Searching ancient books on the history of Padua and the Italian language, I stumbled upon a certain Brandino Padovano (Aldobrandino Mezzabati). I’ve always been curious, so it was only natural to dig a little bit more about him and turns out that at the end of 1200 “our” Brandino Padovano no longer used Latin to write his sonnets, but the “illustrious” vernacular. I mean, the Italian used by academics. So, I uncover that in Padua lived a predecessor of Dante Alighieri. Mentioned by Dante himself in his work “De Vulgari Eloquentia”, the Supreme Poet named him as the “only example of a poet that knew how to stand out from the language used by the people” [Giovanni Brunacci tra erudizione e storia by Antonio Rigon and Flaviano Rossetto]. Yeah, Brandino Padovano was present at the dawn of the Italian language. He rocked it. In the “Raccolta dell’Allaci”, a collection of manuscripts by ancient poets kept in the Vatican Library we can find two sonnets by the poet from Padua.
Italy was one of the last Latin-speaking countries to lose linguistic contact with Latin, or rather, it transformed it. All dialects, named Vulgar Latin as they were spoken by people in the streets, were originated from Latin. The earliest writings in popular vernacular were religious documents. It was necessary to make them understood by the faithful. So, the colloquial Italian bit by bit gained ground and going from the sacred scriptures to literary texts was a matter of time. In this way the “illustrious” vernacular was born, I mean the language spoken by those that master Latin and care about its dignity even when adapting it in a comprehensible way to the people. Thus the “illustrious” vernacular, walking along Latin, seduces “our” Brandino Padovano.
The century turns and the need for an unified language spread around the country, and precisely in this period Dante Alighieri comes into play and starts his search… in each region, in each city. He searches for the most beautiful, noblest language and finds it among the poets. After an extensive analysis, Dante chose the Tuscan dialect. Thus, the language we speak nowadays was born. If we think about Italian from Dante’s choice, we have a language more than seven centuries old. If we consider it from 1861, when it became the official language of the Italian State, then we have a very young language.
It is worth remembering that sixty years ago the majority of the Italian population spoke diversified dialects to the point of being incomprehensible between different locations. Radio, television and cinema played an important role in the development of the national language. To speed up its learning, for instance, the movie dubbing industry was born and developed in Italy. It was important that Italian people learned the Italian language first than English.
From dialects to a recognized language
If the Florentine dialect gained the national language status in Italy, the Venetian dialect contributed to the creation of a new language in Brazil: the Talian. Here our history gains space, probably not wings, but at least a place in the third class of a steamship from which the Venetian dialect landed in Brazil along our grannies and great-grandparents. They carried with them their cardboard suitcases, probably empty of clothes, but full of will with which they put polenta [a dish of boiled cornmeal], bread and wine on the table and built from scratch entire cities… yes, my dears, by rolling up sleeves the cities are born. Antonio Prado, Bento Gonçalves, Caxias do Sul, Garibaldi. And, this is just the beginning.
After facing a forest still to be cleared and when life seemed to be starting again, Brazil ,“declared war” on the Italians who lived there during World War II, forcing them to camouflage to escape the frequent attacks: the Venetian dialect was banned, their schools were closed. They had to survive and to reach the goal they started mixing their dialect with Portuguese, the official Brazilian language.
The Talian was born.
The Italian immigrants built their lives with their own hands. With their work they put food on their table in a totally strange land. They built another Veneto with all characteristics from that one from which they left, and in this new world they have kept the polenta, wine, pizza, pasta, cheese, and the architectural style of their houses. In this way they managed to keep alive their culture, tradition and language.
“Ma cos’elo sto Talian?”
Accepted as the immigrant language, the Talian, named “Veneto Brasileiro” [Brazilian Venetian] was recognized as cultural historic heritage of Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina, the main regions occupied by Italians, and it is still spoken today by more than half a million people. So, the Talian is a living language, used at work, in schools and by the newspapers, television and radio stations. It is the second most spoken language in Brazil and the last bond between the immigrants and their homeland. The city of Serafina Correa, in the South of Brazil, makes it clear by making every effort to keep alive the tradition and language, even putting road signs written in Talian on the streets.
Nowadays about 31 million Italians and descendants live in Brazil and the Talian is part of the daily life of about four generations. Spoken in 133 Brazilian cities located in Santa Catarina, Paraná, Espírito Santo e Rio Grande do Sul, it is the first minority language in Brazil to gain a dual recognition: being a language and also a cultural and historical heritage of the immigrants who settled in Brazilian territory.
Although persecuted by the Vargas regime, the Venetian dialect has survived “the war” in Brazil. It’s true that it lost. It lost the initial and final vowel becoming simply Talian. In 2009 however Brazil put a stone on the past and embraced the Talian offering to the Venetian dialect the recognition and protection deserved, and us… well, to us Venetians remains the honor and joy of being the authors of an Italian language spoken outside Italy.
Click the link to listen to the radio station Amici del Talian
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