Sun, Aug 21, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Austerity cuts aim to cull ‘custodian’ of Italian language

The Guardian, ROME

In a summer when Italy’s latest debt-driven austerity budget threatens to slash pensions, close schools and shut down local services, one woman is warning that Italians stand to lose something less tangible, but in some ways far more important — their language.

Nicoletta Maraschio is fighting to stop the closure of the Accademia della Crusca, the Florence-based institute she runs, which has been considered the foremost custodian of the Italian language since it published Italy’s first dictionary in 1612.

Almost 400 years on, the government has announced plans to eliminate the academy’s 190,000 euro (US$273,000) annual funding as part of its cull of dozens of state-funded research organizations that employ fewer than 70 people.

“If we close, Italy loses a crucial point of reference for, and protector of its beautiful language, just when the globalization of languages means it needs us most,” Maraschio said.

A media outcry over the death of the academy has prompted the Italian Minister of Culture Giancarlo Galan to promise he will fight to amend the budget decree as it goes through parliament. However, as Italy desperately looks to trim spending to stave off speculators and save the eurozone, Maraschio is taking nothing for granted.

“The only thing that can ensure we survive is a direct intervention by [Italian Prime Minister] Silvio Berlusconi,” she said.

The academy’s small size — just six staff and about 25 freelance researchers — belies the huge influence it had on the nascent Italian language through the dictionaries it published until the 1920s. Today the center’s academics are studying early Italian, but also offer online advice about modern Italian.

Preserving the language that helps sell fashion brands and food around the world also made economic sense, Maraschio said.

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