Storie e linguaggi. Rivista di studi umanistici (2021-2)

La descrizione grammaticale dell'italiano. Parte 1 – Problemi generali e italiano moderno

Curatore/i: Stefan Schneider, Giampaolo Salvi e Jacopo Garzonio
ISSN: 2421-7344
Anno: Dicembre 2021
Annata: 7
Fascicolo: 2
Pagine: 282
Rivista: Rivista Storie e linguaggi


The guiding principles of the Grande grammatica italiana di consultazione and the Grammatica dell’italiano antico. (Lorenzo Renzi, Giampaolo Salvi)

The article describes the principles that guided us in writing the two comprehensive grammars of Modern and Old Italian that we published. We focus on the choice of linguistic data to be described (registers in the case of Modern Italian, text types in the case of Old Italian), on the theoretical frame within which the research was carried out, and on the presentation style we chose in order to reach the target audience. We point out several difficulties we had to overcome, and highlight what we have learnt from our work.

Italian as a historical language and as I-language

I-languages are by definition mind-internal; how can they be related to linguistic varieties other than idiolects? The question is not new, but it has not been recognized for the theoretical problem it is. If I-languages cannot have a social dimension, it is impossible to define varieties whose grammar might be investigated by inspecting the linguistic behaviour or more than one speaker: acceptability judgments or corpus frequency could not, strictly speaking, provide any evidence, insofar as they reflect distinct idiolects. A solution is possible, it is claimed. This is based on Searle’s insight that knowing language, in an internalist sense, means sharing mentally represented contents with other speakers and subscribing to a shared code, which alone makes speech acts possible and, on their bases, any sort of social life. In this sense, I-languages have a social dimension as a matter of principle, not of historical contingence. The notion if ‘Italian’ as one and the same variety is and remains problematic as a historical one, but it has been presupposed as a shared mind-internal capacity by all those speakers (native or not) who used it as Italian.

Modality, aspect and tense: towards onomasiology in grammar writing?

Elaborating on the distinction between a semasiological (from forms to functions) vs onomasiological (from functions to forms) grammaticography, this article reflects on the most appropriate strategies to enhancing onomasiological perspectives in modern Italian grammars. After reviewing the historical roots of the distinction between grammatical treatments based on forms and those based on functions since the original proposals made by Gabelentz (1891) and Jespersen (1924), the analysis describes the developments of these different points of view in recent Italian grammars by tracing changes from Grande grammatica italiana di consultazione (1988-1995) to Grammatica dell’italiano antico (2010). Major attention is paid to the functional categories expressed by verb forms (tense, aspect and modality), with observations on verbal periphrases and special focus on conditionals and other modal forms in which modality crucially interacts with temporal reference.

Thirty years later: Grande grammatica and interclausal connections

Complex sentences and subordination are considered as unitary phenomena by both traditional approaches and typological research. The hypothesis argued for in this paper is that argumental subordination and interclausal connection are distinct kinds of structure, coded under different conditions, whose analysis requires specific conceptual and descriptive tools.
Argumental clauses are in the first place formal grammatical relations to be analysed thanks to formal criteria, whose structure and content are controlled by the main verb or nominal predicate. Interclausal connections, by contrast, are consistent conceptual structures open to a wide and heterogeneous set of instrumental and motivated forms of expressions ranging from complex sentences to coherent textual structures and based on a variable interaction between coding and inference. Based on this premise, their study belongs to different, non-contiguous sections of a consistent grammatical description.
The analysis of argumental clauses finds its place within the syntactic description of the model sentence: like argumental noun phrases, argumental clauses are constituents of a sentence that frames a single process by saturating a verb or a nominal predicate.
The analysis of interclausal connection finds its place within an autonomous section and presupposes the description of the conceptual conditions of textual coherence and of the linguistic tools of textual cohesion. The study of the grammatical strategies, and in particular of subordinate clauses, is only one chapter, although the richest, of a more inclusive approach that makes room to textual strategies.

Teaching grammar in multilingual classrooms and reference grammars of L2 Italian

Recent decades have witnessed a rapid transformation of the linguistic profile of Italy’s school-going population. In the new plurilingual and pluricultural setting, teachers need specific resources for teaching Italian language and new strategies to meet pupils’ learning needs. This study offers a review of Italian grammars for foreigners published in Italy from 2010 to 2019, with the aim of evaluating, first of all, the type of resource they can provide for teaching Italian grammar to groups made up of foreign born and Italian mother tongue pupils and, secondly, with the aim of verifying the progress made with respect to what was observed by Troncarelli (2011) in relation to the editorial production in the early 2000s. To this end, we analyse the language teaching methods applied and the theories and linguistic models that underpin the volumes. The paper concludes by showing some consequences of the current idea that pedagogical grammars should be eclectic and utilise insights from different types of grammatical description and by demonstrating some benefits brought by the application of a coherent theoretical framework.

Clitic pronouns between syntax and morphology.

Some properties of clitics, which may seem purely morpholexical, hence arbitrary, or in any case externally conditioned, respond well to a formal treatment and specifically to a syntactic one, with implications also for the description of the relevant phenomena. The standardized morphological model for generative grammar, namely Distributed Morphology (DM), developed by Halle and his collaborators, is based on the assumption that the morphological component is syntactically structured. Kayne, Manzini e Savoia attempt to go beyond DM, in formulating analyses of syncretism and suppletivism in the domain of Romance clitics entirely within the syntactic component (sections 1-3). Generative models of clitics on the other hand have long fluctuated between movement and base generation of clitics. Here I discuss how Manzini and Savoia, based on Sportiche’s base generation model, propose a syntactic analysis of the internal order of the clitic string, including some of its crosslinguistic variation (sections 4-5).

Weak pronouns in the Italian pronominal system.

This work illustrates the Italian pronominal system and focuses on weak pronouns, which are not present in traditional grammatical descriptions. In both Old Italian and Modern Italian, three classes of personal pronouns should be assumed: strong, weak, and clitic. In both varieties, strong pronouns have the same distribution as noun phrases. Clitic pronouns have a special syntax, with well-known differences between the two varieties with respect to the lexical forms and syntactic distribution. As for weak pronouns, more forms were present in Old Italian than in Modern Italian, where they are a residual option. They are nowadays limited to the subject pronouns tu and egli/esso and to the object dative form loro found in high registers. Focusing on the textual conditions in which the overt weak forms egli/esso are preferred over the null weak form, an ongoing language change can be observed. The weak forms egli/esso are substituted by lui/lei, which are in the process of becoming weak. Among other properties, they may have a non-human antecedent. Finally, weak forms are found in the paradigms of possessive, relative, interrogative, demonstrative, and adverbial proforms, showing that the tripartition into clitic, weak, and strong forms is pervasive in grammar and not limited to the paradigm of personal pronouns.

Weak pronominal subjects.

Weak pronouns form an intermediate category between that of clitic pronouns and that of free pronouns. In contemporary Italian weak pronouns are realised by the nominative forms egli, essi, esse, esso, essa and by the dative form loro. Their use – especially that of nominative forms – is rather marginal, and it is attested above all in texts written with a high stylistic control.
In this paper we describe the contexts that favour the use of weak subjects. After the first paragraph, in which the distinctive properties of the three classes forming the tripartite system of the personal pronouns in Italian are summarised, in the second one we illustrate the use of weak pronominal subjects in contemporary Italian, introducing and commenting on examples taken from both oral and written corpora. In the third and last paragraph we discuss some criteria that seem to favour the choice of a weak pronoun as a subject, focusing on the role that this pronominal subject plays in a textual perspective.

Canonical and non-canonical interrogative types.

In this paper I discuss a proposal for the grammatical representation of illocutionary force of questions in Italian and in Vicentino, a Veneto variety, as much as it is expressed grammatically, without taking into consideration how these representations are integrated into other levels of representation. There are certain inadequacies in the solutions proposed in the current literature, which often deals with the problems posed by Austin by considering only one of the various devices, mood, or grouping them into main types or moods, without considering the possible variations among languages and within the same language. In Italian and Vicentino, described by nineteen century grammars as “interrogative conjugation”, there are a series of variations on form and function between the moods and the interrogative type: the subjunctive or the imperative, or the infinite forms are not, to paraphrase Lyons, “in principle” impossible. To describe adequately how moods change according to the specific functions of the interrogative type, it might be useful to distinguish between canonical and non canonical interrogative types. While in main interrogative structures indicative and conditional moods characterize canonical questions, subjunctive or imperative, or infinite, are limited to non-canonical (the rhetorical interrogative, the optative-dubitative, the echo-interrogative), in turn linked to variations in the type of act associated with them (rhetorical questions, optative questions, echo-questions).

Assertion and polarity: sì and no in a typological perspective

The assertive function of the pro-sentences sì ‘yes’ and no ‘no’ is investigated with reference to the range of their properties as described in the relevant chapters of the Grande grammatica italiana di consultazione and of the Grammatica dell’italiano antico. This function is evidenced in particular in the split construction sì che/no che ‘yes that/no that’, focusing assertion and polarity of the embedded sentence, whose use was claimed to be restricted as compared to the corresponding Spanish sí que construction in a comparative functional investigation and to be absent in a corpus of spontaneous and elicited oral data. The occurrence of the split construction is observed in a corpus of contemporary literary texts. The behavior of the two pro-sentences is considered in a typological perspective along two dimensions: a) in the unstable framework of the means found for polarity contrast in Italian in order to identify their specificity in relation to the information flow and the textual type they occur in; b) more generally, with respect to holophrastic expressions of other European languages in order to evaluate their role as an expression of assertion and polarity among the means employed as reactions to questions.

Conjunctions and functional markers: The productivity of ma ‘but’ and e ‘and’ in Italian pragmatic dyads

This paper focuses on Italian complex pragmatic markers made up of a conjunction, be it ma ‘but’ or e ‘and’, and a pragmatic deverbal or adverbial marker, such as ma dai, ma piantala, evvai, e allora. Fedriani and Molinelli (2019) described this type of complex marker in terms of a pragmatic dyad, i.e. a two-element construction with a procedural function consisting of a fixed element combined with a number of possible preferential fillers. The fixed element carries the pragmatic value of the resulting dyad, e.g. the interactional contrast with ma. Several schema-compatible fillers add specific pragmatic nuances to this basic value and further specify its functional core; as regards ma, the core value of contrast can be shaped in terms of disagreement, counter-expectation, and mock politeness. In this study, the notion of pragmatic dyad is extended to complex markers featuring e as a fixed element, to clarify, and compare, the semantic and pragmatic enrichment of ma and e considered as members of a dyad. This qualitative and quantitative research highlights both the prominence of diamesic variation when describing contemporary Italian pragmatic markers and the importance of the pragmatic dimension, which is capable of capturing the dynamisms of less surveilled registers.