, Volume 43, Issue 1, pp 303–334 | Cite as

Post-Babel language: a condition of Dante’s cosmopolitan literary vernacular

  • Sangjin Park


The Italian writer Dante Alighieri was inevitably located in the center of this radical transition from Latin to Italian vernacular, which occurred as part of the global shift from the Medieval to the modern era. Responding to the demands of his time, he considered such indispensable concerns as salvation, justice, community, and love, and the issue of the vernacular was undoubtedly one of the fundamental questions. He proposed, in both theoretical and creative writings, that the Italian vernacular was the most crucial problem in his contemporary culture and successfully suggested his conception of the “illustrious vernacular (vulgare illustre)”. His choice of the vernacular instead of Latin in his writings was mainly for the purpose of making his language a tool for communication with the world in which he was situated. Dante’s project for the Italian vernacular can be characterized as giving stability to the vernacular without transforming it wholly into a grammatical language. Interestingly Dante’s project starts from his consciousness of the nature of the ‘dead’ language (Latin), which is unalterable and perpetual; ironically, this is possible only through the living, organic cycle of ‘death and rebirth’, which originally belongs to the vernacular rather than Latin. Dante’s vernacular is not so much the mother tongue, if that indicates the language that a human acquires in his or her childhood at home, as a social language that is circulated and reforged as a refined literature through education and learning. The Babelic diaspora is the environment in which the so-called cosmopolitan vernacular appears and degenerates. If translating Latin into the regional vernacular does not end up by returning to the origin-Latin and deconstructing the regional vernacular itself, and if the life of the regional vernacular can last in such way as to maintain its relationship with the origin-Latin horizontally, then this vernacular can be called a cosmopolitan vernacular. Using this term is among the most persuasive ways to explain Dante’s vernacular. My aim is not so much to define Dante’s vernacular in terms of the cosmopolitan as to trace up the symptom of cosmopolitanism in it. Therefore, even if I use the term ‘cosmopolitan vernacular’, I do it only as a point to take further, implying the whole process of vernacularization or bilingual writing, which was predominant in Dante’s theoretical and creative writings.


Cosmopolitan vernacular Vernacularization Literary language  Babelic diaspora Communication 



This work was supported by the research Grant of the Busan University of Foreign Studies in 2016.


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Copyright information

© Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, Hungary 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.BusanSouth Korea

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