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The power of language

He does not know that in seven centuries his writing language will have founded a nation. This Italian language that, strong of the literary brilliance installed by him, another writer, in the XIXe century, will impose in an ode to unity: “Style is only the way of putting together the materials of a language, so that the fundamental question is still the language”, wrote Alessandro Manzoni, indicating that he was convinced of a stay in Tuscany where he was able to “Rinse your sheets in the waters of the Arno” – understand: perfect your style thanks to the Tuscan dialect.

This regional language is first of all that of Dante, his mother tongue, in the bustle of Florence from the years 1265 to 1300. But it is not then that of his neighbors, who diverge. “In their dialects, like the people of Milan and those of Verona, those of Rome and Florence, and also those who belong to the same people, like the inhabitants of Naples and Gaeta, of Ravenna and Faenza, and finally, what is even more remarkable, those who remain under the same city regime, such as the Bolognese living in the town of Saint-Félix, and the Bolognese of the Grand-Rue ” (EV, I, 9).

His roaming makes him take the measure of this incommunicability. In the summer of 1304, he was in Bologna, not far from this place where the white exiles, his former relatives, attempted a disastrous military solution, when he began to write Eloquence in vulgar. Far from military or civic ground, he is now engulfed in writing and carries out all his treaties, here in Bologna, then in Lucca, before Milan in 1311, where he meets the just crowned Emperor Henry VII, in which he places the hope of his democratic ideals. In The monarchy, he then expresses his conviction of a strong temporal power, distinct from spiritual power. A question which will not be resolved, in part, until the Lateran Agreements in 1929.

His treatise on language carries these same ideas: it is at the same time political manifesto, linguistic precise and history of languages ​​since Adam and Babel. The poet read and admires Saint Augustine, and remembers his analysis of the diversity of languages ​​as an obstacle to life in society. In his Hell, he places the giant Nimrod, the one who had the idea of ​​building a tower high enough to reach Heaven: there he is forever condemned to solitude, no one being able to understand his language.

If the power of language is “To let others know what is conceived in our mind”, Dante must write his great work in speaking Tuscan, because “Latin would not be an intuitive servant”, nor “Obedient”. In contrast, the spoken language shows a “Relevant generosity”, and can “Give to many (…) useful things (…). (Because) giving and serving to many is very well, insofar as this gift takes the example of the blessings of God who is a universal benefactor ” (Banq I, 8).

He wants in his Commedia use a language “Familiar and down to earth since it is vulgar speech, the same that good women use to tell each other their stories” (Epistle XIII). To speak to all is precisely his purpose. Language and poetry are the tools of his mission. So he begs God: “Make my tongue eloquent enough so that a spark of your glory to future peoples can scarcely leave; because to look back on my memory, to make my verses resonate a little, we will conceive of your victory all the more (By XXXIII 70-75).


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