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Thread: How does Dante's language compare to modern Italian

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    How does Dante's language compare to modern Italian

    I am slowly reading through Inferno in the Penguin Kirkpatrick version which give the Italian text in parallel with the English translation. I know enough Italian to order a pizza and know which words in Dante correspond to the translation, but not enough to feel how different the grammar and the language are from modern Italian.

    I can read Chaucer, but I'm aware that it is not modern English. Because I don't really know modern Italian, I am not aware that Dante isn't modern, but clearly he isn't.

    Does a modern Italian reader find Dante's language as archaic as a modern English reader finds Chaucer?
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    I have wondered abut this, especially as I have heard that Italian regional dialects were very strong. The country only unified in the C19th. There is a sort of standard RP Italian which Italians learn at school and use if the want to be understood by Italians from other parts of the country. I knew someone from Sicily whose girlfriend was from the mountains in central Italy. He said they could not understand each other if they used their home dialects. I heard somewhere recently that the Sardinians 'ce' and 'ci' as 'ke' and 'ki' like the Romans, rather than as 'che' and 'chi' like other Italians.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    I've seen in Italian newagents dictionaries for different Italian dialects, Venetian, Neopolitan, Friulian and so on.

    The C19 standard was I believe based on Tuscan, partly because that was the language of Dante. So Dante is probably closer to standard modern Italian than its regional variants.

    My question is how close?
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    I did two or three years of Italian in evening classes, although I never got to a very high level. I had a look at a bit of Dante's Inferno. It did not look very different from modern Italian. I put it through Google translate and it translated most of the words into English. Some of the words it failed on were because they had apostrophes in odd places, like in ch'i, instead of chi. The words of the English translation were in rather an odd order, but that might be because it's poetic. I suspect Italians would have less difficulty with Dante than we would with Chaucer.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jackson Richardson View Post
    I've seen in Italian newagents dictionaries for different Italian dialects, Venetian, Neopolitan, Friulian and so on.

    The C19 standard was I believe based on Tuscan, partly because that was the language of Dante. So Dante is probably closer to standard modern Italian than its regional variants.

    My question is how close?
    Italian here. Yes, generally speaking Dante's language is closer to modern Italian than most of the dialects used today throughout the peninsula. That, obviously, doesn't mean that his works can be easily understood without proper preparation, but except for some words which have fallen into desuetude in modern Italian and for the poetic structures adopted in his poems which hinders one's comprehension, his Florentine dialect is pretty clear for us. As an example, in the first two tercets of Inferno, the only differences with modern Italian would be: esta instead of modern questa "that", rinova instead of rinnova "he/she/it renovates", i' instead of io "I" and that's it. Generally speaking, he uses archaic forms (obviously) of modern words which for the most part are totally understandable (like "thou hast" or "he giveth" would be for you): puote for modern può "he/she/it can", move for muove "he/she/it moves", loco for luogo "place" and so on.

    Now, if an Italian were to read a coeval poem from the famous Sicilian school (XIII century), like "Rosa fresca aulentissima", I can assure you that it'd be a real challenge, even though the only version of this poem that we have today is the one already "Italianised" by some Tuscan poets in the XIV century:


    Rosa fresca aulentis[s]ima ch’apari inver’ la state,
    le donne ti disiano, pulzell’ e maritate:
    tràgemi d’este focora, se t’este a bolontate;
    per te non ajo abento notte e dia,
    penzando pur di voi, madonna mia».

    Se di meve trabàgliti, follia lo ti fa fare.
    Lo mar potresti arompere, a venti asemenare,
    l’abere d’esto secolo tut[t]o quanto asembrare:
    avere me non pòteri a esto monno;
    avanti li cavelli m’aritonno.

    It looks totally different from modern Italian. Even a Neapolitan text (Lo guarracino) from the XVIII century is more difficult to understand for us than Dante's Tuscan:

    Lo Guarracino che jéva pe mare
    le venne voglia de se 'nzorare,
    se facette nu bello vestito
    de scarde de spine pulito pulito
    cu na perucca tutta 'ngrifata
    de ziarèlle 'mbrasciolata,
    co lo sciabò, scolla e puzine
    de ponte angrese fine fine.
    Cu li cazune de rezze de funno,
    scarpe e cazette de pelle de tunno,
    e sciammeria e sciammereino
    d'aleche e pile de voje marino,
    co buttune e bottunera
    d'uocchie de purpe, secce e fera,
    fibbia, spata e sciocche 'ndorate
    de niro de secce e fele d'achiate.

    I hope I was of some help. If you have any more questions or if you didn't fully understand my English, please feel free to ask!

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    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    I loved that post. I wish I knew more Italian to follow the comparison between the poems.
    "You can always find something better than death."
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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    Your English is fine! I'm not sure many modern English speakers, even here, know the meaning of "desuetude"!

    And thank you very much for taking the trouble to reply.
    Last edited by Jackson Richardson; 09-17-2016 at 10:54 AM.
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    Quote Originally Posted by Danik 2016 View Post
    I loved that post. I wish I knew more Italian to follow the comparison between the poems.

    I knew I should have provided a dialect/Italian/English version for each poem. Well, I guess I'll just do it now.

    Here is "rosa fresca aulentissima" in Italian.


    Rosa fresca profumatissima, che compari verso l’estate,
    le donne ti desiderano, ragazze o sposate:
    toglimi da questi fuochi, se è nella tua volontà;
    a causa tua non ho pace notte e dì,
    pensando sempre a voi, madonna mia.

    Se ti tormenti per me, la pazzia te lo fa fare .
    il mare potresti arare, ai venti seminare,
    gli averi di questo secolo, tutti radunare;
    avere me non potresti, in questo mondo;
    prima che i capelli io mi tagli.


    English:

    Man:

    "O lovely fragrant rose, born on a summer’s day,
    Thou dost both damozels and dames with envy sway,
    Out of this furnace flame, sweet, rescue me, I pray;
    From thoughts of thee Madonna, I ne’er cease,
    And day and night I am bereft of peace!"

    Woman:

    "If I be thy desire, foolish indeed art thou,
    Easier it were by far to strip of bark and bough
    All forests in the world, and sow the seas and plough,
    Than to subdue my heart, for ere ’twas done
    I would have shorn my hair off like a nun."


    Here is "Lo guarracino" in Italian:

    Alla castagnola che andava per mare
    venne voglia di sposarsi.
    Si mise un bel vestito
    di squame e di spine, pulito pulito,
    con una parrucca tutta imbottita
    di nastrini arrotolati,
    con il colletto, lo scialle di gola e polsini
    di punto inglese, fino fino.

    Con i calzoni di rete di fondo,
    scarpe e calzini di pelle di tonno
    e marsina con la coda
    di alghe e peli di bue marino,
    con bottoni e bottoniera
    di occhi di polipo, seppie e coregoni,
    fibbia, spada e ciocche indorate
    di nero di seppia e fiele di occhiata,


    And in English:

    "The Damselfish that swam in the sea
    Had decided to get married.
    He'd made a nice suit
    From sharp fish scales, very neat.
    He'd put on a curly wig
    Strewed with small cockle-shells,
    A collar, a shawl on the neck and wristbands
    Made of english silk, very thin.

    Fishing net trousers,
    Boots and socks from tuna skin,
    A cloak and a cape
    From algae and a dugong's bristle,
    With buttons and eyelets
    From the eyes of an octopus, a cuttlefish and a vendace,
    A buckle, a sword and gilded bands
    From cuttle's ink and saddle bream's bile."

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    And thank you very much for taking the trouble to reply.
    You're welcome!

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