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

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



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.


  1. Agamben, G. (1996). Categorie italiane: Studi di poeta. Venezia: Marsilio.Google Scholar
  2. Agamben, G. (1999). The end of the poem: Studies in poetic. California: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Alighieri, D. (1988). Divina commedia (a cura di U. Bosco e G. Reggio). Firenze: Le Monnier.Google Scholar
  4. Alighieri, D. (1993). Vita nuova. Milano: Feltrinelli.Google Scholar
  5. Alighieri, D. (1995). Convivio (a cura di Franca Brambilla Ageno). Firenze: Le Lettere.Google Scholar
  6. Alighieri, D. (1996). De vulgari eloquentia (S. Botterill, Ed. & Trans.). Cambridge: CUP.Google Scholar
  7. Alighieri, D. (2000). The divine comedy ( R. Hollander & J. Hollander, Trans.). New York: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  8. Appiah, K. A. (2006). Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a world of strangers. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  9. Auerbach, E. (1953). Mimesis: The representation of reality in western literature. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Auerbach, E. (2007). Dante: Poet of the secular world. (R. Manheim, Trans.). New York: New York Review Books.Google Scholar
  11. Bachmann-Medick, D. (2006). Translational turn. In D. Bachmann-Medick (Ed.), Cultural turns (pp. 238–283). Reinbek: Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag.Google Scholar
  12. Bakhtin, M. M. (1981). The dialogic imagination: Four essays (C. Emerson & M. Holquist, Trans.). Austin: University of Texas Press.Google Scholar
  13. Baranski, Z. G. (1986). ‘Significar per verba’: Notes on Dante and plurilingualism. The Italianist, 6, 5–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Bassnett, S., & Lefevere, A. (1990). Introduction: Proust’s grandmother and the thousand and one nights: The cultural turn in translation Studies. In S. Bassnett & A. Lefevere (Eds.), Translation, history and culture (pp. 1–13). London: Pinter Publishers.Google Scholar
  15. Beck, U. (2006). The cosmopolitan vision. Cambridge: Polity.Google Scholar
  16. Beck, U. (2007). Cosmopolitanism: A critical theory for the twenty-first century. In G. Ritzer (Ed.), The Blackwell companion to globalization. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  17. Bhabha, H. (1994). How newness enters the world: Postmodern space, postcolonial times and the trials of cultural translation. In H. Bhabha (Ed.), The location of culture (pp. 212–235). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  18. Bhabha, H. (2001). Naipaul’s vernacular cosmopolitans, Chronicle of Higher Education, October 26.Google Scholar
  19. Botterill, S. (1996). Introduction. In D. Alighieri (Eds.), De vulgari eloquentia (S. Botterill, Ed. & Trans.). Cambridge: CUP.Google Scholar
  20. Burckhardt, J. (1990). The civilization of the Renaissance. London: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  21. Burke, P., & Po-chia Hsia, R. (2007). Cultural translation in early modern europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Cachey, T. J, Jr. (2005). Latin versus Italian. In W. M. Blommer (Ed.), The contest of language. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press.Google Scholar
  23. Cornish, A. (2011). Vernacular translation in Dante’s Italy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  24. De Benedictis, R. (2009). Dante’s semiotic workshop. Italica, 86(2), 189–211.Google Scholar
  25. de Saussure, F. (1959). Course in general linguistics (C. Bally & A. Sechehaye, Eds. & W. Baskin, Trans.). New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co.Google Scholar
  26. Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1987). A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  27. Eco, U. (1962). Opera aperta. Milano: Bompiani.Google Scholar
  28. Eco, U. (1975). A theory of semiotics. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Eco, U. (1976). Trattato di semiotica generale. Milano: Bompiani.Google Scholar
  30. Ewert, A. (1940). Dante’s theory of language. The Modern Language Review, 35(3), 355–366.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Fubini, R. (1990). Umanesimo e secolarizzazione da Petrarca a Valla. Roma: Bulzoni.Google Scholar
  32. Kosin, K. (2009). Nation and aesthetics (Y. -I. Cho, Trans.). Seoul: B-Books.Google Scholar
  33. Léglu, C. E. (2010). Multilingualism and mother tongue in Medieval French, Occitan, and Catalan narratives. University Park: Penn State University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Lepschy, G. (2010). Mother tongues in the middle ages and Dante. In S. Fortuna, M. Gragnolati, & J. Trabant (Eds.), Dante’s plurilingualism: authority, knowledge, subjectivity. Oxford: Legenda.Google Scholar
  35. Mignolo, W. D. (2002). The many faces of cosmo-polis: Border thinking and critical cosmopolitanism. In C. Breckenridge, et al. (Eds.), Cosmopolitanism (pp. 157–187). Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Park, S. (2001). Semiotics and the theory of openness: A re-evaluation of Umberto Eco’s concept of “Openness”. Busan: BUFS Press.Google Scholar
  37. Pertile, L. (1999). Dante. In P. Brand & L. Pertile (Eds.), The Cambridge history of Italian literature (pp. 39–69). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Plato. (2003). Apology—Justice and duty (i): Socrates speaks at his trial. In The last days of Socrates (H. Tarrant, Trans.). London: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  39. Pollock, S. (1998). The cosmopolitan vernacular. The Journal of Asian Studies, 57(1), 6–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Pollock, S. (2002). Cosmopolitan and vernacular in history. In C. Breckenridge, et al. (Eds.), Cosmopolitanism (pp. 15–53). Durham/London: Duke University Press. (Originally published: Public Culture 12, 591–625).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Somerset, F., & Watson, N. (Eds.). (2003). The vulgar tongue: Medieval and Postmedieval vernacularity. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Sontag, S. (2007). “The world as India.” At the same time: Essays and speeches (pp. 156–179). New York: Ferrar Strauss Giroux.Google Scholar
  43. Spivak, G. (2006). In other worlds: Essays in cultural politics. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  44. Symonds, J. A. (1865). Dante. Cornhill Magazine, 12, 243–244.Google Scholar
  45. Wallerstein, I. (2006). The European universalism: The Rhetoric of power. New York: The New Press.Google Scholar
  46. Weinberger, E. (1992). Outside stories 1987–1991. New York: New Directions.Google Scholar
  47. Wilson, A. N. (2011). Dante in love. London: Capel & Land Limited.Google Scholar
  48. Witt, R. (2000). In the footsteps of the ancients: The origins of Humanism from Lovato to Bruni. Leiden: Brill.Google Scholar
  49. Worley, M. (2003). Using the ormulim to redefine vernacularity. In F. Somerset & N. Watson (Eds.), The vulgar tongue: Medieval and Postmedieval vernacularity (pp. 19–30). University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, Hungary 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.BusanSouth Korea

Personalised recommendations