The Italian Almanac

Italian dictionary

Italian Language - June 6

Modern Italian has lost some 40% of words commonly used in Medieval times, according to a study by national research council CNR. Linguists are compiling an historical dictionary to record these extinct terms and preserve them for the future. Perhaps more surprising than the quantity of linguistic dinosaurs are the 60% of words carried down through 800 years of history.

"The fundamental core of vocabulary from the 1200-1300 still stands the test of time," said professor Pietro Beltrami, director of the dictionary project. "Italian as a language was only codified and became used nationally in the 1500s, following the publication of Pietro Bembo's 'Prose della volgar lingua' (Prose in vernacular.)"

Some of words used in Dante's time have easily recognizable modern counterparts -- many of those from the 13th and 14th centuries, for example, simply dropped a few letters. For example the words "burn" and "fugitive" were "abbruciare" and "affuggitivo" compared to modern versions "bruciare" and "fuggitivo." Others are a bit harder to arrive at from modern Italian -- like "cerusico" (surgeon), "bambarottolo" (silly person), "bastracone" (big lug).