Only four years earlier, in , Pietro Bembo had published a Ciceronian dialogue entitled Prose della volgar lingua On the vernacular language , one of the most influential texts in the European Renaissance. This was the question that, combining literary issues with cultural politics and linguistic ideology, was at the core of the debate.
While there is no way to address here all the many facets of the questione della lingua , it will be useful to compare the reflection on the vernacular with the concurrent status of Latin. The first book of the dialogue is in fact primarily aimed at convincing one of the interlocutors, the renowned humanist Ercole Strozzi, of the legitimacy of the literary use of the volgare. The main argument employed by Bembo is the opposition between the vernacular as a natural language and Latin as an artificial one.
Trained as a humanist and well versed in both Latin and Greek, the Venetian scholar did not mean to disqualify the classical tradition. Rather, his commitment to the enhancement of the volgare must be read as the attempt to bring it to the same level of classical languages. By situating the relation of the Italians to their vernacular within a wider understanding of languages as historically grounded organisms, Bembo introduces a parallelism between the linguistic histories of Latin and Italian.
Bembo introduces a successful compromise between the assumptions of humanists, primarily based on the authoritative connection with the ancients, and on the necessity for the new vernacular literary tradition to be legitimized.
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In fact, if the questione della lingua did affect the evolution of the Italian vernacular thus paving the way for similar developments in other European countries , the alleged superiority of Latin in many fields of knowledge particularly those that were studied at the universities would remain a common trope in linguistic discourses. Emblematic of the cultural rivalry that characterized discourses on language in mid-sixteenth-century Italy was a series of works that focused on the legitimacy of the use of the volgare for purposes other than literature and poetry.
In fact, if it is undeniable that Bembo did contribute to the legitimation of the vernacular for literary use, it was the employment of the volgare in fields such as science or philosophy that remained problematic. To this end, it is useful to consider works such as those by Alessandro Citolini, Alessandro Piccolomini, and Sperone Speroni. These authors engaged in thorough discussions of the controversy between Latinate and vernacular cultures, finding in the notion of translation a possible way to harmonize the two terms of the conflict.
As a disciple of Giulio Camillo Delminio, whom Alessandro followed in France, the young Citolini engaged very soon in the study of literature and poetry, thus setting the stage for his later Tipocosmia , an encyclopedic dialogue that had an important influence on similar works across Europe. In fact, the defense of the vulgar tongue is twofold: on the one hand, Citolini engages in a systematic criticism of those who defend Latin, arguing that it is nobler, richer, and more common than the vernacular; on the other hand, based on the idea of the volgare as a living language, Citolini focuses on the ethical commitment to make it a tool for the dissemination of knowledge.
As for the first point, the author situates his reflection on language within a wider consideration of cultural progress. Also, by identifying a common origin for Latin and Italian, he maintains that it is impossible to criticize one without criticizing the other. As such, the vulgar tongue is the expression of its time: [The vulgar tongue] is alive and grows, generates, creates, produces, gives birth, thus becoming more and more rich and abundant.
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This is why as soon as a new thing comes to light, among the many that every single day appear, it gets clothed by vernacular words, while lacking in Latin or Greek ones. Whereas Latin cannot be used to name all the new things that populate the modern world, the vulgar tongue is able to produce words capable of describing them. By applying to the volgare what Cicero says about the ennoblement of Latin in both Brutus and De oratore — two of the reference texts in the study of classical eloquence — Citolini identifies language use and diachronic evolution as the two criteria that inform the progressive shaping of the vernacular.
Of course, the naturalness of the vernacular is not enough to make it eloquent, and this is where the productive relation to the ancients comes in. By imitating the classics, the vernacular will indeed be able to refine itself.
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However, it is not the use of a specific language that makes the speakers wise or knowledgeable. Rejecting a conservative approach to the humanist idea that proficiency in Latin ensures knowledge, Citolini stakes out the value of vernacular culture per se. If classicizing humanists and university professors were in fact harsh towards the literary and scholarly use of the vernacular, the Catholic Church was not more inclined to let vernacular audiences access the Bible directly. It is in fact through the practice of translation that past and present interact.
More specifically, by translating from classical languages into the vernacular, a double outcome can be achieved: first, vernacular readers will have a wider access to knowledge; second, by looking at the classics, the vernacular will improve its stylistic potentials. Furthermore, Citolini argues, since natural languages are better than dead ones at moving the audience, the vernacular will prove more effective than Latin in reaching the souls of men and women.
Eventually, the use of the vernacular instead of Latin produces a non-negligible benefit in the general advancement of learning, for it makes people save time in their studies. Instead of years and years spent in the study of languages prior to devoting oneself to the real content of disciplines, the use of the vernacular as a language of knowledge would let people engage with learning earlier in their lives. Yet, while legitimizing the intellectual status of the vulgar tongue, Piccolomini agrees with Citolini on the importance of being familiar with the classics in order to make the volgare competitive.
Indeed, even if both Citolini and Piccolomini stress the centrality of subject matter as the primary concern of learning, they do not deny the importance of eloquence as a vehicle for the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge. Whereas the humanist asserts that the study of texts in their original languages is the only path to the acquisition of knowledge, the university professor argues that the importance of ancient texts lies in what they say, and not in the way in which they say it. Two different conceptions of language are at stake here: Lascaris embodies the Platonic idea of a direct link between res things and verba words , which entails that certain languages are better than others at communicating specific topics; Pomponazzi shares instead the Aristotelian notion of language as a set of arbitrary conventions, which makes all languages equally suitable for all topics.
Things, according to Pietro, are definitely more important than words, and that is why the practice of translation is more than welcome in order to let larger numbers of readers access the sources of knowledge. Furthermore — and Pomponazzi develops here the same argument as Citolini — the long time spent in studying languages keeps us from the actual acquisition of knowledge.
Eventually, the philosopher goes beyond the debate on the alleged qualitative differences between classical and vernacular languages: he does not care for the refinement of the vulgar tongue, because what matters to him is the communicative function of language. From Dante to mid-sixteenth century authors such as Citolini, Piccolomini, and Speroni, through the humanist controversies, the examples that we have examined show that attempts to reduce the relationship between Latin and the vernaculars in the Renaissance to a strict dichotomy do not work.
In fact, forms of linguistic conflict involve productive interactions. First, by consciously distancing itself from Latin, the vulgar tongue acquired a new status in both cultural and grammatical terms. Second, those figures that seem to be more invested in the debate were also those who, in different ways, embodied Renaissance multilingualism at its best just think of Leon Battista Alberti and Pietro Bembo, who wrote widely in both Latin and Italian, thus actively contributing to the mutually informing relation that characterizes the two languages in the period.
Lastly, despite the differences that characterize each case, the dialectic between Latin and the vernacular found in the broad notion of translation was one of the most effective catalysts for the early modern reception of antiquity. If during the Middle Ages vernacular translations tended to be perceived as second rate products, authors such as Alessandro Piccolomini and Sperone Speroni fostered the legitimacy of the genre as a powerful means for the development and enrichment of the vernacular.
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For an overview of the topic, cf. Wyatt ed.
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Lisini ed. I, rub. Giordano and G. Piccinni eds. Siena nello specchio del suo costituto in volgare del — , Pisa: Pacini, Segre ed. For a discussion of the tradition of the volgarizzamenti , cf. Dionisotti, Geografia e storia della letteratura italiana , Turin: Einaudi, , pp. Folena, Volgarizzare e tradurre , Turin: Einaudi, ; and, more recently, A.
Giamboni, Fiore di rettorica , ed. Fortuna, M. Gragnolati, and J. Trabant eds.
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Tavoni ed. Dante e la lingua italiana , Ravenna: Longo, Dante Alighieri, De vulgari eloquentia , trans. Botterill, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, , 1. For a thorough introduction to the questione della lingua , cf. Serianni and P. Pietro Bembo cardinale da lui volgarizzata libri dodici ora per la prima volta seconde l'originale pubblicati. Itaque multi, diu vexati membrorum prope omnium doloribus deformatique tuberculis et ulceribus, ut vix agnoscerentur, miserabiliter interibant; neque quorum medicamentorum pestilenria indigeret nova insolensque sciri poterat.
Sed quoniam eo de morbo Fracastoriani libri tres, heroicis versibus multa cum dignitate venustateque conscripti, vulgo in manibus habentur, nihil nos quidem attinet haec scribentes commorari, praesertim quod Eae erant fistulae ad formam atque imaginem eorum tormentorum quibus muri oppidorum Ulery, Jr.
Bembo, Pietro 1470-1547
Causes of the Neapolitanshatred for the French 2. During the 14th century the Tuscan dialect began to predominate, because of the central position of Tuscany in Italy, and because of the aggressive commerce of its most important city, Florence. Grammarians during the 15th and the 16th centuries attempted to discuss and agree on the pronunciation, syntax, and vocabulary of 14th-century Tuscan the status of a central and classical Italian speech.
Eventually this classicism, which might have made Italian another dead language, was widened to include the organic changes inevitable in a living tongue. In the dictionaries and publications of the Accademia della Crusca, founded in , which was accepted by Italians as authoritative in Italian linguistic matters, compromises between classical purism and living Tuscan usage were successfully effected. The most important literary event of the 16th century did not actually take place in Florence.
Related Pietro Bembo: Prose della volgar lingua II (German Edition)
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