Danilo Aprigliano

Linguistic history of republican Italy

Tullio De Mauro investigates the evolution of Italian from the post-war period to today. A common language crossed by its regional variants. But that few master.

In ideal continuity with the pioneering work dedicated to the period from the Unification to the Sixties, this one Linguistic history of republican Italy continues the discourse and takes it up to the ten years of the 2000s. But this is not a simple update. When, in 1963, it came out Linguistic history of united Italy, the discipline was still in its infancy. The first history of the Italian language proper, in fact, had come out a few years earlier - in 1960 - under the care of Bruno Migliorini, one of the initiators of the historical-linguistic investigation actually focused on Italian. The methodologies and study tools were, in those years of experimentation, still to be defined and the "sociological" approach to investigate contemporary linguistics was anything but taken for granted. The structuralist method was making its entry into Italy at that time thanks, in particular, to it Tullio De Mauro, which will translate the Cours de linguistique générale by De Saussure in 1967, and to Cesare Segre who, after having introduced various and fundamental foreign essays, in 1969 will publish his The signs and criticism. first collection of structuralist semiological essays entirely conceived by a scholar born in Italy.

The new volume, therefore, fits into a rather advanced context of linguistic research and is fortunate to be able to make use of scientifically avant-garde tools, as well as methodologically varied. The contribution of sociolinguistics is now essential and synchronic dialectology has made great strides. Inevitable approaches because - in fact - it is linguistic history that we are dealing with and not a simple history of language.

Making extensive use of statistical tools - in particular, Italy in 150 years, the collection of historical statistics edited by ISTAT in 2011 - the study retraces the stages of an evolution viscerally linked to the social progress and resistance (as well as contradictions) of the last seventy years of Italian history: a feature that makes it a book designed for professionals but also easily usable and enjoyable from a wider audience.

Italy in the immediate post-war period was not, from a linguistic point of view, very different from the post-unification one: rampant illiteracy and the spread of dialectal monolingualism still made it rather backward on the social and national integration level. 1945 was a turning point not only from an institutional point of view. The creation of a substantial democracy is accompanied by a significant improvement in material conditions as well as by an increasingly massive spread of the written word. The rebirth of mass parties, the rooting of trade unions and sector associations, the birth and spread - starting from the 1950s - of television, the massive internal migration will make convergence towards the unitary language an increasingly essential factor, which it will be supported by the development of regional varieties of Italian. But, no matter how much it grew, reading will remain a rather restrained habit in our country and which, even now, represents one of the main factors of backwardness.

If, therefore, the linguistic path of democratic Italy towards a common language has been great and rapid (elsewhere it has been accomplished over centuries), the generalized and widespread acquisition of the linguistic (especially written) and cultural tools necessary for the citizens of an advanced country are still the preserve of a few. The problem always hinges on the same point, on which the well-known linguist has been hitting the nail for years (suffice it to recall the fortunate volume The culture of the Italians): returning illiteracy, which still today represents a rather eloquent datum, detected by all the surveys dedicated to the linguistic transformations of Italy.

"Linguistic history of republican Italy" by Tullio De Mauro (Editori Laterza, pp. 296, 20 euro, ebook 11.99 euro)

Published on CultWeek.