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Cover of the book "Italian linguistic thought of the 14th to the 16th centuries" Saint Petersburg, 2000. 504 p.



This book is devoted to the history of three centuries of linguistic ideas in Italy and covers two epochs, the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, when Italy was the acknowledged intellectual leader of Europe. It is in two main parts.

Part One offers an analysis of Dante's (1265-1321) linguistic views as set forth in two of his treatises. Chapter 1 examines the problems raised in the sections of the Convivio devoted to language, while Chapter 2 takes up De vulgari eloquentia which is entirely concerned with issues of language and poetics.

The last fifteen years of study of these two treatises has yielded exceptionally valuable results that mark a new stage in our understanding of Dante's theoretical legacy. Following the publication of two Italian monographs (Corti 1982, Pagani 1982) and a new critical edition of De vulgari eloquentia, Dante's theory of language has been the subject of a number of specialized studies by Western European and American scholars, although not, unfortunately, by Russian scholars, who remain in regard to this question on the level of knowledge reached at the end of the 19th century.

Despite the enormous interest of contemporary scholarship both in medieval philosophies of language and in the theory and history of literary languages, and despite the very great value of Dante's own ideas, the most recent histories of linguistic scholarship have largely been content to mention only his name. In polemical opposition to many authorities (Vinay 1962, for example), the author of the present monograph views the first book of De vulgari eloquentia as a complete, autonomous work meant to serve as a linguistic introduction to the unfinished technical manual on Italian versification contained in the second book and those that where to follow. The vulgare illustre theory is regarded, after the pioneering work of Maria Corti of 1982, as a theory of poetic language, which allows one to avoid the misconceptions potential in the vague term 'literary language' with its sociolinguistic connotations imposed on a terminology derived from the medieval scholastic tradition.

The present study gives a great deal of attention to analysis of the descriptive language worked out by Dante (his terms, metaphors, similes, intertextual linkages, etc.). Chapter 3, <<On Dante's Linguistic Terminology>>, is devoted to the analysis of four key terms - the definitions of the word vulgare (vernacular) illustre, cardinale, aulicum, and curiale - which have usually been regarded as an arbitrary series of optional evaluative epithets, but not, in any case, as a substantive scholarly terminology. Nonetheless, Dante's treatise lies at the juncture of scholarship (for its time highly professional and rigorous scholarship) and poetry (in which regard it is beyond praise). Each of the four terms and its definition is implicated in a complex intertextual network that clarifies the philosophical and linguistic meaning of epithets that, in view of their poetic character, had always seemed purely ornamental to investigators. The allusions to the Bible thus reveal fresh nuances for the terms under consideration, thereby affording a better understanding of the meaning and significance of Dante's theory as a whole. For example, his definition of the word cardinale, <<sicut totum hostium cardinem sequitur ut, quo cardo vertitur, versetur et ipsum ..>>. (XVIII.1), contains an allusion to Proverbs 26:14 (<<sicut ostium vertitur in cardine suo ita piger in lectulo suo>> [<<as a door turns on its hinges, so does a sluggard on his bed>>]) that makes plain the definition's principal feature, the retention of stability despite constant movement. Further on is an allusion to the parable of the good shepherd (John 10: 1-9), where the words <<ego sum ostium ovium>> (<<I am as a gate to my sheep>>) indicate suspension of the opposition between the <<one who leads>> and the <<one who is led>> and acquire linguistic meaning in Dante in regard to dialects and the vulgare illustre. This approach is further justified by the distinctive polysemy of the Dantean word, a polysemy in which the word does not merely have other meanings (as in paradigmatics) but different meanings that are present in a single use of the word (cf. Contini 1979: 412). Dante's polysemy unfolds, however, not only within the word as a fact of language but also as a fact of text, and it is realized through a multiplicity of internal references and allusions. A careful analysis of Dante's definitions and of the semantic structure of the words in question leads to the conclusion that in their entirety they form a tetrad based on the model of the four cardinal virtues. As is shown in the book, each term thus mediates one of the oppositions contained in language, or, as Dante's direct source Aristotle might have put, it finds a mean between two extremes.

Of the four definitions of vulgare, illustre mediates the opposition between subject and object, between agens and patiens. The language is directed toward itself, something that is, to be sure, especially characteristic of poetic language, as Osip Mandelstam would grasp some 600 years later in calling the Commedia <<a monument of granite erected in honor of granite>> (<<A Conversation about Dante>>). Cardinale mediates the opposition between movement and stasis, and therefore between evolution and stability (a theme fundamental to the relation between Latin and the living languages). Aulicum brings into play and mediates the opposition between the universal or collective and the singular or personal as they are manifest in the common (noun) and the individual (creative work). Curiale, the last of Dante's definitions of the fundamental qualities of language, has, by analogy with justice, the last term in the series of cardinal virtues, a summarizing or generalizing significance and indicates the chief function of the postulated language - <<to serve as a measure or standard>>. Delineated in this way is a profound and elegantly proportioned conception of the creation of a new language as a poetic language, a conception that, pace the views of skeptics, is essentially justified by the history of the growth of the Italian literary language. The book's appendix contains a brief survey of the manuscript tradition of both treatises and offers a bibliography of the principal published editions, including reviews of the critical ones.

Part Two of the book, <<Linguistic Studies in Italy during the Renaissance>>, consists of two sections: 2.1 <<The Quattrocento: Latin Philology and Linguistics>>, and 2.2 <<The Cinquecento and the Origins of Italian Philology>>. These sections follow a brief Introduction in which the contradictory nature of the historiographical term 'Renaissance' is noted and the terminological significance of the word 'humanist' is examined. The latter word originally had no ideological connotations at all but merely denoted a profession, first an expert in language and literature, especially Latin and Greek, and then, later on, in Italian. The Introduction also addresses the discrepancy between the enormous significance accorded the Renaissance in the history of European culture and the small place traditionally assigned to it in the history of linguistics.

Section 2.1 comprises four chapters. The first, <<The Philological Culture of the Quattrocento>>, sketches the diverse and truly colossal work done by the Italian Humanists in creating a new (in relation to the Christian Middle Ages) secular culture: the collection and correction of the Latin codices (both Roman literary monuments and the corpus of the writings of the Roman grammarians), the translation of the Greek philosophical legacy into Latin, and so on. Most of the sources for the principal philosophical schools (the Platonists, the Stoics, the Epicureans, the Skeptics) were being translated from Greek for the first time. And thanks to their translation into Latin during the Renaissance, Greek poetry, oratorical prose, historiography, works in mathematics, geography, medicine, and botany, and the writings of the fathers of the Eastern Orthodox Church were made available to educated Europeans for the first time, as well. This work helped to lay the foundations of the contemporary theory of translation. In characterizing this period, the author has found it necessary to draw a clear distinction between two things: attitudes toward Latin and conceptions of the Latin language. As regards the former, 15th-century Italy differed from all the other countries where Latin was still used as the international cultural medium. The Italians viewed Latin as their own language, although not as a mother tongue (cf. paternal versus maternal languages). What many contemporary historians have perceived as an Italian Humanist effort to impose the Ciceronian style on the entire Western-European world - as sheer aestheticism, in other words - the present work regards as a first, unprecedented attempt to restore a dead language, to revive Latin as a living national language. Unlike the study of Greek, which was never meant to realize any linguistic program, that of Latin had as its main purpose the institution of language reform in accordance with the linguistic standards of a definite historical period - the Ciceronian age (of classical Latin), understood as more than merely the style of a single author. As concerns Renaissance linguistic thought, it was influenced in particular by such newly <<discovered>> monuments as Plato's Cratylus, Quintilian's Institutio oratoria, and Varro's De lingua Latina. Pomponius Letus gave public lectures in Rome on Varro. In Cicero's treatise De oratore it was not questions of oratorical art that chiefly interested the Humanist philologists, but information about the linguistic situation in ancient Rome and the social differentiation of everyday Latin speech (see Appendix 2). As for the 15th-century Italian conception of the Latin language, the main contribution of the Humanists, and a contribution whose significance for the subsequent development of linguistics it would be difficult to overestimate, was the discovery of language as a historical category.

The next three chapters in this section of the book are basically concerned with issues of grammar. Chapter 2, <<Latin Grammar in Italy>>, gives a brief survey of the medieval grammatical tradition and enumerates the main school textbooks and medieval innovations (terminological for the most part). Chapter 3, <<Guarino Veronese and the New Latin Grammars>>, deals with the reform of the educational system (on the model of antiquity), as exemplified by Guarino Guarini's (1374-1460) school in Ferrara. Without an understanding of the historical context of the school reforms carried out by the Italian Humanists (reforms that became the basis of a new educational system in Europe that would remain virtually unchanged until the 19th century), it is impossible to grasp the significance of the new Latin textbooks compiled during this period by practicing teacher-Humanists. Among those textbooks, the Regulae grammaticales (ca. 1418) by Guarino himself (it was to all appearances the first Renaissance Latin grammar) is described in the greatest detail, especially in regard to its structure and sources and its interpretation of the verb. The description is based on the manuscript fragments in the Bodleian Library, on the edition of the book in the collection of the Academy of Sciences Library in St. Petersburg (Ferrara, 1591), and on the works of Remigio Sabbadini (e.g., 1896) and W. Keith Percival (e.g., 1986). Besides the Regulae grammaticales, the monograph also looks at treatises on orthography by Gasparino Barzizza (1360-1430), Cristoforo Scarpa (fl. 1430-1450), and Giovanni Tortelli (1400 -1466), and at the Rudimenta grammaticales of Niccolò Perotti (1429-1480), a school textbook popular not only in Italy but outside the country, as well (the incunabulum in the St. Petersburg collection - Vinegia [Venezia]: Jacobis Brittanicus, 1474 - is evidently a rarity; we have not, in any event, found a single reference to the edition in contemporary scholarly literature, and it would be interesting to clarify its relation to the editio princeps of 1473). Relying as they did on the traditions of antiquity and the medieval period, the authors of the new grammars did not, as the analysis shows, raise any questions of a theoretical nature, but, in contrast to the textbooks of the 14th century influenced by the speculative theories of the late Middle Ages, their originality lay in the utter simplicity of their grammatical descriptions. There is no theory in them, no philosophy, no discussion of the issues of language reform, nor do they touch upon the matter of grammatical and stylistic correctness (which does not mean, of course, that the philologists of the Renaissance were uninterested in it). The simple, unpretentious textbooks written for the new Humanist schools retained from the old Latin grammars only the barest of schemes: elementary morphology, a single syntactic model (SVO), and a minimal grammatical vocabulary. Nevertheless, despite its indifference to theory (characteristic of Renaissance scholarship in general), the period constitutes an important link in the history of linguistics - the period of the systematization of the elements of Latin grammar.

Chapter 4, devoted to Lorenzo Valla (1405-1457), examines his principal work on Latin grammar, the Elegantiae linguae Latinae, along with his logico-philosophical treatise Repastinatio dialecticae. The subject of inquiry in both texts is the Latin language, and both employ a historico-philosophical method and contain critiques of the preceding tradition (both philosophical and grammatical). Astonishingly, historians continue to reproach Valla for confusing the questions of grammar and literary language, when it was in fact Valla who introduced into scholarly usage Quintilian's distinction between grammatical and Latin speech (a distinction that would be added to the arsenal of French grammarians only in the 17th century). For all the difficulty of the generic classification of the Elegantiae, the vast work on the <<re-excavation>> (repastinatio) of Latin grammar and lexis undertaken by Valla marks a break with medieval notions of Latin as an unchanging (extra-historical) language, and the discovery of a scholarly method based on the study of linguistic monuments and the establishment of actual linguistic usage (usage réel, [Chomarat 1981:21]). Valla's approach to the study of Latin as an ordinary natural language and his analysis of the meaning of terms in logic and philosophy from that vantage point have led some contemporary scholars to see him as a precursor of ordinary-language philosophy. In the history of the Latin language, Valla's grammar is a unique work without analogue in either the preceding or subsequent traditions.

Section 2.2, devoted to 16th-century linguistics, comprises nine chapters. Set forth in the first two is the essence of the phenomenon known as questione della lingua (<<the question of language>>). The chapter entitled <<Latinists versus Italianists>> examines the different issues entailed in comparing the two competing languages and tries, wherever possible, to place those issues in a broader historical perspective by reffering such qualitative features of language as 'dignity', 'richness', and 'purity' to the tradition antiquity. Developed in somewhat greater detail in this connection are the views of Francesco Florido (1511-1547), who may be considered the first historiographer of Humanism. Chapter 2, <<The Questione della lingua in the History of Italian and the Historiography of Linguistics>>, adresses a few problems of a methodological character. Thus, the questions of what constitutes a linguistic standard (and the debates surrounding the questions) that has acquired paramount significance in the history of the formation of the Italian literary language has, in the autor's opinion, been wrongly regarded in the historiography of linguistics as the principal, indeed, as virtually the only topic that engaged Italian linguistic thought in the 16th century. This circumstance motivates the composition of the subsequent chapters of Part II. The exposition of the polemic contained there also serves as an outline of the cultural-historical situation of the Cinquecento - a characterization of the linguistic literature, its generic originality, and its principal names. On the whole, however, the composition of the final section is oriented not toward an exposition 'in terms of authors' or individual works, as several of the chapter titles might lead one to assume, but 'in terms of issues', although exemplified by concrete authors and their source works, the majority of them quite unfamiliar to the Russian reader.

Part Two proceeds with a description of the diversity of languages and an attempt to systematize the information about those languages on the model of the classification of Benedetto Varchi (1503-1565) in Chapter 3. Analysis of his classification provides a clear understanding of the fundamental difference between Renaissance and Medieval scholarship: the transition from the classification of sign systems to systematization of the information about concrete languages. In the chapter subtitled <<The Terminological Controversy in Claudio Tolomei's Treatise Cesano>>, the issue concerns different approaches to the interpretation of one and the same object (the Italian language). The views on language of Pietro Bembo (1470-1547), Giangiorgio Trissino (1478-1550), Baldassaro Castiglione (1478-1529), and Alessandro Pazzi de' Medici (1483-1530) acquire in Tolomei's (1492-1556) exposition the significance of first attempts at scholarly illumination of the history of the questione della lingua. Tolomei's Cesano is interesting, too, as evidence of the reception of Dante's De vulgari eloquentia, allusions to which pervade the speech of its characters - that is, the participants in the dialogue.

Following the discussion of this material, which illustrates the highly complicated perspective of connections and relations (horizontal and vertical, synchronic and diachronic) in which 16th-century scholars viewed the object of linguistic thought, the author goes on (in Chapter 5) to an analysis of the general theoretical ideas about language of the Italian Humanists. It is characteristic of 16th-century linguistics that language is examined independently of its relation to thought, and that scholars evince no interest at all in the problem of naming (that is, in the relation between word and thing). Rather, their attention is concentrated on language as such and on its relation to human society. The principal achievement of Renaissance scholarship in this regard is the contrasting of 'structure' and 'function'. Clearly delineated in 16th-century discussions are two conceptions of language: it is a stable structure, an idea formulated in the Tuscan philological milieu (Machiavelli, Tolomei), and it is a corpus of words (Trissino, Equicola). Phonetics and morphology, which define the uniqueness of each language - its particular nature, possess the features of structural organization. Given the absence in 16th-century Italian of shared terminologies (of words like 'phonetics', 'morphology', 'syntax', 'lexis'), the ideas of structural unity and systematic organization were conveyed by means of extended similes (language is like a building, a ship, a military formation, and so forth), by metaphors, and by the use of special technical terms that in preceding traditions (among students of Proven&ccedile;al, for example) had been used only in relation to language of poetry. Structural unity is regarded in these elaborations as a fundamental characteristic of language and as independent of the level of development or degree of regulation within a given concrete language. It is a necessary condition for the functioning of language in society, the condition by which a language remains equivalent to itself in all its manifestations. Analyzed in relation to the idea of 'function' are the semantic range of the word 'usage' (uso scritto/parlato, universale/particolare, uso publico, toscano, fiorentino, etc.); the notion of 'individuality' as a new category of linguistic analysis (Trissino, Varchi, Lenzoni); the problems of social stratification and territorial variation in language ('dialect' both as a concept a the term); and language and the category of time (the reasons for and the nature of linguistic variation, the terms variare, alterare/mutare, transformare).

Chapter 6 looks at theories of the origin of the Italian language. Elucidated here are such matters as the reason for the decline of Latin and the formation of a new language on Italian territory (the idea expressed as early as the 15th century by Flavio Biondo (1392-1463) about the mixing of Latin with the barbarian languages of the Germanic conquerors, an idea shared by almost all 16th-century Humanists); Lodovico Castelvetro's (1505-1571) conception of the vulgare Latin; the Etruscan-substratum hypothesis (Tolomei); the role of Tuscany as a center where two opposed tendencies came together, an innovative one from Lombardy, and a conservative one from Rome (the theory of Girolamo Muzio). Along with these scholarly hypotheses about the origin of the Italian language, which provide ample basis for speaking of the emergence of Romance philology in Italy, the quasi-scientific theory of the derivation of the Tuscan language from Etruscan (Gelli, Giambullari) is also looked at. Chapter 7, <<Issues of Italian Philology in the Works of Vincenzio Borghini>>, examines the broad program for studying the history of the Italian language developed by Borghini (1515-1580) and the first (unsuccessful) attempt to introduce the Italian language into a program of school instruction in Tuscany. Borghini did not write treatises on language, nor were his philological notes published during his lifetime. It is in fact only quite recently that his linguistic legacy has become available to investigators, and this circumstance partly explains why we have decided to devote an entire chapter to him. Of particular interest as an example of his historical approach to the analysis of linguistic facts is Borghini's essay, Della lingua contadinesca (<<On Peasant Language>>).

Chapter 8, The <<Sound Structure of Language>>, contains an examination of the phonetic treatises of Tolomei and of Giorgio Bartoli's (1534-1583) Degli elementi del parlar toscano (<<On the Elements of Tuscan Speech>>). The contributions of Italian scholars to phonetics and phonology (cf. Izzo 1986) are summarized in the chapter's conclusion, to viz., the elaboration of the idea of the 'phoneme' (suono/elemento) and of distinctive features, the recognition of what we would today call binary oppositions and minimal pairs, the idea of the regularity of sound shifts and of the non-arbitrariness of exceptions, and realization of the importance of diachrony in the synchronic description of a language. Chapter 9, <<The First Grammars of Italia>>, describes the works of Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472) - the first to be written; Giovan(ni) Francesco Fortunio (c.1470-1517) - the first to be printed, and Pier Francesco Giambullari (1495-1555) - the first systematic grammar by a Tuscan author.

[The theme evidently lacking in the book is the tradition of Italian lexicography, the reason for this omission was the fact that special work on the subject was prepared at the same time as the present book; it has been published in 1998: Aleksandr Lobodanov. Istorija rannej Italjanskoj lexikografii (History of Early Italian Lexicography), Moscow: Moscow University, 1998, 509 pp.]



Part I. Dante's Linguistic Views

The Treatise Convivio and Defense of The Mother Tongue

The Treatise De vulgari eloquentia: Language and Languages

On Dante's Linguistic Terminology: The Four Qualities of the Perfect Language


Part II. Linguistics in Renaissance Italy

2.1. The Quattrocento: Latin Philology and Linguistics

The Philological Culture of the Quattrocento

Latin Grammar in Italy

Guarino Veronese and the New Latin Grammars

Lorenzo Valla's Elegantiae linguae Latinae

2.2. The Cinquecento and the Emergence of Italian Philology

Latinists versus Italianists

The Questione della lingua in the History of the Italian Language and in Linguistic Historiography

The Diversity of Languages and Benedetto Varchi's Classification.

Naming the Contemporary Language of Italy: The terminological controversy in Claudio Tolomei's treatise Cesano

16th-Century Italian Humanist Conceptions of Language

The Origins of the Italian Language

Issues of Italian Philology in the Works of Vincenzio Borghini

The Sound Structure of Language

Orthographic Reform and the Study of Tuscan Phonetics in the Works of Claudio Tolomei

Giorgio Bartoli's Degli elementi del parlar toscano

The First Grammars of Italian


I. Manuscripts and Editions of Dante's De vulgari eloquentia and Convivio

II.The Linguistic Situation in Ancient Rome as Reflected in the Polemics of the 15th-Century Humanists

Guarinius Veronensis ill. principi Leonello Marchioni Estensi de lingue Latine differentiis

Russian translation [of the preceding Latin text] by Vanda P. Kazanskiene

Summary [see revised version above]

[List of] Abbreviations

Bibliography Pt.I [to Pt. I: Dante]

Bibliography Pt.II [to Pt. II: Renaissance]

Index of Proper Names


Chomarat, Jacques. 1981. Grammaire et rhétorique chez Erasmus. 2 vols. Paris: Les Belles Lettres.

Contini, Gianfranco. 1979 [1a ed 1970] Varianti e altra linguistica.Una raccolta di saggi (1938 - 1968). Torino: Einaudi.

Corti, Maria. 1982. Dante a un nuovo crocevia. Firenze: Sansoni.

Dante Alighieri. 1979 [c.1305]. <<De Vulgari Eloquentia>>. A cura di Pier Vincenzo Mengaldo. in: Dante Alighieri. Opere Minori. II, Milano & Napoli: Ricciardi (La Letteratura Italiana: Storia e testi. Vol. 5, t. 2). 3 - 240.

Guarini Veronese, Guarino. 1591. Guarini Veronensis [...] Regulae grammatices; nunc denuo recognitae, et summa, ac diligenti cura excusae et emendatae; quibus adiecimus in fine Alphabetum graecum. Ferrara: apud Benedictum Mammerellum. [24 f. in 8o].

Izzo, Herbert J. 1986. <<Phonetics in 16th-Century Italy>>. The History of Linguistics in Italy ed. by Paolo Ramat, Hans-J. Niederehe & Konrad Koerner, 121-145. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins

Pagani, Ileana. 1982. La teoria linguistica di Dante. De Vulgari Eloquentia: discussioni, scelte, proposte. Napoli: Liguori Editore.

Percival, W. Keith. 1986. <<Early Editions of Niccolò Perotti's 'Rudimenta grammatices'>>. Res Publica Litterarum 9. 219-229.

Perotti, Niccolò. 1474. Perottus Nicolaus Rudimenta grammatices. Vinegia: Jacobis Brittanicus. IV Non. Nov. (10 XI), 1474, (109 f. in 4o) [Signature: Library of Russian Academy of Sciences, St Petersburg, 416].

Sabbadini, Remigio. 1896. La scuola e gli studi di Guarino Guarini Veronese. Catania: Giannotta.

Vinay, Gustavo. 1962. <<La teoria linguistica del De Vulgari Eloquentia>>. Cultura e scuola 2(5). 30-42.