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ART. VI.-1. Collezione di tutti i Poemi in lingua Napoletana. (Collection of Poems in the Neapolitan language.) 28 vol. 12mo. Napoli, 1783-8.
2. Collezione delle Opere in dialetto Napoletano, edita da G. De Simone. (Collection of Works in the Neapolitan dialect.) Vol. I.-III. Napoli, 1826. 8vo.
S. Poesie Siciliane dell' Abate Giovanni Meli. (Sicilian Poems by the Abbé G. Meli.) 7 vol. 12mo. Palermo, 1814.
ITALY has been, from the oldest times on record, a land of many races and of many tongues. Whether this be owing to its geographical position-holding out inducements to early colonization and foreign invasion-or to the nature of its configuration and surface, a long narrow peninsula divided by lofty ridges and rapid streams into many distinct regions, the fact is certain that the inhabitants of Italy in the extended acceptation of the name, (meaning the whole country between the Alps and the two seas,) never acknowledged a universal oral language. Before Rome's palmy days, the Veneti, the Gauls, the Liguri, the Etruscans, the Osci, the Samnites, the Brutii, the Siculi, and the colonies of Magna Græcia, all had peculiar idioms. Although Roman conquest spread far and wide the use of the language of Latium, which became every where the language of government, of correspondence, and of the educated people, yet the old provincial idioms were not thereby obliterated, and they can be traced as having been spoken even under the Cæsars. Latin was to the Roman empire what Arabic was afterwards to the vast and motley nations which acknowledged at one time the sway of the Caliphs. Even in Italy, it is more than doubtful whether, in the provinces remote from Rome, Latin ever became the common familiar language of the people. Cicero says himself, that the use of Latin was confined exiguis finibus.* Italy proper was considered by the Romans to extend northwards only as far as the Rubicon, and from thence along the chain of the Apennines to the river Macra, on the boundaries of Liguria. Within these limits it would appear as if Latin finally superseded the former idioms; and it is remarkable that in modern Italy also the same line marks the boundary on that side of the oral Italian. Although the language of Rome had become, under the Cæsars, the universal literary idiom of the empire, yet even the classical writers of the countries north of the Apennines appear to have yielded to a certain influence of the aboriginal dialects, and Patavinian, Veronese, and other idiotisms, were easily discernible
to the practised critics of Latium. That Latin was spoken and pronounced differently in the various provinces, and by the various classes of people, we have Cicero's authority for believing. That great orator recommended the urban pronunciation, certa vox Romani generis urbisque propria, alike removed from rustic coarseness and from foreign petulance and impertinence.*
After the repeated invasions of the northern tribes, Teutonic, Gothic, and Scythian idioms mixed themselves with the spoken dialects of Italy, especially in the great plains between the Alps and the Apennines, where at last the Longobards permanently settled. In central Italy, in Tuscany, Latium, and the Apennine districts, as far as the Abruzzi, the invaders did not establish their fixed residence; the language of these regions, therefore, which from the proximity to Rome had already merged into Latin, was less disfigured with barbarisms, and gradually transformed itself into that modern dialect, the legitimate offspring of the Latin, which was afterwards called Tuscan or Italian, whilst in the north the spoken dialects, that were originally foreign to the Latin, became still further estranged from it by fresh Transalpine admixtures. This accounts for the peculiar features that pervade all the dialects of northern Italy, with the exception of the Venetian, (Venice was a sort of colony of Rome,) such as truncated terminations, abundance and harshness of consonants, nasal sounds, and that unharmonious pronunciation of certain vowels, especially the u, which Alfieri, himself a Subalpine, so strongly reprobated, all features which separate by a strong line of demarcation the dialects of the north from those of the rest of Italy, and give to the former a distinct foreign appearance.
To the south of the Apennines we have Tuscany and the Roman states, where the spoken idiom bears to the written one an affinity similar to that existing between the written and the oral French or English. The country people and the lower orders, especially in the Roman provinces, make use of vulgarisms, and have peculiarities of pronunciation, which are not, however, sufficient to constitute a separate dialect; but in the city of Rome the language of the educated classes is remarkably pure, and the pronunciation soft and liquid. The Florentine has been called the Attic, and the Roman may be called the Ionic of modern Italy. The oral Italian extends as far as the frontiers of Naples, it even penetrates into the Abruzzi round the shores of the lake of Celano and as far as Aquila, where it is spoken nearly the same as in the Roman territory. In short, from Abruzzo to the frontiers of Bologna and Modena, and thence to the Gulf of La Spezia, the people may be said to acknowledge one common
De Oratore, lib. iii. cap. 12.
idiom, interspersed here and there by provincialisms, as occurs in every country.
But matters alter as we advance into the kingdom of Naples; there we find ourselves again in a country of dialects, unintelligible to the unpractised Tuscan or Roman, as well as to the foreigner who is acquainted only with the written Italian. The Neapolitan, along the coast of the Mediterranean, and the Apulian, (Pugliese) in the provinces towards the Adriatic, are languages as old as, if not older than, the Tuscan. Galiani, in his treatise on the Neapolitan dialect, demonstrates its antiquity, and its formation from the Latin and Greek dialects that were spoken in southern Italy under the Romans, mixed afterwards with Provençal, Norman, and other ultramontane idioms introduced at the various invasions. Matteo Spinello wrote in the 13th century his History of Frederic II. in a language which, although resembling at times the infant Italian used by the courtiers of that monarch, cannot be styled otherwise than Neapolitan. This dialect was used at the court of the Anjou kings. We have a letter written in Neapolitan by Boccaccio, while at the court of Joanna, to his friend Francesco Bardi, where it appears that that great Tuscan writer so much relished the humour and naiveté of the dialect, that he was for some time in doubt whether to write his tales in it; had he done so, the fate of the Neapolitan language might have been materially altered. As it was, the Neapolitan continued to be used at the court of Alfonso and the other Aragonese kings; and when in the 16th century Tuscan obtained the supremacy as a literary language, as the language of good society all over the peninsula, the vernacular idiom of Naples still continued to be the common medium of conversation in that kingdom. In the seventeenth century it was cultivated by poets of no despicable parts, and thus became a written language, whilst its cognate the Pugliese remained confined as a mere vulgar dialect within the narrow provincial limits of the Adriatic districts, its literary productions being only a few trifling ephemeral compositions. The Pugliese is, however, introduced in the Neapolitan farces as the Yorkshire or Somersetshire dialects are on the English stage; it is best spoken in its vernacular purity by the people of Bisceglia. In some villages of Puglia, dialects of Greek and Albanian are also spoken. On the gulf of Taranto an admixture of Sicilian is perceivable, and it continues throughout Calabria, the dialects of that province forming a medium between Neapolitan and Sicilian. During the last century, when Naples became again a separate kingdom under a branch of the Bourbons, and the national spirit seemed for a time to revive the Neapolitan language, which had been neglected for a long period under the accumulated
misfortunes of the country, again resumed its rank as the language of poetry, of wit and humour, and of the popular drama. The late King Ferdinand, the first native King of Naples since the time of the Aragonese, delighted from early habits in the company of his countrymen, and showed a strong predilection for their vernacular tongue, the raciness and broad humour of which he particularly enjoyed. He continued to speak it to the end of his long life. The French invasion, however, and the reactions, proscriptions, and miseries of all kinds that followed at the close of last century, had the effect of silencing even Neapolitan garrulity, and the popular dialect felt the influence of the evil day.
Since the peace and the restorations of 1814-15, attempts have been made in the north as well as in the south to revive the cultivation of dialect literature. This bias has been deprecated by many, and especially by Tuscan writers, as being antinational, and as tending to keep the Italians disunited at a time when other circumstances seemed to countenance a general approximation of principles and feelings in the various populations of the peninsula. The long occupation of the French had, by the forced and overbearing intrusion of their language, awakened the patriotism of the Italians in favour of the beautiful idiom of their great classical writers, of the lovely Tuscan language; and Napoleon himself at last consented that in those provinces of Italy which he had annexed to the French empire, extending to Rome inclusively, Italian might be used in the courts of justice, and in the acts of government, simultaneously with French, whilst in the two kingdoms of Italy and of Naples, the former had never ceased to be the ministerial language. But French was the lauguage of the rulers, of the court and its adherents, the fashionable language in short,-while the official Italian, at all times distorted, and often ungrammatical, out of the limits of central Italy, became sadly disfigured by a large infusion of Gallicisms.* After the overthrow of the French empire, a reaction in this as in other matters took place, and Lombards, Venetians, Genoese, and Neapolitans, all feeling ashamed of the barbarous jargon they had so long made use of, acknowledged the necessity of a return to pure models of writing and of speech. All confessed. that the conventional gibberish current till then was not Italian. But the question was, where to look for a living specimen of the national language. That of the old classics appeared somewhat
⚫ Such words as percezioni, trattamenti, chittanza, burò, contabilità, arrangiare, piaz-, zare, abbonare, and phrases like vengo di dire, sul campo, arrivare for accadere, and numerous other vile barbarisms of like coinage, were then current in Italian documents and correspondence.
VOL. V. NO. IX.
cramped and unmanageable for modern prose. The writers of the eighteenth century, most valuable for the importance of their subjects and the perspicuity with which they had treated them, were, with few brilliant exceptions, infected with neologisms, with foreign idioms and constructions. What was to be done? The only part of Italy where an idiom analogous to that of the classics was the oral language of the people, was Tuscany; and we might add, Rome. That idiom suited all the purposes, satisfied all the social wants of an intelligent and refined population; here was the living fount from which to draw. To Tuscany, therefore, to its writers and to its people, the most judicious among the Italians turned their attention, as Alfieri had done, before them, and the result has certainly been beneficial to Italian literature and to the spoken Italian used by the educated classes. all over the peninsula. An opposition, however, manifested itself to this acknowledgment of Tuscan supremacy, especially at Milan; and it was headed by the talented but irascible Monti, and by his son-in-law Perticari. They were offended at the assumed superiority of the Florentines, a superiority which the latter asserted with perhaps too much self-complacency, whilst their antagonists stoutly maintained that the Italian language, the language of Dante and Petrarch, was totally different from the oral Tuscan, which last could only be considered as one of the many dialects of the peninsula. It was from all the dialects that the writers of the 13th and 14th centuries formed the written language, and from all the dialects it ought to be recruited still, to supply new wants." The Lombards, therefore, proposed to this effect an amphictyonic council of all the learned of Italy, in order to compose a new dictionary; that of La Crusca being wholly inadequate to the increased wants of a modern nation, besides being replete with Florentine idiotisms.
We by no means intend here to discuss this much debated. point, which has excited so much literary animosity in the peninsula, but which luckily seems now somewhat calined. We have already stated the sober facts concerning the origin of the written Italian, and its indubitable affinity with the oral Tuscan. That the northern and southern dialects of Italy are at least as old as either, is also an indisputable truth, as much as that they have. remained greater strangers to the formation of the literary idiom, owing to the circumstance of the first great writers being chiefly Tuscans, and also to the superior harmony and elegance of the Tuscan language. It is also undeniable that the substance of the dialects is, in a great measure, a corrupt Latin, and that therefore they have all a considerable affinity with the Tuscan and the written Italian; although, owing to the disfigured orthography and pronunciation, this affinity is not at first so evident.