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Review of  Reperti di plurilinguismo nell’Italia spagnola (sec. XVI-XVII) [Plurilingualism in Spanish Italy, 1500-1700]

Reviewer: Mauro Giuffre
Book Title: Reperti di plurilinguismo nell’Italia spagnola (sec. XVI-XVII) [Plurilingualism in Spanish Italy, 1500-1700]
Book Author: Thomas Krefeld Wulf Oesterreicher Verena Schwägerl-Melchior
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): Italian
Language Family(ies): Romance
Issue Number: 25.85

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This volume brings together the proceedings of a conference entitled “Reperti di plurilinguismo nell’Italia spagnola (sec. XVI-XVII)/Hallazgos de plurilinguismo en la Italia española (siglos XVI-XVII)” [Plurilingualism in Spanish Italy], held in 2011 at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. In addition to the preface, the book contains five sections, devoted to the following topics: Sardinia, Sicily, Lombardy, Naples, transregional language.

The editor’s preface, by Thomas Krefeld, defines the parameters of a pre-national communicative space and highlights four points. First, Krefeld defines the concept of “Spanish Italy”, identifying it as “the Apennine peninsula and the islands during the period in which part of it was subject to the crown of Aragon and Spain” (more or less the period from 1282 to 1734). Second, the author argues that linguists who attempt to write the history of the Italian language as a formation of the complex diasystem of dialects held together by the national language are obliged to turn their attention to the history of linguistic ideology, distinguishing between two epistemological levels (that of the speaker and that of the scientist) and two different sets of data (that of language production and that of language perception). Linguistic ideology and its changes need to be put in a historical context in order to avoid teleological reconstructions. The latter in fact would suggest that a developing socio-political entity reaches its final form at a given moment in history. The third aspect the author touches on involves the communicative space of the 16th century: one which favoured the persistence of implicit regional traditions. These traditions reflect the administrative division into the Council of Aragon (in charge of Spain) and the Council of Italy (in charge of the other territories). The new territorial system served the purpose of perpetuating the linguistic traditions of the different areas and did not aim to impose new territorial languages. The political disinterest in the linguistic unification of the territory fostered the development of diverse regional trends, even within a single territory. The fourth point discussed is the notion of interscrittura, essential for the development of written Italian during the 16th century. The fact that the production of texts reflected a situation in which all writers strove to utilise a language system that they had not yet fully mastered is linked to the fact that this system was not yet complete.

The longest sections of the book are devoted to Naples and Sicily and they contain 5 and 4 articles respectively. In the section on Naples, Gabriela H. Venetz focuses on the Codice Aragonese (1458-1460), a chancellery register containing 5 bilingual letters, which enable an analysis of code switching between Catalan and Neapolitan. Rita Fresu directs her attention to the Abruzzi viceregal territories, examining the administrative and bureaucratic language since 1505 (the beginning of Spanish rule). This language, in fact, represents the link between standard Italian and non-standard dialects. Her investigation makes use of the following sources: Consulte del Comune di Teramo, Registro delle risoluzioni del Parlamento di Campli and Statuti del Comune di Campli, and it defines a framework that relies heavily on Latin models and the significant presence of local factors. Tina Ambrosch-Baroua analyses the Gramatica española of Perles y Campos (1689). After a first part in which the author presents the form, content and recipients of the text, in the second part she defines the text typologically and places it in the context of editorial publications of the Kingdom of Naples. Examined next from a contrastive-complementary perspective is the relationship between this manual and the first Italian grammar book for Spanish speakers, printed in 1596 in Medina del Campo. Verena Schwägerl-Melchior contributes an article entitled ‘Plurilinguismo ricettivo’ -- una chiave di lettura per l’Italia spagnola? ['Receptive multilingualism' -- a key to understanding Spanish Italy?]. In this article, the author borrows the concept of “receptive multilingualism” (Rezeptive Mehrsprachigkeit) from the Scandinavian studies of Haugen (1966) and Braunmüller-Zeevart (2001), and verifies its applicability to the linguistic situation of Spanish Italy. To this purpose, textual examples of administrative notices of the 1500s and various metalinguistic evidence are examined. Administrative notices depended on the multilingual employees who composed them and on the fact that there was no political intent to replace the Italian vernacular with Spanish. The communications relied instead on the flexibility of speakers, who possessed at least a minimum amount of passive skills. The last contribution of this section is by Teresa Gruber. Written in Spanish, it focuses on the values and stereotypes associated with the Spanish language in the Kingdom of Naples. The author calls attention to the fact that at the end of the 16th century, Castilian was understood, read, spoken and studied in Spanish Italy, at least by educated people. In addition, a small group of authors appealed to the plurilingual competence of readers by including various loans and entire sentences from Castilian in their texts.

The second longest section of the book is dedicated to Sicily. It contains four contributions, devoted respectively to the fourteenth century, bureaucratic writing, legal documentations of the sixteenth century and the conspiracy of Catanians in Tripoli in 1558-1559. The author of the first contribution is Pasquale Musso, who analyses the manuscript 8833 of the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid. It contains the text of Valeriu Maximu, a vulgarization in Sicilian (by Accursu di Cremona) of an anonymous medieval work, known under the title “Factorum et dictorum memorabilium libri”, devoted to illustrating exempla of civic and moral virtue taken from Cicero, Sallust and Titus Livy. The entire text shows significant interference with Catalan not only on a superficial level, but on the morphosyntactic and lexical level as well. In fact, the Sicilian version of the manuscript shows original linguistic characteristics that depart from the Sicilian contained in other texts of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. In the second contribution, Rosaria Sardo chooses a diamesic perspective to document a mini-reconstruction of the epistolary repertoire of a socio-ethnic community subjected to dual normalising forces. Writers presented themselves as active processors of linguistic information drawn from various written inputs (Latin, Spanish, illustrious Sicilian, Tuscan). The penetration and the modelling ability of Spanish in viceregal Sicily emerge more in a morphosyntactic and syntactic context than in the ephemeral sphere of vocabulary. David Soares da Silva then investigates the coalescence of Italian vernaculars in legal documents of the 1500s. The author defines “coalescence” as the simultaneous presence in a single linguistic area of competing forms of expression, which are considered as two idiomata (Tuscan and Sicilian) of the same language. Only in the 1600s would Tuscan become a driving force in Sicily, while during the Cinquecento its influence can be described best as coalescence. The last contribution is by Emilio Sola, and it analyses the special case of two texts, a report in Spanish and a letter in Italian, which discuss the context of a conspiracy against the Turks. The Spanish text is interesting in that it is the result of a deposition of a witness who spoke in Italian and its subsequent transcription by a native speaker of Spanish.

A third section is dedicated to Lombardy and includes two contributions. The first, by Raymund Wilhelm, is dedicated to a few text samples that can be classified as leaflets, while the second, written by Giuseppe Mazzocchi, is dedicated to the theatre and rhymes of Carlo Maria Maggi. Wilhelm, after constructing a theoretical-methodological framework, turns his attention to three entries of Spanish kings into Milan -- Charles V in 1533 and in 1541, and that of (the future) Philip II in 1548. These three occasions prompted the publication of both Flugschriften (relating to politics) and written accounts of the events, like the one composed by Albicante. All these texts evidence great indifference to the problem of readers’ reception, and marginal interest in the issue of mutual understanding between Spanish speakers and Lombards. In the article dedicated to Maggi, Mazzocchi analyses a corpus of the Hispanicisms found in this author’s work. The openness to lexical borrowing from Spanish that can be seen in Maggi’s work does not seem greater or less than that from Lombard or Tuscan. Moving then from the lexicon to the syntax, the Spanish influence on Maggi appears limited to a few cases, which is even more significant considering that Maggi wrote numerous texts in Spanish that do not appear at all inferior to poetry composed by native speakers.

Two other contributions are included in the section entitled “Transregional.” The first is by Paolo Trovato and the second is by Thomas Hiltensperger. Trovato focuses on the first draft of the Cortigiana by Pietro Aretino, from 1525, though the author disseminated the work publicly only in 1534. The frequency of Hispanicisms is very high, close to the levels in authors such as Pigafetta, Vespucci or Ramusio, who were perhaps more likely to borrow from Spanish due to the fact that they were inspired by the subject of navigation. The openness of Aretino to Iberian elements is due both to biographical causes (the arrival of a Spanish garrison in Siena in 1520) and to literary motives (lexical and situational material in this work is taken from Celestina by Fernando by Rojas, composed a little before 1499 (?) and available in Italian in January 1506 thanks to the translation of the curate Alonso Ordoñez). Hiltensperger highlights the technical vocabulary related to navigation, which was a meeting ground of Italians and Iberians in the century of the great voyages. The military and nautical vocabulary is a particularly fertile context of Italian and Spanish linguistic contact. The abundant presence of Italianisms in Castilian is immediately evident, although it is vitiated by the limited linguistic knowledge of the individual scribes who compiled the texts and by the strictly technical nature of the texts themselves, which are linked to the organisation of the Spanish Armada.

A final contribution by Maria Eugenia Cadeddu composes the section dedicated to Sardinia. The author focuses on the Sardinian parliamentary acts of the modern era, considering them as writings that testify to a multilingual society. After drawing an overall picture of the multilingual situation, characterised by the presence of Sardinian, Latin, Italian, Catalan and Castilian, the author evidences the prevalence of Catalan during the sixteenth century, basing her conclusions on documents of the Dusay and Rebolledo Parliaments (late fifteenth and early sixteenth century) and the Elda Parliament (1573-1574). The presence of Castilian begins to become prominent with the Bayona Parliament (1631-1632), while the linguistic pluralism of Sardinia is fully demonstrated by the Montellano Parliament (1698-1699), characterised by a plurality of acts from different offices in all the various languages in use on the island.


It is difficult to express a comprehensive evaluation of a volume such as this, which is the result of a series of papers presented during the course of a conference. Volumes of this type are better suited to an assessment of the individual contributions rather than to an overall assessment of the collection. In fact, in general terms, observations can be made only in relation to the consistency of the scholars’ individual articles with the theme of the conference.

From the perspective of the publication itself, it is without doubt of great value, dedicated to an event of international prestige. I found only the two following typographical errors: p. 155 line 6 from the top should be written ‘linguistici’ (as opposed to ‘linguistic’), p. 78 paragraph 6 is printed in bold and right-aligned but should be in regular fonts and centred (as in the rest of the volume).

From a general point of view, the volume is dedicated to the issues explained in the preface. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, although the main characteristics of the Tuscan language were emerging -- from a cultural point of view, they would later lead it to the status of national language of the Italian territory -- it is interesting to show how there was a constant situation of multilingualism. There is no ideological link between this period and post-unification Italy, which would extol the nation’s linguistic homogeneity and monolingualism. Therefore the destination of a route whose origin dates between 1400 and 1500 is neither linguistically nor politically the nation as such. With respect to the perspective traced in the preface, not all the contributions are uniformly relevant. Rather, it seems we can divide the individual contributions into two main types: articles of a more strictly linguistic nature and articles containing linguistic reflections in a broader sense; the latter are contributions that to a greater or lesser degree can also be classified as linguistic observations. In general, the first type of contribution seems more relevant to the topic and therefore, in overall terms, I would give contributions in this group a higher rating. Having said that, I will now address the individual contributions in greater detail.

The article by Cadeddu belongs to the first group. The author adopts a solid methodological approach and analyses the situation of multilingualism in Sardinia, illustrating respectively the conditions of Sardinian, Latin, Italian, Catalan and Castilian. After this descriptive part, she presents an analysis of the documents, which takes into account linguistic data from the end of the fifteenth century until the situation of 1699. This contribution is characterised by clear exposition and a very shrewd arrangement of the topics.

The article by Musso also belongs to the first group that I have defined. In this paper, the author focuses specifically on a text that is very important to the acquisition of accurate data, in view of the subject. All linguistic levels are analysed with philological scrupulousness -- phonological, morphological, syntactic, lexical -- to assess the connection between the Iberian language and the Sicilian vernacular of the fourteenth century.

The third contribution to the volume is by Sardo. Within the collection it stands out for its theoretical weight and the depth of the author’s textual analysis. After describing and summarising the linguistic situation of Sicily in the Spanish age, the author explains the model of interpretation she employs. This interpretive model deserves to be recognised not only for its treatment of the subject here, but also in and of itself. The author then outlines the corpus on which she will operate, and describes the type of text (epistolary texts) that evidences most clearly the linguistic aspects of the contact between Sicilian and Spanish. She then demonstrates her great analytical ability applied to the texts of letters. The article closes with a section that summarises the linguistic choices examined, incorporating them into a general theory.

The fourth contribution, by Soares da Silva, belongs to the first group that I have identified. The paper begins with analysis of theoretical perspectives, referring to the main bibliography in the field (the pioneering works of Migliorini 1960 and Devoto 1974, the contributions of Serianni and Trifone 1993 and Cortelazzo 1994). The work continues by retracing the considerations expressed in Lo Piparo (1987), on the basis of which the author proposes the adoption of the notion of ‘coalescence’, i.e. the simultaneous growth and development of several languages during the period analysed. The notion is clarified in Muljačić (2011). The author goes on to analyse writings in the Sicilian area with sure-handed technique and precise analytical acumen. The fact that the conclusions reached on this analytical level are connected to the theoretical system outlined by Sardo in this same volume is of great value.

The fifth article is the work of Sola, which belongs to the second group mentioned above. The paper is devoted to linguistic reflection in a broad sense: in fact, at the centre of the author’s reflection is mainly the subject of the texts to be analysed. While a well-defined general historical framework is present in this paper, after a description of the textual genre called a “report”, the main theme developed by the author regards the texts produced at the Spanish border.

The contribution of Wilhelm to this volume is interesting in several respects. The first section is devoted to the theoretical aspects of the linguist’s task and does not omit the various problematic issues that a scholar must face in order to focus his or her attention on multilingualism and the standard of a national language. It also evidences the author’s solid knowledge of the principal bibliography. The second section is devoted to the problems of communication within a multilingual linguistic universe, such as that of Lombardy in the sixteenth century. The author analyses competently the texts to which he devotes his attention, both literary texts and those written with diverse purposes. A short third section is devoted to the image of the Spanish people, as they are perceived by Italians, and completes the analytical framework with observations referring to cultural aspects. Finally, the author draws conclusions based on his reasoning, focusing on the external variations between languages and the internal variations between the various registers and dialects that are part of the Italian language.

The seventh contribution is by Mazzocchi. This article is dedicated to a very specific issue, connected in a broad sense to the issue discussed in the volume. The author addresses the problem of Hispanicisms in the production of Maggi, which makes the contribution interesting from both a linguistic and literary perspective. In his conclusions, the author reflects on the relationship between Maggi and the main writers who came after him and their relationship with the Iberian world.

The contribution of Venetz, which is the eighth part of the volume, appears highly significant. The second section of the article deserves special recognition and is devoted to the historical and social documents of the Chancellery of Ferrante of Naples, the son of Alfonso V of Aragon. In the third section, the author analyses bilingual documents, using five letters as sources of data, respectively numbered 96, 147, 165, 191, 316. The analysis is impeccable and stresses that the confidentiality and emotional level of the text is the cause of code switching between Italian and Catalan.

The article by Fresu, too, stands out. The author summarises a matter of great importance with respect to the subject covered in the volume. The first section introduces practical writing in the Abruzzo territories; here, the author describes the state of contemporary studies on this subject. In the second section, attention is focused on how to define the area and type of the historical period of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In the third section, investigations are conducted on selected texts. In the concluding section, well-founded conclusions of a general nature are drawn and the author refers to future research projects which would seem to promise interesting developments.

The tenth contribution to the volume simply cannot be overlooked. Though it examines a single document (the Gramatica española of Campos y Perles 1689), it uses the linguistic data to make general reflections that open interesting scenarios. Ambrosch-Baroua conducts an impeccable analysis of the author, the form and the content of the chosen text, and then proceeds to discuss the educational objectives of the author, in addition to the possible uses of the text and its presumed target readers. The phenomenon of linguistic interference is then analysed specifically, and it is separated into phonetic interference, grammatical interference and lexical interference. Next follows a section which discusses the importance of Naples as a cultural centre and a useful review is given of the Italian-Spanish grammatical system during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. An interesting final section proposes a reversal of the teleological perspective of historical Italian studies: only multi-dimensional historical linguistics has the ability to go beyond the classic idyllic portrait of the Tuscan language and reconstruct the co-existence of languages and varieties on both an oral and written level.

The eleventh article is by Schwägerl-Melchior, who, as the second editor of the volume, elaborates on the perspective of the first editor in the preface. The reasoning is well articulated and the author’s reflections are supported by an exhaustive knowledge of the relevant bibliography. Through the concept of “receptive multilingualism” (Rezeptive Mehrsprachigkeit), which indicates the inter-comprehensibility that speakers of genetically closely related languages sometimes have, the author provides us with a key to understanding the various linguistic situations of Spanish Italy. The discussion is then developed through various examples, which lead to a recognition of the fact that multilingual communication, especially in the context of public administration, took place thanks to the thorough knowledge (at least passive) that native speakers had of the other foreign language. Communication relied on people’s ability and on the fact that the two languages were both Romance languages, which ensured basic mutual understanding in any case.

The twelfth contribution belongs to the second group I have defined. Although this paper does not present a linguistic contribution in the strict sense, Gruber’s discussion is on the whole quite interesting. The first three sections present theoretical characteristics and discuss the premises for analysis, the linguistic features of Spanish Italy and the status of Castilian as a literary language in Italy. The three sections that follow deal with issues of application: the language of diplomacy, some Italian texts with parts in Spanish and the general role of Castilian in Italy.

The contribution of Trovato also belongs to the second group I have outlined. The article, which focuses on the first edition of the Cortigiana by Pietro Aretino, develops a discussion of the presence of Hispanicisms in the author’s writing and, in a broader sense, of references to Iberian culture. Furthermore, the author defines an intertextual relationship between Aretino’s play and Celestina by Fernando de Rojas. The article’s ambitions appear to be purely literary; to be specific, it is a contribution in the context of comparative literature.

Finally, the last contribution of the volume performs an interesting type of lexical task, though it is less ambitious from a theoretical standpoint: by analysing the military and naval lexicon as an area of linguistic contact between Spanish speakers and Italian, Hiltensperger provides a list of Italianisms that penetrated into Catalan, and these stimulate new reflections regarding a cultural perspective.


Braunmüller, Kurt and Zeevart, Ludger (2001). Semikommunkation, rezeptive Mehrsprachigkeit und verwandte Phänomene. Eine bibliograhische Bestandaufnahme. I Arbeiten zur Mehrsprachigkeit. Working papers in multilingualism, 19. Hamburg: Universität Hamburg. On line in [14.05.07]

Cortelazzo, Manlio (1994). “I dialetti dal Cinquecento ad oggi: usi non letterari”, in: Serianni, Luca; Trifone, Pietro (eds.): Storia della lingua italiana. III Le altre lingue, Torino: Einaudi, 541-560.

Devoto, Giacomo (1974). Il linguaggio d'Italia. Storia e strutture linguistiche italiane dalla preistoria ai nostri giorni. Milano: Rizzoli.

Haugen, Einar (1966). “Dialect, language, nation.” American Anthropologist 68(4):922–935.

Lo Piparo, Franco (1987). “Sicilia linguistica”, in Aymard, M.; Giarrizzo, G. (eds.), La Sicilia, Torino: Einaudi, 735-807.

Migliorini, Bruno. (1960). Storia della lingua italiana, Firenze: Sansoni.

Muljačić Žarko (2011). “Le vicende delle sei lingue medie d’Italia più notevoli dal Cinquecento al secondo Ottocentos” in Burr, E. (ed.), Tradizione & Innovazione. Integrando il digitale, l'analogico, il filologico, lo storico e il sociale. Atti del VI Convegno Internazionale SILFI, Duisburg 28.06.-02.07.2000 (= Quaderni della Rassegna 69). Firenze: Cesati, 183-192.

Serianni, Luca and Trifone, Pietro. (1993). Storia della lingua italiana. Torino: Einaudi.
Mauro Giuffré is a post-doc scholar in Linguistics at the University of Palermo. He holds a PhD in General Linguistics and his dissertation was entitled Text Linguistics and Cognitive Sciences: The proceduralism of Dressler and De Beaugrande. His main research interests concern the relationship between classical studies (philology and ancient western European languages, such as Latin and Greek) and theoretical work in text linguistics; his scientific production is devoted to connecting theoretical linguistics with classical studies. He is the editor of STUDIES IN SEMIOTIC TEXTOLOGY IN HONOUR OF JANOS S. PETÖFI (2011, Supplement 1) (preview in of Sprachtheorie und germanistische Linguistik directed by András Kertész (