian of modern speech and literature. This character of invariability has thus been in direct proportion to the purity of its Latin origin, while, on the contrary, where popular Latin has been adopted by peoples of foreign speech, the elaboration which it has undergone along the lines of their oral tendencies becomes always the greater the farther we get away from the point at which the Latin reached them,—in proportion, that is, to the time and space through which it has been trans-mitted in these foreign mouths.

As for the primitive seat of the literary language of Italy, not only must it be regarded as confined within the limits of that narrower Tuscany already described; strictly speaking, it must be identified with the city of Florence alone. Leaving out of account, therefore, a small number of words borrowed from other Italian dialects, as a certain number have naturally been borrowed from foreign tongues, it may be said that all that was not Tuscan was elimin-ated from the literary form of speech. If we go back to the time of Dante we find, throughout almost all the dialects of the mainland with the exception of Tuscan, the change of vowels between singular and plural seen in paese, paisi; quello, quilli; amore, amuri (see B. 1 ; C. 3 b); but the literary language knows nothing at all of such a phenomenon, because it was unknown to the Tuscan region. But in Tuscan itself there were differences between Florentine and non-Florentine; in Florentine, e.g., it was and is usual to say dipignere and pugnere, while the non-Florentine had it clipegnere and pognere (Lat pingere, pungere). Now, it is precisely the Florentine forms which alone have currency in the literary language.
In the ancient compositions in the vulgar tongue, especially in poetry, non-Tuscan authors on the one hand accommodated their own dialect to the analogy of that which they felt to be the purest representative of the language of ancient Roman culture, while the Tuscan authors in their turn did not refuse to adopt the forms which had received the rights of citizenship from the literary celebrities of other parts of Italy. It was this state of matters which gave rise, in past times, to the numerous disputes about the true fatherland and origin of the literary language of the Italians. But these have been deprived of all right to exist by the scientific investigation of the history of that language. If the older Italian poetry assumed or main-tained forms alien to Tuscan speech, these forms were after-wards gradually eliminated, and the field was left to those which were purely Tuscan and indeed purely Florentine. And thus it remains absolutely true that, so far as phonetics, morphology, rudimental syntax, and in short the whole char-acter and material of words and sentences are concerned, there is no literary language of Europe that is more thoroughly characterized by homogeneity and oneness, as if it had come forth in a single cast from the furnace,' than the Italian.

But on the other hand it remains equally true that, so far as concerns a living confidence and uniformity in the use and style of the literary language—that is, of this Tuscan or Florentine material called to nourish the civilization and culture of all the Italians—the case is not a little altered, and the Italian nation appears to enjoy less fortunate conditions than other nations of Europe. Modern Italy had no glowing centre for the life of the whole nation into which and out of which the collective thought and language could be poured in ceaseless current for all and by all. Florence has not been Paris. Territorial contiguity and the little difference of the local dialect facilitated in the modern Rome the elevation of the language of conversation to a level with the literary language that came from Tuscany. A form of speech was thus produced which, though certainly destitute of the grace and the abundant flexibility of the Florentine, gives a good idea of what the dialect of a city becomes when it makes itself the language of a nation that is ripening its civilization in many and dissimilar centres. In such a case the dialect loses its slang and petty localisms, and at the same time also somewhat of its freshness; but it learns to express with more conscious sobriety and with more assured dignity the thought and the feeling of the various peoples which are fused in one national life. But what took place readily in Rome could not with equal ease happen in districts whose dialects were far removed from the Tuscan. In Piedmont, for example, or in Lombardy, the language of conversation did not correspond with the language of books, and the latter accordingly became artificial and laboured. Poetry was least affected by these unfortunate conditions; for poetry may work well with a multiform language, where the need and the stimulus of the author's individuality assert them-selves more strongly. But prose suffered immensely, and the Italians had good cause to envy the spontaneity and confidence of foreign literatures—of the French more par-ticularly. In this reasonable envy lay the justification and the strength of the Manzoni school, which aimed at that absolute naturalness of the literary language, that absolute identity between the language of conversation and that of books, which the bulk of the Italians could reach and maintain only by naturalizing themselves in the living speech of modern Florence. The revolt of Manzoni against artificiality and mannerism in language and style was worthy of his genius, and has been largely fruitful. But the historical difference between the case of France (with the colloquial language of Paris) and that of Italy (with the colloquial language of Florence) implies more than one difficulty of principle ; in the latter case there is sought to be produced by deliberate effort of the literati what in the former has been and remains the necessary and spon-taneous product of the entire civilization. Manzoni's theories too easily lent themselves to deplorable exaggera-tions; men fell into a new artificiality, a manner of writing which might be called vulgar and almost slangy. The remedy for this must lie in the regulating power of the labour of the now regenerate Italian intellect,—a labour ever growing wider in its scope, more assiduous, and more thoroughly united.

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