Open main menu
This page needs to be proofread.
896
ITALIAN LANGUAGE


tion of linguistic varieties ought to be convinced by any example so clear as tha.t 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 adapting that speech to its own habits of utterance. Genuine Italian, on the other hand, is not the result of the combination 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 persist ency 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 transmitted 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 eliminated 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 unto, giunto, punto, while the non-Florentine had it unto, gionto, ponto, (Lat. unctu, &c.); at Florence they say piazza, meééo, while elsewhere (at Lucca, Pisa) they say or used to say, piassa, meffo. 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 1 A complete analogy is afforded by the history of the Aryan or Sanskrit language in India, which in space and time shows always more and more strongly the reaction of the oral tendencies of the aboriginal races on whom it has been imposed. Thus the Pali presents the ancient Aryan organism in a condition analogous to that of "he oldest French, and the Prakrit of the Dramas, on the other hand, En a condition like that of modern French.

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 maintained forms alien to Tuscan speech, these forms were afterwards 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 character 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 torth ina 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 local isms, 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 themselves more strongly. But prose suffered immensely, and the Italians had good cause to envy the spontaneity and confidence of foreign literature's-of the French more particularly. 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 lilerati what in the former has been and remains the necessary and spontaneous product of the entire civilization. Manzoni's theories too easily lent themselves to deplorable exaggerations; 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. The most ancient document in the Tuscan dialect is a very short fragment of a jongleur's song (12th century; see Monaci, Crestomazia, 9~1o). After that there is nothing till the 13th

century. P. Santini has published the important and fairly