Venetian dialect at school: do we really want to “rinse Manzoni’s clothes” in the lagoon?

The League’s bill seen through the lens of the disheartening data from Invalsi and the history of Italian literature

The anniversary of Dante’s death has just ended and someone would already like to replace the reading of the Divine Comedy with The chiozzotte scuffles by Carlo Goldoni. In recent days, a bill has hit the headlines, presented to the Chamber by no less than 18 Northern League deputies, which aims to also include the Venetian dialect among the languages ​​of the minorities protected by article 6 of the Constitution (as happens for the Albanian, Germanic or French-speaking communities), amending a law (482/99) which protects linguistic minorities. As stated in the regulatory text, the objective is “to provide for the teaching of regional languages ​​in schools of all levels, with particular attention to kindergarten, so that the child can speak his mother tongue”. However, the Northern League’s claim should be contextualized more widely in the current crisis of the Italian language, which is a more complex theme, certainly not reducible to the folkloristic possibility of listening, for example, to the news in Veneto from the Adige to the Piave, on the basis to a paragraph of the same bill.

As we read in an essay by the great historian Carlo M. Cipolla, Education and development. The Decline of Illiteracy in the Western World, Italy reached in the 1990s a literacy rate similar to that of Prussia at the beginning of the 20th century. The data should be compared with what emerged in the recent news. I have repeatedly noted the deterioration of the language skills of Italian students, as certified by the INVALSI tests and by international tests such as the Pisa of the OECD. Despite countless complaints and sporadic interventions, the side effects of a school in great difficulty, on many fronts, but in our case in learning the Italian language, already produce the first disturbing effects: a record number of failures in the last judiciary contest, because the aspiring judges did not know how to write a text in Italian correctly . While the representatives of the executive and legislative powers are elected by the People to whom sovereignty belongs, the judiciary exercises the third power, selected through competitive examinations: in short, paradoxically, the very democratic stability of the Republic is at risk, if even today’s fifteen-year-olds , but citizens of tomorrow, struggle to understand a simple written text.

In this context evoked, the introduction of the Venetian dialect, on the basis of the Northern League’s bill, would pose not only didactic but also academic problems: what is a language compared to a dialect? However, let’s leave out this juncture, to follow more well-known paths, in remembering at least two famous examples of the history of Italian literature, one of the real glues of our motherland. Perhaps it occurs to few that one of the first to rewrite a masterpiece in Italian was Ludovico Ariosto: there were as many as three editions (or rewrites) of theOrlando Furiosowhose most evident modification, for the last version of 1532, is represented by the linguistic “normalization” based on the lesson of Prose of the vernacular tongue by Pietro Bembo, author – from Veneto – of the first “grammar” of the Italian language; in fact, Ariosto deliberately wanted to move away from the fifteenth-century koinè, founded on Lombardisms and Latinisms. Furthermore, as a reminder of his high school lessons, Alessandro Manzoni arrived in Tuscany in the summer of 1827, when he had already made two different drafts of the Betrothed: the first, the Fermo and Lucia, was, as he himself said, an «indigestible compound of phrases a little Lombard, a little Tuscan, a little French, a little Latin too»; the second, on the other hand, with the title that we all know, flaunted a less «mixed» language, generally Tuscan, obtained by consulting books and dictionaries. But the count, a perfectionist, decides to stay in Florence, for the famous “rinsing” in the Arno, that is, to adapt the novel to the language spoken by educated Florentines in the first decades of the nineteenth century, culminating with the definitive edition of the Promessi married (1840-1842). But if the Northern League proposal goes through, should we “rinse” our clothes in the Venetian lagoon?

November 22, 2022 (change November 22, 2022 | 09:42)

Venetian dialect at school: do we really want to “rinse Manzoni’s clothes” in the lagoon?