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The Accademia della Crusca in Italy: past and present


Arturo Tosi
"Language Policy", The Accademia della Crusca: past and present, 2011, 10 (4), p. 289-303, di Arturo Tosi

Diffondiamo, in una versione ridotta, The Accademia della Crusca: past and present di Arturo Tosi, originariamente pubblicato su "Language Policy", Springer, 2011, vol. 10 (4), p. 289-303

L'articolo ripercorre la storia dell'Accademia della Crusca dalla fondazione agli anni delle presidenze di Giovanni Nencioni e Giacomo Devoto, ricostruendo le tappe dell'opera lessicografica e sottolineandone l'importanza all'interno di una prospettiva storico-linguistica. L'autore è docente di sociolinguistica presso l'Università degli Studi di Siena.

Most Italians still associate the name of the Accademia della Crusca with a mission to safeguard the best models of the Italian language. Indeed, many believe that the purest form of their national language is spoken in Florence, where the academy has its headquarters. Certainly for most Europeans who are well acquainted with Italy, old Florentine developed into modern Italian not so very differently from the way in which their own national language emerged; i.e. through hegemonic use by the ruling classes and the cultural prestige of one variety – usually that spoken in the capital – ensuring that it was gradually elevated to become the ‘standard’ form. However, the Italian linguistic situation is very different from that of other major European nations and is quite unique in Europe for a number of reasons (Tosi, 2005). First, the political unification of Italy did not take place until the middle of the nineteenth century (Barański and West, 2001). Second, the so-called ‘dialects’ of Italy are, in fact, Romance languages in their own right and not varieties of standard Italian (Maiden and Parry, 1997). Third, the transformation of Florentine into Italian, and its diffusion against a background of linguistic diversity in the Peninsula, has been a long and difficult process (De Mauro, 1970).


The debate about which models would be appropriate for a language, rich in multi-regional literature but without a national community of speakers, has lasted four centuries, from the Renaissance until Unification, and took the name of the questione della lingua (Richardson, 2001). Although the dispute appeared to be academic in nature, in practice it involved scholars and scientists from a variety of different disciplines. So much so that the philosopher and politician Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937), pointing out the deep cultural and social issues involved in these discussions, summarised the disputes with the famous comment: “Every time the question of the language surfaces, in one way or another, it means that a series of other problems are coming to the fore: the formation and enlargement of the governing class, the need to establish more intimate and secure relationships between the governing groups and the national-popular mass, in other words to reorganize the cultural hegemony” (Gramsci, 1929-35).


Since its foundation, the Crusca Academy has had a leading role in this process, imposing a rigid linguistic purism based on Florentine; its original programme wasinformed by a concept of language purity selecting only the best models from the past for literature (Woodhouse, 1995). In the following centuries, however, when new demands for a common language, both written and spoken, shared by the entire people of Italy, were combined with the idea of national unity, it inevitably attracted criticism from those who saw the natural evolution of language constrained by the straightjacket of anachronistic norms. This explains the wealth of derivatives from the name Crusca, introduced to deride the pedantic attitudes of the academy (cruscare, cruscheggiare, cruscata, cruscheria) or the affected language of its academicians (cruschesco, cruschevole, cruscantissimo, cruscaio, cruscante, cruscheggiante) (Battaglia, Grande Dizionario della Lingua Italiana, 1964).


The first dictionary of any modern language


Today we need to contextualise the origin of the Accademia della Crusca, in the days of the Italian Renaissance, when convivial pleasures and intellectual exercises were the common pursuit of learned societies (Chambers and Quiviger, 1995). Many of these urban academies were created in Tuscany and their members often adopted ironic denominations such as the Intronati (the Bewildered Ones, in Siena) and the Umidi (the Wet Ones, in Florence). In 1582, five members of the latter decided to form a new society, calling themselves Crusconi, i.e. people with a passion for cruscate (nonsense). However, the direction of their programme changed, once they admitted Lionardo Salviati, a distinguished literato who was a great admirer of Boccaccio and an author of a treatiseon Florentine. Salviati was convinced that the superior softness of this language (dolcezza incomparabile) gave such a supreme pleasure (dilettazione) to all those who spoke it that it would soon spread throughout the Italian Peninsula as a matter of consensus rather than coercion (imperio).


When Salviati persuaded his fellow academicians to adopt this linguistic vision, he also succeeded in changing their name from Crusconi to Accademici della Crusca (from a diary entry by Pietro de’ Bardi (1582) quoted by Migliorini, 1960). This new name was more pertinent to their mission, as the symbolism suggested that good language is like flour obtained by removing the chaff (crusca) from the grain, i.e. by refining it. Under the leadership of Salviati, the Crusca Academy embarked upon a work programme consisting of a careful inventory of Florentine, taking as models the texts of the most acclaimed writers of the past, mainly Petrarch for poetry and Boccaccio for prose.


This approach adhered to the thesis put forward by Pietro Bembo from Venice, whose preference for archaic Tuscan had dominated the debate in the previous century for two reasons. On the one hand, the great Tuscan writers of the past were considered indisputably the most elegant. On the other hand, because of the declining cultural prestige of Tuscany, the language of the new generation of Tuscan writers no longer elicited the same respect in the other cultural centres of Italy. The language codified by the academy had to be learnt through study, just like Latin was learnt by imitating classics: something that was normal at a time when writers did not write for the common people, and the common people did not read works of literature. Carlo Dionisotti, one of the greatest scholars of Italian, describing the cultural atmosphere of Florence when the Accademia della Crusca was set up, concluded that the Tuscan language did not actually conquer the rest of Italy, rather the rest of Italy conquered the Tuscan linguistic heritage in order to regulate it (1967).


Salviati died in 1589 but his project “del modo di fare un vocabolario” (‘how to compile a vocabulary’) was formalised in 1591 and, a year later, some 1300 entries for the letter ‘A’had already been completed. After two decades, during which some fifty literati and academics alternated between methodological discussions and the work of selecting and defining entries, the first great dictionary devoted to any modern language was published in Venice (1612). The aim of the dictionary “was not to present the usage of writers and of cultured people objectively, but to provide the norm to which this minority should conform in their writings” (Lepschy and Lepschy, 1977). A second edition followed in 1623, also published in Venice and this, too, was consistent with the principle of not including contemporary writers, either Tuscan or those writing in Tuscan from other regions. More significant was the positive attitude towards the language of science and, in particular, the neologisms of Galileo Galilei, a member of the academy himself from 1605. Committed to the use of Italian rather than Latin to reach a wider audience, the scientist was not involved in the writing of new entries but he was consulted by the editors for the definitions of new words, e.g. meccanico (mechanic), occhiali (spectacles), cannocchiale (telescope). That the new edition was still bound by archaic choices was evident in the exclusion of the works of one of the most popular Renaissance poets, Torquato Tasso: not a Tuscan himself, but a brilliant writer of that language, whose Gerusalemme Liberata was celebrated as a masterpiece throughout Europe.


The work for the third edition began in 1641 and soon afterwards the cardinal Leopoldo de' Medici, patron of the academy and an academician himself, suggested the insertion of new scientific and nautical termsincluding those from all arts and crafts. However, it is reported that having gathered several painters to name the full range of colours, they were unable to agree on the appropriate terms. When the third edition came out in 1691, it was printed in three volumes in Florence, and it finally incorporated some entries from the language of contemporary writers - such as the great Tasso - but the method of compilation was still controversial. One of the most innovative academicians, Lorenzo Magalotti, feared that prescribing words and forms which were obsolete in speech seemed ridiculously affected: he felt that only cultivated spoken Tuscan should play a central role. Indeed, he proposed a classification system which separated entries into those from archaic language, those in popular usage and those more suitable for poetry; but his suggestion came too late and could not be incorporated without upsetting the selection and description methodology already adopted. His vision of lexicography, however, was both constructive and innovative: “il Vocabolario non serve solamente per i toscani, ma per i romani, i milanesi, i napoletani, i franzesi, gli svizzeri e gli indiani ancora” (quoted by Migliorini, 1960).


With ‘indiani’, Magalotti referred to the New World across the ocean but, as far as Europe was concerned, he was most impressed by the knowledge of Italian in Vienna, where he stayed in 1675, discovering that there was no gentleman who could not speak “correntemente e perfettamente l’italiano” (Folena, 1983). Already at the end of the seventeenth century, however, linguists in Italy were divided between those who argued that Tuscan models - with or without inclusion of contemporary writers - should play a central role in the standard; and others who felt that a common language should be able to draw on non-Tuscan forms. It is significant that the target language of their discussion was named sometime ‘Florentine’, sometime ‘Tuscan’, though increasingly more often ‘Italian’. Despite its limits and exclusions, no other modern language had, at the end of the seventeenth century, a dictionary that could compete with the Vocabolario degli Accademici della Crusca.


The debate about a common language without national unity


The Vocabolario was the first example of a modern dictionary in Europe and acted as the model for the great dictionaries of France, Spain, Portugal, England and Germany. However, a comparison between the dictionary of the Accademia della Crusca and that of the Académie in France (1694) shows two independent conceptions, reflecting the diverse evolution of French, compared to Italian, and the different linguistic situation in that country. In France, a language academy was specifically ordained by the monarchy, with a view to reorganising the resources of language in accordance with the criteria of clarity and propriety. When Richelieu created the Académie in 1634, its remit was to standardise the French language for the production of literary works. However, after an attempt to adopt the purist approach of the Italian Vocabolario, the French academicians turned to describing contemporary use, with examples chosen by themselves, rather than taking a selection of literary texts from the past as models (Nencioni, 1986).


If the Italian approach, inspired by purism, favoured the literary models of the past, this was justified primarily by the fact that they were the only ones available to the literate elites throughout the Peninsula (Richardson, 2002). Indeed, three centuries later, the language was still understood by anyone who was able to read and write. In France, however, the common written language had evolved during the same three centuries under the strong influence of the spoken language, obviously becoming more innovative and less codified, and the priority of regulating and promoting an acceptable standard became political as much as academic.


In eighteenth-century Italy, the purist position of the Crusca was increasingly attacked by scientists and scholars who, under the influence of the Enlightenment, made explicit claims for a more natural and less controlled use of the common language. Discussions about how the norms of languages develop within a culture and about what makes the true qualities of a language occupied the best part of that century, and took the form of a true querelle about the supremacy of Italian or French. Francesco Algarotti (1750) a great admirer of France (“nazione grande e unita”) and a bilingual writer himself, stressed how the Académie had helped overcome the vagueness, redundancies, disharmony and cacophony of French. He felt, however, that although the Académie had given the French people a grammar, it had taken away its poetry and rhetoric. He wasalsosure of the fact that if French had the quality of a language that was both rational when written and elegant for conversation, this was because, unlike Italian, its modern use underwent a careful process of normalization aimed at keeping it rich, without heterogeneity and pure without affectation. The point of “ricca senza etereogeneità e pura senza affettazione” was made in a letter written in 1746 to Voltaire, someone who was even more critical about the disadvantages of French and the advantages of Italian (“Quelle profusion d’images chez les Anglais et chez les Italiens! Mais ils sont libres, ils font de leur langue tout ce qu’ils veulent.” from a letter by Voltaire to Deodati dated 1761 and quoted by Puppo, 1957).


Voltaire, himself a member of the Crusca Academy and much concerned about the difficulties in finding  “la rime nécessaire à notre foible poésie”, was not the only French author who felt constricted by the ‘golden prison’ of his native language. Rousseau also preferred the syntactic freedom of Italian language to the the ‘ordre didactique’ of French and Diderot felt that having lost the inversions of Italian, French had gained in “nettetté, clarté, precision”but no longer hadchaleur, eloquence, énergie” (1751). In the grand siècle, the political power and cultural prominence of France was becoming very influential everywhere, and equally unrivalled in Europe was the leadership of the French language. To the Encyclopaedists, besides French, the other langues de culture were Italian and English, while Spanish increased in importance later, and German was seen as a language that was not very prominent and itinerant by nature (L’allemand est pour les soldats et pour les chevaux, il n’est pas  nécessaire que pour la route, Voltaire quoted by Folena, 1983). The concept of a relationship between the “génie de la langue” and the “caractère de la nation” began to emerge and inspire distinctions between languages characterised by an ordo artificialis and an ordo naturalis. The former, rich in inversions, were most suited to recreating images; the latter could rely on a direct construction to convey rational analyses.


Towards the middle of the eighteenth century, there was an increasing awareness of the diverse challenges faced by the Crusca Academy in Italy and theAcadémie in France. A new question began to emerge: was Tuscan a modern language or not? For Algarotti a common language for literature in a country which was not a nation was “ni vivante ni morte”. In the second half of the century, the increased interest of many Italian scholars in foreign literatures led them to revisit the advantages and disadvantages of modern languages, but their perceptions were much less dominated by a rigid evaluation of their structural limits and the national spirit of their speakers. One of them, the polyglot Giuseppe Baretti, claimed that a ‘natural style’ was inherent in all languages and concluded provocatively that “any language is beautiful in the hand of those who know how to use it” (quoted by Puppo, 1957).


In the meantime, the Accademia had produced the fourth edition of the Vocabolario, persisting in its archaic tendency, with the exclusion not only of neologisms from other languages but also of the language of Italian authors other than the classical Tuscans (even Tasso who had already been admitted in the previous edition). In defence of these models of Italian, the academicians argued that the Vocabolario, which included 44,000 entries, had four thousand more entries than Samuel Johnson’s English dictionary and that of the French Académie. Baretti, who had founded a polemical journal called La Frusta Letteraria (The Literary Whip), challenged this argument, pointing out that the dictionaries of these languages included words in use, whereas anyone who consulted the Italian Vocabolario neither knew nor used the vast majority of the listed words. He concluded (1765) that that particular type of language was perhaps suitable to the character of an academician in a comic comedy but could not form the prestigious language that was required by Italy.


Criticism of the lexicographical criteria adopted by the Crusca Academy was spreading and the period between the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century was marked by serious decline in its prestige. In 1783, the academy was suppressed for the next two decades, until Napoleon gained control of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, one of the last independent states of Italy, and made his sister its Queen in 1809. French became the new official language of the kingdom for legislative activities but a limited official role was assigned to Italian in some sectors of the public administration. A decree issued in Paris awarded 500 napoleons eachTuscan author whose work contributed to the promotion of the purity of Italian, based on Florentine. Two years later a new decree authorised the resumption of the activities of the old language academy. For the first half of the new century, the activities of the Crusca Academy waned, like those of many other Florentine academies, until political events prompted a new impetus. The language academyimmediately absorbed the revolutionary spiritsupporting the unification of Italy. Many academicians were promoters of a new Italian identity closely related to the idea of a common language. Amongst them were the historian Gino Capponi, the poet Giuseppe Giusti, the novelist and lexicographer Niccolò Tommaseo, the philosopher Giuseppe Gioberti and the dramatist Giovanni Battista Niccolini.



The spread of the national language after unification


If the political events that led to a united Italy gave new impetus to the Crusca Academy, the actual unification of the country (1861) provided the occasion for the completion of the first volume of the fifth edition (letter ‘A’). It came out in 1863 with a dedication to Vittorio Emanuele di Savoia, the first king of Italy. Three years later, the second volume was printed and the third one was underway. Public interest in the language academyincreased when the Italian capital moved from Turin to Florence (1865), until Rome was taken from the Pope and became the capital of the new state (1871). The choice of Florence, however, was one of political convenience and quite unrelated to any linguistic considerations. In Florence,Tommaseo stressed the social and political significance of the Vocabolario, in a memorable public speech “About the unity of the Italian language” (1865). Paradoxically, however, the language debate in those days was not so much inspired by the discussions within the language academy, at that time engaged in another edition of the Vocabolario, as by the debate between the leading writer of the time, Alessandro Manzoni and Graziadio Isaia Ascoli, the greatest linguist Italy has ever had.


Manzoni, a Milanese himself, was an enthusiastic supporter of Florentine becoming the national language. He wrote I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed, 1840) modelling its language on everyday usage of the educated Florentine middle-classes. However, his literary experience was atypical, as he was a writer interested in language as a social phenomenon: his proposal that the Italian education authorities should enforce the adoption of spoken Florentine was not determined by purist choices. He subscribed to the liberal philosophy that it was better and more practical to teach a language that was actually spoken somewhere in the national community, rather than the lifeless models of a language that survived only in the literary tradition. Ascoli, however, pointed out the limitations of Manzoni’s ideas and the impracticality of attempting to use the school system to teach a language that was alien to the vast majority of Italians (1873). He was critical not only of the view that contemporary Florentine usage should be adopted by all Italians but also that one main vehicle for its diffusion should be - as Manzoni suggested - the compilation of a dictionary for schools.


Manzoni’s vision gained considerable support throughout Italy, mainly because of his literary prestige and patriotic commitment,and not only from scholars and writers but also from ordinary middle-class people who adopted the fashion of ‘toscaneggiare’. However, the trend to imitate modern Florentine was not in favour for very long. A popular novelist, Edmondo De Amicis, in the preface of a book on the Italian language (L’idioma gentile, 1905) recorded in Florence no less than ten expressions for describing the crunching sound made when eating freshly baked bread, excluding two further expressions recorded in Florentine dictionaries as ‘current usage’, but not heard by anyone in Florence. The direction taken by the debate prompted the philosopher and critic Benedetto Croce to comment that De Amicis’ book should be definitely “the last manifestation of the questione della lingua” (cited by Lepschy and Lepschy, 1977), and concluded by drawing attention to the pejorative meaning the term toscaneggiare was acquiring, as a way of speaking Italian outside Tuscany.


In the meantime, the Accademia della Crusca, which was still absorbed in the defence of the Tuscan literary but archaic models, published a few more volumes in the decade 1889-99. Five more years were needed for the letter ‘M’ to be completed (1906) and another five for the letter ‘N’ (1911). The First World War (1915-18) interrupted the plan of integrating the main literary project with a dictionary of terms in common use (Vocabolario dell’Uso) and dictionaries of dialects (Vocabolarj dei Dialetti). These had been announced in 1915, with the argument that the description of the national language cannot ignore the vibrant reality of dialects (Accademia della Crusca, 1915). However, in the turbulent years after the war, only the tenth volume, the letter ‘O’, came out, and political events led to an unfavourable climate for the defence of Florentine. The inevitable alienation of most Italians from the modern Tuscan variety increased criticism of the work of the Crusca Academy, ranging from liberal quarters (including Croce himself) to the new rapidly expanding nationalistic front of Fascism. In 1923, the Minister of Education in the new Fascist government, Giovanni Gentile, discontinued financial support for the language academy, with the injunction that all unpublished materials were to be sent to Rome to contribute to a new official dictionary of the Italian language.


In line with Ascoli’s prediction and Croce’s aspiration, the spread of Italian as a common language was making the debate about its precise nature increasingly irrelevant, as attention was now focused on actual use rather than correct norms. Typically, the Fascist government introduced the most authoritarian attempt to influence language use by means of reforming all public services, manipulating institutional voices and controlling the propaganda channels. Their first initiative was to suppress a reform designed to introduce dialects and folk literature into schools as a basis for more effective teaching of the national language. Even stronger measures were applied to eradicate historic minority languages, which gradually lost their status as the media of instruction in those border areas inhabited by speakers of other languages. A campaign against foreign borrowings was also introduced in the early days of the dictatorship but it reached extreme forms in the late 1930s when it produced a full programme of Italianisation assigned to the state Accademia d’Italia (1940). Its Commissione per l’Italianità della Lingua (Commission for the Purity of the Italian Language) produced alternative spellings or designations for 1555 foreign words or phrases. The reforms of the Fascist government, however, changed the rhetorical style of the regime rather than the everyday language of ordinary people. This is demonstrated by the substantial survival of dialects, by the unfruitful attempt to replace the allocutionary pronoun lei with voi and the unsuccessful initiative to give spoken Italian not orthodox Florentine pronunciation, but rather that of Rome, the capital of the Empire and centre of its political life (“lingua toscana in bocca romana”, i.e. “Tuscan tongue in Roman mouth” was a Renaissance slogan revived under the Fascist regime).

Under the Fascist government, the activities of the Crusca were limited to some philological projects but the language academywas reborn at the end of the Second World War, when the Allies’ military government appointed some distinguished scholars to it with a view to reinstituting its original remit. Migliorini became its President in 1949, having already established his reputation for more than two decades, as one of the most active and influential linguists, with a wide variety of interests. He had already been successful in mitigating the xenophobic policy with which the Fascist regime intended to ban all neologisms and loanwords with a more measured approach – called neo-purismo - capable of adapting some new foreign words to the structure of Italian (“autista” instead of “chauffeur”, “regista” instead of “directeur de scène”). He had also been able to de-emphsize the Florence-Rome opposition about ‘good Italian’, which had developed in the Fascist period, as a spurious rivalry between a linguistic affectation of the past and an authoritarian expediency to promote the political importance of the capital. His main concern within the Accademia was to set in motion the work for a dictionary of Italian with an historic rather than a normative approach, to which great effort was also devoted during the Presidency of another distinguished language historian Giacomo Devoto (1963-72).


Language awareness as the turning point


Devoto’s successor was Giovanni Nencioni, a Florentine who held the Presidency of the Crusca for nearly three decades (1972-2000), marking the turning point of the Italian language academy. Nencioni’s leadership was not only singular for the introduction of technological innovations to support lexicographical work but also for his new vision about what an academy should do for the Italian language both inside and outside Italy. Not only did he contribute personally to the progress of the Vocabolario, by transforming the project into the Opera del Vocabolario Italiano, with resources guaranteed by the CNR (National Research Council). He was also concerned that the activities of the language academy were not only limited to lexicography but could also be expanded to include all types of linguistic research. To this end, he sought the collaboration of major professional associations of Italian linguistics, such as Società di Linguistica Italiana and Associazione per la Storia della Lingua Italiana, in addition to that of similar institutions abroad, and he also welcomed a number of new academicians from foreign universities. But one of the most significant and innovative contributions of his Presidency was the transformation of theCrusca from an academic circle of a few specialists to an open forum for teachers, schools and the general public.


The main instrument for the new campaign was an impressive journal, not intended for academics, like the periodicals Studi di Filologia Italiana, Studi di Lessicografia, Studi di Grammatica, all published by the academy. Attractive in its handy format and illustrated with beautiful images (reprinted from old manuscripts and the 120,000 volumes in the library), it adopted the meaningful title La Crusca per voi [CPV] (The Crusca for You), which was intended to stress the new engagement with the general public. In the first issue (CPV, 1990), Nencioni explained that a language academy in the modern world can no longer act as referee of language use, but rather as a reference point of language research and language awareness. Only in this way can an academy serve the best interests of its linguistic community. The course of events was changed dramatically when, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Crusca Academy faced serious financial constraints. The distinguished journalist and writer Indro Montanelli suggested public fundraising, hoping to stimulate new interest in the old academy. This initiative proved most successful: not only did it provide a handsome sum to keep the academy alive, it also revealed an unexpected public concern about the cuts threatening old institutions with a high cultural profile. After this proof of popular enthusiastic support, the mission of the academy could no longer remain confined to lexicography, nor could the academicians retain just for themselves the knowledge of their fields or the outcome of their debates.


Accordingly, ‘consulenza linguistica’ meaning ‘language advice for all’ became one of the main services provided by the Crusca Academy under Nencioni’s leadership. Interaction between members of the public and academicians was based on an integrated system including (a) personal feedback to all who make enquiries on language use, (b) all dialogues being stored into a bank accessible by anyone through the web pages ( and (c) the publication of a selection of the most topical issues in the pages of the journal La Crusca per Voi, thus securing a more thorough circulation to schools, universities and libraries both in Italy and abroad. A random selection of questions indicates the type of linguistic controversies that puzzle Italian speakers, both lay people and specialists from some specific professional domains. Some examples are: (1) whether the interpersonal voi instead of lei, much promoted by the Fascist regime is still acceptable (CPV, 2000a); (2) whether the masculine or feminine article and/or noun is more appropriate (i.e. “il ministro”, “la ministra” or “la ministro” to refer to a woman Minister (CPV, 2000b); (3) whether the masculine or feminine genders are more appropriate for foreign borrowings of everyday use such as ‘e-mail’ and ‘internet’ (CPV, 2000c); (4) whether the indicative or conditional mode is more appropriate in dubitative sentences beginning with ‘sebbene’ (CPV, 2004a); (5) what is the difference between ‘dizionario’ and “vocabolario” (CPV, 2004b); (6) whether the ordinary public should use journalistic forms of English origin such as ‘intrigante’ and ‘suggestione’ which are in conflict with their original Italian meaning (CPV, 2006a); (7) what are the appropriate uses of the apparently synonymic expressions “circa”, “più o meno” and “pressappoco” (CPV, 2006b). Naturally, the academicians who respond to these questionsoftenpoint out that, due to the complex linguistic and literary traditions behind the evolution of the Italian language, an historic explanation is more appropriate than a cut and dry prescription.


The 40th issue of La Cruscaper Voi (CPV, 2010a) marked twenty years of uninterrupted publication of this successful journal. Its opening article “Venti Anni” (‘Twenty Years”) was written by Francesco Sabatini, the new President who succeeded Giovanni Nencioni, and it was devoted to remembering the extraordinary change of direction that his predecessor was able to give to the Italian language academy. Nencioni was 96 when he died and the Italian press quite rightly remembered him for his scholarship as well as for his devotion to the Italian language academy. But he was also named “custode della lingua italiana” (“guardian of the Italian language”), although his commitment was neither conservative nor purist (Il Sole 24 Ore, 2008). Indeed, he was able to turn the mission of the Italian language academyupside down and make it more relevant to the linguistic needs of a modern society. His modest intellectual attitude and the subtle nuances of his language, much appreciated by his colleagues, often bewildered the media, especially when looking for some sensational news. Once he was asked about how the Italian language was dealing with the attack from Anglicisms, by a journalist hoping for some alarming revelations. Nencioni replied that an Oxford professor should worry even more about English. Interestingly, twenty years back the University of Oxford appointed to the chair of English language Suzanne Romaine, a sociolinguist specialist of Anglo-Asian dialects in Britain, and the local tabloids reported the ‘shocking’ news that the newly appointed academic was a Professor of “Punjenglish”.




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