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Academic Paper

Title: Creating a Norm for the Vernacular: Some Critical Notes on Icelandic and Italian in the Middle Ages
Paper URL:
Author: Matteo Tarsi
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Institution: University of Iceland
Linguistic Field: Ling & Literature; Sociolinguistics
Subject Language: Icelandic
Abstract: The article deals with the birth of a linguistic norm in Iceland and Italy. The dis­cussion focuses on four works, which lay the foundations for the discussion of grammar and poetics in their respective vernaculars, namely Dante Alighieri’s De vulgari eloquentia and Convivio for Italian, and the First Grammatical Trea­tise and Snorri Sturluson’s Edda for Icelandic. A parallel between these four works is established, and the view that Latin has been little used in Iceland dur­ing the Middle Ages is challenged, also in accordance with both earlier scholar­ship (Lehmann 1937 and Walter 1976) and recent discoveries (Gottskálk Jensson 2002, 2004, 2009 and Marner 2016). It is argued that Latin is bound to have been used as a language of scholarship in Iceland as it was in Western Europe, although manuscript transmission seldom provides direct evidence in this respect. More­over, a view that takes into account the different weight that Latin as such had in the two different speech communities, Italian and Icelandic, is advocated. This approach rests upon the fact that, whereas in Italy there was an unbroken literary tradition in Latin from Roman times to the Middle Ages, in Ice­land Icelandic was the only language to be used until the Conversion, i.e. until the Latin alphabet was introduced. Thus, it is not surprising that the Icelandic ver­nac­u­lar was held in relatively higher esteem in Iceland, therefore leading to a rel­a­tively earlier and richer literary tradition in that language, whereas in Italy the ver­nac­u­lar had to be first raised in linguistic status in order to be used as literary lan­guage.
Type: Individual Paper
Status: Completed
Publication Info: Scripta Islandica 68, 2017, pp. 253-273
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