The language must welcome everyone. In conversation with the illustrious linguists Valeria Della Valle and Giuseppe Patota


By John

The new edition of the Treccani Vocabulary directed by Valeria Della Valle and Giuseppe Patota, which the two illustrious linguists will present in Messina on Thursday and Friday as part of the meeting «Words to welcome, words to communicate»is part of the great lexicographic tradition of the Institute of the Italian Encyclopedia, but contains many new elements.

«In Treccani – say the two authors – the explanations of a word are always self-sufficient: by giving rigorous, but simple and comprehensible definitions of all the words, we have eliminated any form of lexicographic short circuit, preventing readers from bouncing from one entry to another. 'other. For technical and scientific terms, thinking above all of schools, we are committed to respecting the first right of those who consult a dictionary, which is to immediately understand the meanings. And we have given great space to grammar, rewriting all the grammatical entries, remembering that the norm is continually called into question by use. We are committed to welcoming examples taken from the real use of the language, based on authentic materials taken from the internet, from newspapers, from treatises, from blogs, from documents, books, (correct!) comments on social networks”.

But having tried to set up an inclusive vocabulary is the most important innovation that characterizes the structure, form and content of the dictionary…
Della Valle-Patota:«From the dictionary, of the adjectives and even of many nouns only the masculine is recorded: the adjective “bassa”, the noun “chirurga” are not recorded independently, because the one considered “the feminine of low” and the 'other, in the rare cases in which it is accepted, “the feminine of surgeon”. Choices, with the persuasions that underlie them, based not on the linguistic structure of Italian, but on a patriarchal historical-cultural tradition, which responds to a similar vision of the world and society. The New Treccani Vocabulary is the first that does not present adjectives and nouns favoring one gender. However, we would like to point out that the opening of the entry with the feminine form is to be ascribed not to a questionable “lexicographic chivalry”, but only to respect for the alphabetical order: to register couples as reader/reader, we first lemmatized the form “reader” and then the “reader” form. Attention to inclusion and respect for diversity then suggested that we eliminate so-called “gender stereotypes” within definitions and examples and highlight words that are harmful to the dignity of any person. We did not eliminate them, because it would have meant ignoring reality, but underlined that they were and are offensive words or formulas.”

A language that opens up to others and to new things is a welcoming language.
Of the valley: «Fortunately, for many years now there has been a new sensitivity towards the use of language. It is the result, on a linguistic level, of women's demands for equality and of campaigns for respect towards all minorities. Words, if used badly, can hurt, offend, mortify. If we are able, in the family, at school, in the media, to raise awareness in the new generations of a respectful and non-violent language, we will have made a contribution to the use of a welcoming language. The Italian language, with its thousand-year history, has demonstrated a great capacity for welcoming: towards foreign words, scientific and technological innovations, fashions and trends that have made it so rich and alive.”

Is the overextended masculine correct or does it denote machismo and fossilization of the language?
Patota: «The overextended masculine is not an error and is certainly not a sign of a chauvinist attitude but, equally certainly, to this solution I prefer that of doubling, which can replace it. Forms such as “the students”, which are absolutely not wrong, could be usefully replaced by “the students”. And the choice we made in Treccani is in this direction. A tiring solution? Certainly; I believe, however, that it is an effort well spent. One could object that it makes the text heavier: if it is true in the case of a creative text, it is equally true that the texts produced by the public administration are already burdened by bureaucracy and technicalities. If we tried to streamline them by eliminating unnecessarily complex words and sentences, the adoption of duplication would be less burdensome.”

In what way is online Italian influencing the Italian language?
Of the valley: «To know if the language of the internet has really influenced Italian, and in what way, it will take many studies, many analyzes and a lot of time. Even though everything is circulating online, I tend to see this phenomenon as a new possibility given to millions of people not used to writing, who thus express their opinions on social media without fear of grammar. Many citizens stopped practicing the written language altogether after completing compulsory schooling, progressively losing their competence. Through the network they had an incentive to practice again.”
Speaking and writing correctly is learned from school. How to set up Italian teaching today?
Patota: «I don't join the chorus of people who, most of the time without specific expertise in teaching Italian and in Italian linguistics, complain about the loss of quality in the teaching and learning of our language in school classrooms. The sadly funny thing is that these disconsolate declarations on the inability to teach and use Italian in school are sixty, seventy years old. I found texts dating back to the middle of the last century with heartfelt denunciations of a school in which people no longer teach, grades are given away, everyone is promoted and Italian declines. I also disagree with the fact that the practice of writing Italian is ruined by online writing, because online Italian and school Italian have two distinct grammars. There is no need to discourage the use of online writing; it is enough to point out that the Italian of the internet is one thing, the Italian of a medium-formal text produced at school is another.”

What is the state of literary language today?
Of the valley: «Never before has literature been free to express itself and the richness of the contemporary Italian language is reflected in the younger writers. The literary language is no longer represented by a one-way model: in the contemporary one we find dialects, jargons, the spoken language, neologisms, but also words from the past, elaborate syntactic constructions, refined and cultured writings. Many readers, linked to the “bella pagina”, don't like this, but for us linguists it offers very interesting materials to study precisely because of the great variety, which expresses well the situation of current Italian society”.