Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The 21st Century

The 21st century


The turn of the 20th century sees the emergence of the internet. The Guternberg's press with movable types, which Aldus Manutius perfected but enabling the printing of pocket books made reading affordable. The introduction of desktop printers and internet has not just improved the dissemination of information, but the way books and papers are written and by whom. 

The layman has acquired a bigger influence on language: neologisms have increased at an exponential rate since the first online dictionaries appeared. Printed dictionaries cannot be updated as quickly as a web database, so even the large publishing houses have made online versions of their works. 

Open-source projects and blogs are among the latest innovations that have added interactivity. In the open-source wikis the distinction between reader, contributor, editor and publisher has further blurred creating horizontal structures that allow users to switch roles. Blogs, or (we)b logs are evolving into podcasts, where one can post voice and video comments and receive audiovisual messages from selected topics or people in his or fer inbox. 

The Internet: Political and cultural importance 

The importance of the net has grown so much that in 2004 the major political blogs (web logs) have been admitted for the first time to the Democratic and Republican parties of the United States, affecting the outcome of the 2004 presidential campaign. Thousands of internet cafés and literary blogs have become the venue for many young writers. Even the Accademia della Crusca have their own website and forum and are working on the English version of their site. 

Web-related calques 

Among the newest Italian neologisms are informatica, connessione remota, preferiti (favorites), indirizzo IP, cyberspazio, internauta, portale, motore di ricerca, firma digitale, compressione, scaricamento, scaricare, postare (to post in a forum), chattare (to chat on the internet), loggarsi (to log in), casella di posta elettronica, posta elettronica, indirizzo di posta elettronica, pirateria internet, pirateria informatica, 3d (thread, since italians tend to pronounce it 'tred', and tre is number 3). 

Web-related loans

Loans account for terms like desktop, SMS, card, plug-in, server, host, virus, antivirus, spyware, chat (n.), account, about us, policy, faq, login (n.), username, password, e-mail, download, cookie, domain, sito internet, programma, freeware, shareware, hardware, software, provider, hacker, GIF, FTP, newsgroup, mailing list, bookmark, attachment, spam, bulk, pop-up, dialer, banner, layout (also used as "template"). 

Webspeak: punctuation and syntax 

Surfers are familiar with the alterations in spelling and punctuations. While spelling does not seem to be affecting considerably the texts of Italian e-mails, the style in which they are written write has: paragraphs rarely exceed three-four lines, the use of parataxis or coordinations as in spoken Italian (sono andata al lavoro, ho fatto la spesa e sono tornata - "I went to work, did the shopping and came back), is more frequent and increasingly avoiding basic punctuation and capitalisation, while semicolons and question marks seem to have disappeared. Some Italian abbreviations are quite common, cmq for comunque (however, anyway), gg for giorni (days), etc.

The length of sentences is generally quite short, often avoiding verbs as in "Maggiori informazioni qui" (more info here). The fast-paced internet also seems to invite people to avoid "unnecessary" keystrokes, and often surfers avoid leaving a space after a punctuation mark. Grammar is simplified by avoiding subjunctives, while the use of the etymological simple past (andai, vedesti...) has been replaced by the simple past in avere /sono + past participle (sono andato, hai visto...). 

The increasing number of English loans 

The introduction of loans is facilitated by linguistic economy and sometimes the urge to save time: most ordinary English words are mono- or bi-syllables and can fit more easily into a homepage. That is why jobs sometimes replaces "offerte di lavoro", and FAQ (FAQs) is standard

Italian as in many other languages alongside "domande frequenti", whereas the French have assimilated FAQs as 'Foire Aux Questions (Fair of Questions)' which sounds much more familiar to a Francophone. 

Chi siamo still resists alongside "about us", but the English word testimonial, which has entered Italian usage as " a person that sponsors a brand or a public event (as a fundraising drive)" has been widely replaced by dicono di noi (What they say of us), while testimonial stands for a celebrity who poses for a brand or a product. 

A taboo of new words? 

In general, there is a reluctance to coin new words or use calques as happens in many other languages, and I think there are two main reasons for this: 1. a scarce knowledge of the English language even among professionals which makes it difficult for people to make a translation where there could be one 2. a sociological factor, since limiting the importation of foreign words, even where necessary, is generally associated with the purism and linguistic xenophobia of fascism. 

Mussolini's linguistic purge was done hapazardly, indiscriminately, often by people with little of no linguistics education, mainly motivated by political zeal and racism. As such, it left a scar it will take many years to heal even among linguistis. 

Nonetheless it is fair to point out that Migliorini et. al. proved that neologims made on good phonotactical and grammatic rules take nothing off the beauty of the Italian language, especially since there are still so many lexical resources in our dialects that lie virtually untapped. 

Contrary to popular opinion, learning English does not endanger the Italian language, but help us sense when a foreign word can be be useful and to respect its original meaning, i.e. to use it properly. 

The Italian Dialects 

"Only when a given tongue becomes a language, are the other varieties of a linguistic community lowered in rank to dialects", says Bruni, remarking that before that moment, that vernacular "cannot be called a dialect, if only because no language has prevailed upon the others". 

Although the word dialect is widely disputed, it often recurs throughout Italian history and I will use it here for practical reasons, since there are regional languages (as Albanian) that share little or nothing with Italian . A dialect usually refers to a local variety of the same language, in this case standard Italian: it shares many words with it, while many others are similar or do not even exist in Italian. 

The phonetics and grammar may be more or less different, but a good standard Italian speaker with no knowledge of a particular dialect is generally able to understand the gist. Another important feature is its being relatively limited in lexicon as compared to a national standard. 

Whereas in the case of Italian the vocabulary can stretch to a few hundred thousand, a dialect is usually confined to a few thousands. The former is preferred in a formal (school, work, government, media), the latter is restricted to an informal context (family and friends). 

A national standard is usually marked as H (for High variety), a dialect L (for Low) because they are associated to different socio-economic contexts (dialect is wrongly associated with the lower orders of society and lesser education). 

A L1-L2 relationship where two languages are spoken by one person but are not mutually exchangeable (the example of a person reading a newspaper in L1 (fomal, standard) and commenting it with friends in L2 (informal, nonstandard) can be defined a case of bilingual diglossia, while a child born out of an English mother and French father may speak both languages in the same social contexts whether in the household or at school (bilingualism without diglossia). 

The Italian dialects were considered languages until the Florentine became the official standard in the 1500s. A person's awareness of speaking a dialect arises only when he or she accepts or realises the existence of a koinè used over an area that extends well beyond his or her own alloglot region. 

The opposition to Italian, if we can call it so, has helped dialects to achieve their own identity: before that the distinction between Italian and dialect was blurred by the mingling of local languages when people from different places wrote to or met each other, and no one could agree who spoke better given the many similarities between romance languages.  

The separation between Italian and dialect condemned local languages to a bonsai state: they continued to be widely spoken without being able to develop: their vocabulary is limited to a few thousand words, compared to the hundreds of thousand of the national atandard. 

But they have continued to play a role in the shaping of Italian, though Italian has also affected them, being often spoken mixed with Italian words, but it must be noted that, as in many other nations, some Italian terms and phrases are only or prevalently used in one area rather than another and that some words take different accent from place to place.  

Actually, Italian alloglot areas are 9 (this classification appears on the geolinguistic Atlas of Italy published by CNR the Centro Studi per la Dialettologia Italiana directed by C. Cortellazzo, ed. G.B. Pellegrini) 

ITALIAN LANGUAGES / DIALECTS are the following: gallo-italico (most of Piedmont, Liguria, and Emilia-Romagna) veneto (Veneto and part of Trentino excluding South Tyrol), friulano (Friuli and part of Slovenia), toscano (Tuscany), mediano (Umbria, Latium, Marche and Abruzzi), meridionale intermedio (Campania, Nothern Calabria, Lucania and Basilicata) meridionale estremo (Southern Apulia, Southern Calabria and Sicily), linguodorese-campidanese (most of Sardinia: Nuoro Oristano and Cagliari) and sassarese-gallurese (upper coastal region of Sardinia, including the City of Sassari. 

The "Recession of Dialects" 

However, because of the prestige of the Italian standard, dialects are being forgotten and to date it is difficult to find a dialect that has not been widely influenced by Italian language. It was once believed in order for a dialect to exist, its community must have lived in isolation or have resisted social change in some way, and this was widely believed in the 1800s, when Ascoli and his students tried to restore dialects by looking for alloglot and isolated communities, taking down words and their pronunciation from the oldest members of a village.

But is old dialect the dialect? And should we speak of just one, or one family of dialects even as we move from one small town to another? Should this archaic language, maybe taken just from one village, be restored in the place of all dialects spoken in one state? And then, as a historical linguist, Ascoli must have been aware that all languages evolve.
Today's scholars have abandoned the romantic ideal of original, primitive languages and tend to be a little more critical: between archaic dialects and standard Italian there is a wider, grey area that includes most Italian speakers. 

Bruni et al. prefer to speak of local koinès, since modern urban environments usually produce a melting pot of dialects from neighboring towns and villages. Because Italian is the language you are supposed to use at work, usually a mediation occurs in between the two ends: the Koinè may well be a mix between the dialects spoken around one given city (suburbs and countryside) and standard Italian: sometimes it is the Italian word to be adapted to the phonological system of a dialect, especially when there is a vernacular term that resembles to the Italian one, but has a different meaning: a famous example is Sicilian or Calabrian pjattalokrafa < dattilografa ("typist"), a neologism coined on the existing pjattu (it.piatto, en. dish) or vanella < vanedda ("lane"), and many more -ll words, probably on analogy with scn./cal. bedda = it. bella. 

In the few places where dialect is spoken as a first language, it succeeds in coining new words or translating Italian ones into its own vocabulary. Dialects are sometimes considered inferior languages because of their small vocabulary and the lack of an established spelling, but if they were given the ability to grow and were taught at school, many unpleasant tags that have been attached to them would fall off. 

Other Italian Languages Italian languages, however, have been less influenced by the standard since they are morphologically and phonologically distant from the romance family of Italian dialects which contributed to the birth of Italian. For example, Südtyrolean, a Germanic language also spoken in Austria makes abundant use of Celtic and Germanic ü and the back R, and its lexicon and grammar are more related to High German. 

Among minority languages can also be listed Ladino (spoken in some parts around Belluno, in Südtyrol and Friuli), Old Albanian (spoken in the Piana degli Albanesi, near Palermo) and Old Greek, a result of the Byzantine presence is Southern Italy, and especially Apulia, Calabria and Sicily. Varieties of the Langue d'Oc are spoken in part of Piedmont and Val d'Aosta (French Provençal and Provençal). 

There are also many small communities around Verona (13), Vicenza (7), and Trento (1) where Cimbrian, an old variety of Southern Bavarian is spoken by a few thousand people. The present-day Cimbri, however, must not be confused with the ancient people defeated by Consul Caius Marius in 101 B.C. and who came from the Jutland Peninsula (Denmark). 

The modern 'Cimbri' are of German or Austrian origin and were erroneously given this name by Italian princes as they peacefully settled in some areas of Veneto (Altopiano di Asiago, near Vicenza) and Trentino about 1000 years ago. The areas in which Südtyrolean, Albanian, Greek the Langue d'Oc, Ladino and Cimbrian are used make up the main alloglot areas of Italy and as such may be considered states in their own right. 

Like the Italian dialects, such languages are unfortunately doomed to extinction unless more is done to preserve them, since they are less and less spoken by younger generations who, for different reasons (work, the media, traveling...) tend to be more exposed to Italian.

LIST OF MAIN NON-ITALIAN LANGUAGES Non Italian alloglot regions include 6 smaller areas: Provençal (Piedmont, west of Turin and Cuneo) Franco-Provençal (Val d'Aosta), Ladino (northern Veneto, part of Trentino and Friuli), Germanic (Sudtyrol, North of Bolzen), Greek (Southern tips of Calabria and Apulia), Albanian (Sicily, near Palermo) and Slovene (on the easter border of Friuli). 


Our historical survey has indeed touched on a large number of topics, ranging from Classical Latin and the development of vernaculars to the establishment of a national standard, and it is likely that I may have left behind much more. Tracing the evolution of a language in just a few pages has inevitably lead me to make choices, and be more discriminant in selecting my sources, to which, however, I have been faithful. Defining Italian had me draw a line, however approximate, between dialect and language, making distinctions that may appear less clear-cut in practice.

But the fact remain that they cannot be entirely erased. The fact that most poets were Florentine must not evidently lead us to the hasty conclusion that Florentine is Italian. Bembo's conscious choice to develop a national standard implied a careful selection of Tuscan terms and phrases to keep forever, while others were scrapped and confined to the dialect spoken in
Florence today. 

Because dialects are as rich a heritage as is the Italian language itself, another history could not exhaust all the questions that might be raised here. I only hope that I may at least have encouraged you to find out more about this incredibly diverse country and perhaps visit it. 


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