Friday, August 29, 2008

Birth of a language

The 10th century: early Italian

The closeness of Italian to Latin helped scholars enrich the newly-born language with many Latin terms with relative ease. Earlier, we remarked that similarities between these languages can be explained with the late emergence of the Italian language. The Placito Capuano, probably the first document extant in the Italian language bears witness to that, dating as it does to the second half of the 10th century. Similar documents had appeared in other romance languages around the 9th century.

The Placito Capuano

The Placito Capuano or Placito di Capua is the first in a number of acts, also known as Placiti Cassinesi. They were written in early Italian between 960 and 963 A.D. : court proceedings allowing the Benedectines from four abbacies to reclaim their lands from squatters that had occupied them after a Saracen attack had dispersed the local chapter.

Two such proceedings come from Teano and one from Sessa Aurunca (two small towns near Caserta), from three local chapters of the Monastery of Montecassino. They contain legal formulas similar to the Placito.

The discovery of the Placiti is relatively recent: the Carta Capuana (960 A.D.) was found by abbot Gattola in the archives of the Monastery of Montecassino in 1734. All the texts show linguistic features typical of the area of Capua, many of their traits are still in today's southern dialects:

Sao ko kelle terre, per kelle fini que ki contene,
trenta anni le possette parte sancti Benedicti.

("I know that those lands, within the borders that enclose them, were owned for thirty years by the party of St. Benedict's") (Capua, March 960 - Placito Capuano)

Sao cco kelle terre, per kelle fini que tebe monstrai,
Pergoaldi foro, que ki contene, et trenta anni le possette.

(I know that those lands, within the borders that I showed to you, were owned for thirty years by the party of Pergoaldus.) (Sessa Aurunca, March 963)

Kella terra, per kelle fini que bobe mostrai,
sancte Marie è, et trenta anni la posset parte sancte Marie.

(The land within the borders that I showed to you belong to Santa Maria, and thirty years was owned by the party of Saint Mary's) (Teano, July 963)

Sao cco kelle terre, per kelle fini que tebe mostrai, trenta anni le possette parte sancte Marie.

(I know that those lands within the borders that I showed to you, were owned for for thirty years by the party of Saint Mary's) (Teano, October 963)

These are the first phrases in our possession written in Italian, although a only few decades later the frequence of such deeds increases up to the time when the use of Italian becomes common and widespread throughout the peninsula.

Visualizzazione ingrandita della mappa
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Bryce Wesley Merkl said...

This is such a great description and history of the Italian language.

Here's a website you might find interesting to study the future of the Italian language:

Italiano wiki browser

Mauro Baglieri said...

The future of the Italian language stands largely upon the the new media - but I think none of them is created anew, rather, it is the result of what came before it. Thanks for your good comments, keep them coming!

Anonymous said...

I'm taking a course called "Storia della Linga Italiana" and we're using Bruno Migliorini's book. Your site is very informative and helpful.

Grazie mille :)

Anonymous said...

Ciao Mauro,

I have a question. What is the difference the l'indovinello veronese and i placiti cassinesi in terms of demonstrating "proto-italian?" Is one more "italian" than the other, per se?

Grazie Mille

Mauro Baglieri said...

Hard to prove there is a proto-italian at all - think of the Indovinello as falling into a gray area - if you prefer the time when latin begins to resemble italian but has not yet entirely ditched the cases.

Unfortunately the coherence of the Indovinello is far from established, some think it may have even been a voluntary, arbirary mixture of the italian and latin.

The Placiti are a document and no longer a scribble written to kill time - besides their linguistic maturity this is also italian because it is perceived as such by the people who word it.

Anonymous said...

Ciao Mauro,

I'm currently reading a book entitled "Trionfo dell'Ipocrisia" by Elpidio Franceschelli. I was wondering if you ever read it and whether or not you know of any sites where I can get more information on the book, as I'm having little difficulty reading it.


Anonymous said...

What exactly is the "questione della lingua?