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Compare the strategies proposed by Manzoni and Ascoli for promoting the use of Italian among the masses, and evaluate their validity in light of the subsequent developments which took place between the 19th and 20th centuries.

Compare the strategies proposed by Manzoni and Ascoli for promoting the use of Italian among the masses, and evaluate their validity in light of the subsequent developments which took place between the 19th and 20th centuries.

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Sarah-Anne Smyth. Originally submitted for BA Italian and Spanish at University College Dublin, with lecturer Dr Paolo Acquaviva in the category of Languages & Linguistics
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Sarah-Anne Smyth. Originally submitted for BA Italian and Spanish at University College Dublin, with lecturer Dr Paolo Acquaviva in the category of Languages & Linguistics

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
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03/04/2014

 
1
Abstract on essay about the history of the Italian language
This essay was submitted as part of a Stage 2 Italian Studies module entitled The Story of Italian 2. The task of the essay was to examine the proposals of two leading figures in 19
th
 century Italy on how to encourage the spread of the Italian language amongst the massesand to discuss the validity of their proposals given the diffusion of the language whichsubsequently took place.The essay is developed along the following points:Background details to the argument and why it had arisen; Alessandro Manzoni and hisproposals; Graziadio Ascoli and his counter-proposals; why their proposals differed;historical context; historical and socio-economic changes in Italy from post-unification tosecond half of the 20
th
century; linguistic consequences of these events in 20
th
century;conclusion that neither Ascoli nor Manzoni could ever have foreseen the changes that wereto occur in Italy in the 20
th
century and their linguistic consequences
but that Ascoli’s ideaswere more in line than Manzoni’s with what had occurred.
As evidenced in this essay, a strong awareness of the historical and political context was
crucial to understanding why Manzoni’s and Ascoli’s proposals differed as well as t
o whycertain historical and socio-economic changes led to linguistic unification. This essay aims to
discuss in an historically contextualised manner why neither Manzoni nor Ascoli’s proposals
could have been adequate to deal with the extent of the socio-linguistic changes thatoccurred in Italy in the 20
th
century, particularly in the latter half of the century.
 
2
The Story of Italian 2
Compare the strategies proposed by Manzoni and Ascoli for promoting the use of Italian among the masses, and evaluate their validity in light of the subsequent developments which took place between the 19
th
and 20 
th
centuries.
 ___________________________________________________________________________
 
Pietro Bembo’s 1525 treatise
Prose della volgar lingua
and his widely accepted ideals of what constitutes literary language resulted in a unified literary language. The foundation of the
 Accademia
 
della Crusca
in 1583 and the subsequent publishing of the first dictionary(
Vocabolario)
in 1612 further reiterated Bem
bo’s ideas and ensured continuity of the
puristic approach to the Italian language. However, the
Questione della lingua
was not putto rest and was again the centre of much debate amongst intellectuals and writers,especially in the 18
th
and early 19
th
centuries. In light of the rise of nationalist ideologies andnationalist identities in other European states at the time, and in particular in the aftermathof the French Revolution, the debate over Italian language also became a debate overpolitics and self-determination as well as language and literature.The Milanese writer Alessandro Manzoni (1785-1873), an advocate of Italian Romanticism,aspired to offer a new kind of 
italiano
that would be accessible to a wide readership as hebelieved that the traditional and puristic views of the
 Accademia della
 
Crusca
offered nosuch language.
Manzoni’s final version of 
I promessi sposi 
(1840) was intended to be anexample of how to extend knowledge of the Italian language to a wider audience. Manzoniwas aware of the large gap between literary language and the vernacular of people across
‘Italy’
but his novel
I promessi sposi 
was more radical in terms of its content regarding thelives of ordinary people than for its linguistic influence.At the time of political unification in 1861, the estimated number of speakers of Italian inItaly was 2.5%
1
of the twenty-five million inhabitants. Levels of illiteracy were high at 78%
2
.
1
 
Richardson, B.,
Questions of language
,
The Cambridge Companion to Modern Italian
 
Culture
, pp 64
 
 
3
Italy was now politically united but linguistically divided and so the
Questione della lingua
 was no longer a debate about literature and ideologies: it was now a pressing concern forthe newly formed state about the best way of extending knowledge of 
italiano
to themasses. In 1867, the Minister for Education, Emilio Broglio, appointed a commission headedby Manzoni and Lambruschini to enquire into the best possible way of making Italian knownto all Italian people. In response, Manzoni outlined in his 1868 report entitled
Dell’unit 
àdella lingua e dei mezzi di diffonderla
his belief that Italian had to become a vernacularspoken all over Italy, that the common language of Italy should not be based on literarytradition but on a living tongue, and for this he proposed contemporary spoken Florentine.Manzoni argued that a language not in full use was dead and that a language for all Italianpeople should be based on the language of educated Florentine speakers rather than onliterary tradition. In order to diffuse contemporary spoken Florentine, Manzoni suggestedthe use of a dictionary of contemporary Florentine usage and also proposed the educationsystem as the starting point for linguistic reform. The
Novo vocabolario della
 
lingua italianasecondo
l’uso di Firenze
was the new dictionary that followed;
however, Manzoni’s ideas
were ill-equipped for the social conditions and illiteracy levels in the newly unified Italy.
One of the many opponents to Manzoni’s
proposals and new dictionary was the linguistGraziadio Ascoli (1829-1907) who was against the idea of imposing a new model. Ascoliargued that the spread of Italian should be connected with its use as a common medium butthat the social conditions did not yet exist for the whole of Italy to adopt a new language. Inhis periodical
 Archivio glottologico italiano
(1873), Ascoli addressed the impracticalities of 
Manzoni’s proposals
and illustrated his opposition to the idea of overturning the long-established literary tradition in favour of a new Florentine one which was unfamiliar to themajority of educated people. Ascoli also argued that the traditional literary language, asoutlined by Bembo three centuries earlier, should be the basis of the Italian language for allpeople but that its diffusion as a national vernacular would only come about throughimprovements and changes in society and education. Ascoli used the example of the word
novo
instead of 
nuovo
as an example of the impracticalities proposed by Manzoni and also
2
 
Richardson, B.,
Questions of language
,
The Cambridge Companion to Modern Italian
 
Culture
, pp 65
 

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