Today I thought about writing an article to those of you travelling to Italy and learning the Italian language or knowing at least some basics of it. But maybe you don’t know the Accademia della Crusca yet. I know that the most of you will know at least a few words in Italian thanks to Italian music, Italian movies or its world famous cuisine. Maybe some of you have even learned it at school as a usual subject. But few people know about its dialecal diversity and how big the differences are between Piemonte in the north-west and Calabria in the south. And there are much more diverse dialects between these two topological extremes.
Differences between north and south
If you travel to different regions in Italy and you get to know better the country and its people you will notice a huge difference between north and south like anywhere else. If you remember one of my past articles about how to classify the Romance languages you will remember that there’s a line from La Spezia to Rimini dividing Italy linguistically in two pieces. For instance the word for watermelon is anguria in the north and cocomero in the south of Italy. In Naples they speak such a different dialect that they even claim having a separate language, culture and even literature than the rest of Italy. Sicilian is the same case and another reason why people in tend to distance themselves from the mainland. I suppose that you won’t notice so much local patriotism in any other country in the world like here. And of course there are stereotypes and prejuidices between north and south. North Italian people are seen as cold and arrogant while they say about the south being old-fashioned, conservative and too religious. However Sicily and Naples made Italy famous in the world through their cuisine and the canzone napoletana which has its origins in Naples.
Creating the oldest language academy
The city of Florence which was Italy’s most prestigious city and the ecomomic capital with its industry made an attempt to reunite all Italian regions linguistically. The standard language which you will find in all Italian dictionaries, textbooks and phrase books is based on the dialects spoken around Florence and Tuscany. Even the most important literature works like the Divine Comedy come from Florence. In the Uffizi in Florence you will find the three most important Italian writers Dante, Petrarca and Boccaccio which are called the three crowns of Italian literature or in Italian le tre corone della letteratura italiana. In 1528 in Florence the Accademia della Crusca has been founded which means the Academy of the Bran. There has been a similar academy before making a similar attempt but failing to reunite Italy linguistically. The Accademia della Crusca originally was nothing but a parody. The motto which their founders gave themselves is il più bel fior ne coglie which means to capture the best flower. They even gave themselves names which had to do with baking bread like Infarinato (The Floured) or Gramolato (The Crumbly). The theme of baking bread was a metaphory that you Need to keep the bran clean to get the best bread. The Accademia della Crusca wanted to keep the Italian language clean. However many Italian especially those living in the south started protesting against this kind of creating an artificial new language. Especially the Napoletan people complained that can express themselves better in their local dialect and the dialect of Florence and Tuscany sounds too starchy for them. A writer from the south of Italy wrote in a newspaper in the 16th century “…the words should serve the thoughts but not the thoughts the words”.
Language academies in other Romance countries
France and Spain are two other countries which followed the example of Italy and created their own language academies. In Paris it was the Académie Française which made a difference between spoken and written French. Spoken French adapted the language spoken in the royal house (“parler de la plus saine partie de la cour”) while written French adapted the language used by writers in the contemporary French literature (“écrire de la plus saine partie des auteurs du temps”). In France many people started criticizing the Académie Française for their old-fashioned conservatism though. In the Spanish city of Salamanca the Real Academia Española has been founded just to separate the Spanish language from foreign influences especially from French ones as the Spanish literature has been influenced by France. The Spanish founders gave themselves the motto limpia, fija y da esplendor which you can translate as cleaning, fixing the language and giving it splendour. And in the name of the academy you can see that it’s a royal one. Whenever you read real in Spanish names like for instance Real Madrid you can be sure that it belongs to the Spanish Royal House. And of course the first task all these academies tried to fulfil was publishing a grammar and a dictionary of their respective language.
I hope that after having read this article you will understand why the Romance nations care so much about their languages in comparison to other ones in the world!