Chapter

Women, the vernacular, and classical languages

Helena Sanson

in Women, Language and Grammar in Italy, 1500-1900

Published by British Academy

Published in print September 2011 | ISBN: 9780197264836
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754043 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5871/bacad/9780197264836.003.0002

Series: British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship Monographs

Women, the vernacular, and classical languages

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This chapter examines women's linguistic education in Cinquecento Italy and the role played by the vernacular in making knowledge more accessible to the less educated, and particularly to women. Women's language, according to men of letters and theorists, was simple and devoid of refinement, but also pure and conservative. Women's role as linguistic educators of their offspring could only be a limited one, circumscribed to the first years of childhood: a girl's education usually remained confined within a domestic environment dominated by the vernacular, and removed from the universe of classical languages and more advanced studies that was a privilege of the lucky few. With the development and spread of the printing press, women came to be seen as a new, profitable sector of the publishing market. They became the target of a variety of works that brought the literary vernacular within their reach. A determining role in helping to spread the literary vernacular across different social classes was played by Petrarchism, and the prestige of the written vernacular allowed for the expression of the voices and talents of women writers. Discussions on language were not merely arid scholarly lucubrations. They had become a fashionable topic that pervaded courtly and upper-class society and concerned men and women alike, with women's presence also occasionally directly gracing the more traditional realms of male linguistic erudition.

Keywords: linguistic education; Cinquecento Italy; literary vernacular; women's language; printing press; Petrarchism; women writers

Chapter.  27045 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Historical and Diachronic Linguistics

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