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De vulgari eloquentia: Dante's semiotic workshop.

Hoc equidem signum est ipsum subjectum Nobile de quo loquimur: nam sensuale Quid est, in quantum sonus est; rationale Vero, in quantum aliquid significare videtur ad placitum (De Vulgari Eloquentia 1.3.3).

[This sign is precisely the noble subject of my treatise: for it is sensory in that it is sound and rational in that it can be seen to signify anything, according to man's will.] (1)

The De vulgari eloquentia, Dante's treatise on the eminent vernacular, is a major source of Dante's semiotics applied to language. He begins this work by making a distinction between natural and artificial languages. On the one hand he defines the vernacular as a natural language insofar as it is learned by humans from a very young age, specifically from the time in which they begin to articulate words. On the other hand, there is the artificial language or grammatical language, the one which is learned through education, such as Latin and Greek. Dante considers the vernacular nobler than the grammatical language because it is the very first language human beings use as their means of communication due to the fact that it is learned naturally, although natural languages are existent in a variety of types and forms in all parts of the world.

The passage cited above addresses key elements regarding Dante's theory of language. It is important from the beginning to keep in mind that Dante, like St. Augustine, fuses a theory of sign with a theory of language; (2) although in the D.V.E. Dante, unlike St. Augustine, is merely dealing with verbal signs. He defines language as "rational and sensory sign" ("rationale signum et sensibile"). The first distinction the reader should make here is that Dante views words as signs, and the sensory and rational traits of words are tied together by means of a signic relationship. For Dante the "sensory sign" ("signum sensibile") corresponds to the material aspect of words which is made up of the phonic component. The phonic component is different from language to language because languages are formed arbitrarily; they are formed according to ways in which a community of speakers decides to organize its linguistic paradigm. As a result of the sound, each language subdivides the sound continuum in different ways. Therefore we may have many sound continua to refer to the same object of signification, or, said differently, we may have many utterances from different languages to refer to the same "designated" ("designatum") or what is designated by the sound-sign.

Further, on the issue of sound, Dante clearly states the difference between sound as "true language" ("vera locutio") which is proper to humans, from sound as "imitation of our [human] sound" ("imitatio soni nostre vocis") which is proper to animals. He uses the example of the magpies and says that they "imitate us insofar as we emit sounds and not because we speak" ("imitari nos in quantum sonamus, sed non in quantum loquimur", D.V.E. 1.2.7). Such a distinction presents a parallel with Aristotle's De interpretatione 16a, 26-30, (3) in which the philosopher distinguishes on the one hand articulate sounds that are proper to language and, therefore, conventional; on the other hand, the inarticulate ones, those of animals, for example, which are considered natural. Further in De interpretatione 16a, 27-29 and in Poetics 1456b, 22-24, Aristotle describes the notions of divisibility and combinability of sounds regarding names which are proper to human speech because dominated by convention. The function of convention in human speech is to combine the smallest meaningless sounds (letters) into meaningful utterances (articulate names). Instead animal sounds are indivisible and non-combinable and as such cannot be called lettered sounds. They are "unlettered" ("agrammatoi") as he calls them in the De interpretatione 16a, 27-29. They are sounds that cannot be broken down into letters because not governed by convention. Notwithstanding, the shortcomings of combinability and divisibility of animal sounds are nonetheless "significant noise" ("semantikos psophos"). Hence, Dante, consistent with Aristotle's notion of animal utterance, affirms that it is primarily a sensory act. For Dante animals produce sounds by means of natural instinct and not as a result of a rational process. Therefore, "all animals of the same species have the same actions and passions, so that they may know others through themselves" ("omnibus eiusdem speciei sunt iidem actus et passions, et sic possunt per proprios alienos cognoscere", D.V.E. 1.2.5).

St. Augustine, on the other hand, includes animal sounds in the category of human linguistic signs. He uses the example of the sounds emitted by the cock to inform the hen that he has found food, ("Nam et gallus gallinaceus reperto cibo dat signum vocis gallinae"). According to him, animals too, have certain signs among themselves by which they make known the desires in their mind ("Habent etiam bestiae quaedam inter se signa, quibus produnt adpetitum animi sui"). (4) Here Dante moves away from St. Augustine and follows both the Aristotelian and the Modist binary distinction between natural signs and conventional signs. Even though certain animal sounds may contain intentionality or the desire to communicate, there is, however, a noticeable difference between intentionality and rationality. This is the crucial point that distinguishes human verbal signs from other signs, including those of animals.

Following the distinction between articulate and inarticulate utterances, and having recognized as a premise that for Dante "among all creatures only man received the gift of speech since only man needed it" ("soli homini datum est loqui", D.V.E. 1.2.8), the linguistic notion of how humans and animals produce significant sounds brings into discussion the signic function of said sounds. The first step toward the exposition of signs in relation to sound is Aristotle's De intepretatione. Here the articulate sounds or those which are generated by words are called "symbols" (Gr. "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]", Lat. "symbola") and not "signs" (Gr. "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]", Lat. "semeia"), regardless of the fact that this last term is also used by Aristotle. At first sight the reader might think that he uses both terms interchangeably and in the same sense, yet looking at his work on rhetoric, we come to realize that he calls "signs" ("semeia") the signs that are necessary or what he also calls (Gr. "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]", Lat. "tekmerion"):

      ... Necessary signs are called tekmeria; those which are not
   necessary have no distinguishing name. I call those necessary signs
   from which a logical syllogism can be constructed, wherefore such a
   sign is called tekmerion; for when people think that their
   arguments are irrefutable, they think that they are bringing
   forward a tekmerion, something as it were proved and concluded; for
   in the old language tekmar and peras have the same meaning (limit,

      Among signs, some are related as the particular to the universal;
   for instance, if one were to say that all wise men are just,
   because Socrates was both wise and just. Now this is a sign, but
   even though the particular statement is true, it can be refuted,
   because it cannot be reduced to syllogistic form. But if one were
   to say that it is a sign that a man is ill, because he has a fever,
   or that a woman has had a child because she has milk, this is a
   necessary sign. This alone among signs is a tekmerion; for only in
   this case, if the fact is true, is the argument irrefutable. Other
   signs are related as the universal to the particular, for instance,
   if one were to say that it is a sign that this man has a fever,
   because he breathes hard; but even if the fact be true, this
   argument also can be refuted, for it is possible for a man to
   breathe hard without having a fever.

      We have now explained the meaning of a probability, of sign, and
   necessary sign, and the difference between them; in the Analytics
   we have defined them more clearly and stated why some of them can
   be converted into logical syllogisms, while others cannot. (5)

In the strict logical sense, as of course Aristotle expressed the notion of sign in the specificity of [it] being "necessary" ("tekmerion"), that is, as an existing condition of a relation between cause and effect, sign must be taken as symptom. The notion of sign Aristotle expounds in De intepretatione if cross-referenced by Rhetorica and Analytica priora, we are able to recognize the distinction he makes between "symbola" and "semeia". It is quite comprehensible that from the passage quoted above and the citation provided in the note from Analytica one may realize that he uses the term "semeia" to refer to those signs which are endowed with a necessary condition ("tekmerion"), they are sorts of natural signs or symptoms dominated by a syllogistic relation of cause and effect. It is what, later on, Peirce calls "indices", that is, signs whose relation to their object does not lie in the mental association but "signifies its object solely by virtue of being really connected with it. Of this nature are all natural signs and physical symptoms." (6)

"Symbola", on the other hand, are those signs that intrinsically do not require a necessary condition ("tekmerion") or the quality of being de facto connected with the object. They are instead referred to as signs correlated with a meaning by means of convention "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" ("kata syntheken"). For such signs that are correlated with a meaning conventionally, Aristotle chose "symbola" over "semeia" or "tekmeria" because the type of correlation set up by the symbol is a rather complex one. "For Aristotle, the symbolic nature of language with respect to the real world is a symbolism at two removes, since the name stands for an image which is itself an image of a thing; therefore (according to the rules of logical organization followed in De interpretatione), the item at the left corner of the triangle must be interchangeable with what stands at the apex." (7)


In fact, the relationship between the two terms, that is, the spoken sounds and affections of the soul is not causally motivated but conventionally correlated, thus both terms are reciprocal and logically interchangeable. Different, on the other hand, is the relationship between the affections of the soul and things because the mental experience manifested in the form of thoughts or concepts, for the simple fact that such an experience takes place, is pointing something out. It is:

   ... a proof or a symptom that there exist concepts in the soul of
   the utterer. Such a statement may seem trivial; certainly the fact
   that someone speaks is a symptom of the fact that one has something
   to say. Nevertheless, the statement is of a higher semiotic
   interest because it appears that not only natural facts (such as
   smoke, milk, or a scar) can be signs (or symptoms), but that also
   "sounds" (in this framework: the sounds emitted intentionally by
   human beings as words) can assume two functions. Vocal sounds are
   symbols when they are correlated with meaning which they
   conventionally display, but are signs (or symptoms or indexes) when
   they reveal the presence of a meaning, a concept, an idea. (8)

As we can see from Eco's explanation, the dynamic function of the vocal sound is dual. On the one hand it provides us with the notion of being sign in relation to a process, and insofar as it is correlated with meaning conventionally significant. On the other hand, it is sign in relation to a natural cause insofar as it manifests ("delousi") something, 'just as a symptom manifests its own cause.' This to say that a manifested meaning is self-evident, it cannot be detached from its cause, and, therefore, it constitutes a motivated relationship between what it is (mental experience) and that which it manifests (something). Following Eco's explanation we come to realize that even the symbolic sign is not entirely conventional but it shares, to some extent, an indexical value. However, remaining within the Aristotelian description, we must say that the Stagirite did not quite make such a distinction; he keeps the motivated sign ("tekmerion") distinct from the conventional one ("symbolon"). The conjoint conventional and motivated characteristic that Eco attributes to the symbolic sign is in part prompted by Aristotle's notion of nouns (9) and more so by Peirce's notion of signs. It is, however, in Peirce's work that Eco finds a convincing account of sign and the quality of being simultaneously conventional and motivated. Peirce emphasizes such an idea regarding indexical signs:

Indices, on the other hand, furnish positive assurance of the reality and the nearness of their Objects. But with the assurance there goes no insight into the nature of those Objects. The same perceptible may, however, function doubly as a Sign. That footprint that Robinson Crusoe found in the sand, and which has been stamped in the granite of fame, was an Index to him that some creature was on his island, and at the same time, as a Symbol, called up the idea of man. (CP. 4.531)

Not only the indexical but equally the iconic sign contains what Peirce calls "Symbolide Features" for the fact that icons too are primarily signs of the object for which they stand. Being Peirce's definition of sign triadic, that is, "three things are concerned in the functioning of a Sign; the Sign itself, its Object, and its Interpretant" (CP. 4.532), Eco, from a purely logical stand point, was able to draw the conclusion that even symbolic signs must share indexical characteristics or, to some extent, a motivated relation with the object of signification for the fact that, as it is the case for indexical signs, they too (the symbolic ones) point out "a meaning, a concept, an idea" (Eco 6) about said object of signification. Therefore, contemporary semioticians, especially those who follow Peirce and concur with Eco's further elaboration of the theory of sign, consider the symbolic, the indexical, and the iconic signs neither entirely conventional nor entirely motivated; even though symbolic signs are primarily conventional and the indexical and iconic ones primarily motivated.

The other material aspect Dante implies in the expression "signum sensibile" is the written form of language: "I say 'form' with reference both to the words used for things, and to the construction of words, and to the arrangement of the construction ("Dico autem 'formam' et quantum ad reum vocabula et quantum ad vocabulorum constructionem et quantum ad constructionis prolationem", D.V.E. 1.6.4). Although Dante in the first book focuses primarily on the spoken aspect of language, the other, the written aspect is nonetheless implicitly contained in the "signum sensibile". It is understandable that he speaks of "sound" ("sonus") to refer to the sensory part of the eminent vernacular because the model for which he is searching does not exist, it is an illustrious, cardinal, courtly, and curial Italian vernacular, which belongs to every city but seems to belong to none ("dicimus illustre, cardinale, aulicum et curiale vulgare in latio, quod omnis latie civilitatis est et nullius esse videtur", D.V.E. 1.16.6). It only appears in bits and pieces traceable in works of major poets. It is in a state of undeveloped formation lacking those specific rules governing its grammatical principles. Hence, Dante knows very well that it would be untimely and inappropriate to speak of the written form regarding such an eminent vernacular. Moreover, those dialects among which Dante attempts to find the eminent one do not claim to have a written tradition. Their tradition is fundamentally oral, the primary condition of what he calls "natural" ("naturalis"). At this point let us try to recreate a possible hypothesis by which Dante formed his notion of language semiotically.

As Maria Corti reminds us of the "witty remark" once made by Carlo Dionisotti regarding the undisputable difference between Petrarch's library and Dante's, which consists in the fact that "while we know the first, and in part we possess it, the second is unknown." (10) It is with such a view in mind that we also attempt to trace Aristotelian intertextual influences, as well as other influences, that may have contributed in the shaping of Dante's notion of language semiotically. Dante's knowledge of Aristotle's De interpretatione is certain, and was available in translation through the commentary tradition. Important to remember is Ammonius' commentary (ca. 435/445-517/526), which in addition to serving as a source for other commentators and as a method of exegesis, through the translation by William of Moerbeke (ca. 1215-1286), became influential on Aquinas and on medieval Aristotelian philosophy and semantics. Severinus Boethius' (480-524/525) translation and commentaries of the De interpretatione were the other primary source for the transmission of Aristotle's works on logic before the rise of the universities. Boethius works probably survived because they were included in Alcuin's plan of revival of scholarship at the schools of writing of Charlemagne. Augustine's theory of signs and theory of language deriving from his De dialectica, De magistro, and the De doctrina christiana also serve as a valuable source of understanding Dante's semiotics and his explicit aim to create a junction between a theory of language and a theory of signs.

It is with the second half of the 13th century that takes place an elaboration of a theory of signs as a result of the interplay of Aristotelian and Augustinian influences. Ideas on the subject of signs not only were a matter of discussions among theologians but rapidly began to invade the faculties of arts. It is at the University of Paris that between 1260-1280 developed the Modist movement. During this time, the sign is increasingly taken as the basic concept of the linguistic science (scientia sermocinalis). (11) The Modist movement adopted a type of Aristotelism which was not the canonical one supported by Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas, but rather the one whose precursor was Ibn-Rushd (Averroes, 1126-1198) and which provided no intentional convergence with the Christian belief. This new model of Averroistic Aristotelism, also known as radical Aristotelism, found its most important followers, among others, in Siger of Brabant and Boethius of Dacia. They, with the whole group of the Parisian avanguard (Simon, Martin, John, and later culminating in Thomas of Erfurt with his Grammatica speculativa), put forward a theory of signs that sometimes would be in agreement and others in disagreement with that of the canonical model.

For our purpose it is important to recognize that both models formed the auctoritates of Dante's semiotic theory (Corti, "La teoria" 70). The appellative of Modist refers to the central role that the modes of signifying (modi significandi) acquired in the formulation of their theory of speculative grammar. For these thinkers grammar acquired the stature of a true science, and all facts had to be explained by means of reason and not simply by limiting the argument to their description. More specifically, and as Corti clearly illustrates, the Modists' notion of verbal sign involves three parts: there is the res extra, a sort of entity independent from our knowledge that exists in nature, and to which belong the modes of being (modi essendi). Next, there are the modes of understanding (modi intelligendi) that pertain to human beings and are the same for all humankind. It is from the modes of understanding that humans are able to produce that which is known (res intellecta) or meaning (significatum). However, it is only through the modes of signifying (modi significandi) that the meaning is correlated to a signifier (vox). It is by means of such a correlation that the vox becomes sign (signum) and the thing (res) becomes the thing signified (res significata, Corti, "La teoria" 72). One further aspect of the sign which the Modists share unaltered with Aristotle is the arbitrary relation between the signifier and the signified. Such a relation takes place in historical reality (ex institutione) and is conventional (ad placitum).

The Modist influence on Dante was significant and left an indelible mark particularly in his treatise on the vernacular. Indications which emphasize the modes of signification in the D.V.E. can be discerned from the very beginning of Book One. In defining the eminent vernacular Dante states:

      ... vulgarem locutionem appellamus eam qua infants assuefiunt ab
   assistentibus, cum primitus distinguere voces incipient, vel, quod
   brevius dici potest, vulgarem locutionem asserimus, quam sine omni
   regula nutricem imitantes accipimus" (1.1.2).

   [... I define the vernacular as the language which children gather
   from those around them when they first begin to articulate words;
   or more briefly, that which we learn without any rules at all by
   imitating our nurses.]

The other language, the one of secondary formation, is the one which

... Romani gramaticam vocaverunt. Hanc quidem secundariam Greci habent et alii, sed non omnes; ad habitum vero huius pauci perveniunt, quia no nisi per spatium temporis et studii assiduitatem, regulamur et doctrinamur in illa. (D.V.E.1.1.3)

[... the Romans called grammar. This secondary language is also possessed by the Greeks and others, but not by all; and indeed few attain it because it is only in the course of time and by assiduous study that we become schooled in its rules and art.]

Between the two, Dante holds the vernacular to be the nobler language

Harum quoque duarum nobilior est vulgaris: tum quia prima fuit humano generi usitata; tum quia totus orbis ipsa perfruitur, licet in diversas prolationes et vocabula sit divisa; tum quia naturalis est nobis, cum illa potius artificialis existat. (D.V.E.1.1.4)

[Now of the two the nobler is the vernacular: first because it is the first language ever spoken by mankind; second because the whole world uses it though in diverse pronunciations and forms; finally because it is natural to us while the other is more the product of art.]

Noteworthy characteristics contained particularly in the last passage are the ones pointing toward the modes of signifying of both the eminent vernacular and the grammatical language. In order to adequately grasp Dante's theory of language in the D.V.E. the reader is compelled to use semiotic resources. It is merely through an in-depth reflection on signs that due attention can be turned to and provide answers for his depiction of the eminent vernacular as the language which was first spoken by mankind ("prima fuit humano generi usitata"), and that the whole world uses it though in different pronunciations and forms ("totus orbis ipsa perfruitur, licet in diversas prolationes et vocabula sit divisa"). The central questions the reader has to answer are: What does Dante mean by calling the vernacular the language that was first spoken by mankind? And according to what reason does he state that the whole world uses it though in diverse pronunciations and forms? We may begin to answer the first question by putting at the center of our attention the kind of relation Dante finds between names (nomina) and the object (res). But, before we do so we must yield concern to the condition of such a relation and determine whether all names are the result of things (nomina sunt consequentia rerum) (12) or rather, as Isidore of Seville maintained, that some names are imposed not according to nature but arbitrarily and can be called conventional ("Non omnia nomina a veteribus secundum naturam imposita sunt, sed quaedam et secundum placitu"). (13) On this point too, the answer Dante provides in the D.V.E. is based on the modi significandi of the speculative grammarians. There are two categories of modes of signification: 1) innate or motivated modes of signification (modi significandi substantiales) which consist of linguistic rules that are the same for all humans and which contain linguistic universals; 2) arbitrary modes of signification (modi significandi accidentais) which correspond to actual languages. Their modes of signifying are based on the arbitrary/conventional relationship between a signifier and a signified (Corti, "La teoria", 72).

In the D.V.E. Dante endeavors to draw such a dichotomous condition in order to clarify the role of both languages, namely the one the "Romans called grammar" ("Romani gramaticam vocaverunt") and the "vernacular" ("vulgarem locutionem"). For him both languages contain important elements which allow humans to re-discover the relation of necessity there once was between Adam's language ("La lingua ch'io parlai" Paradiso 26.124) and God, between the names (nomina) and essence (res extra or res per se). (14) On the one hand grammar provides an awareness that permits humans to extrapolate those intrinsic rules that function as universals for the modes of signifying and for the specific purpose to rehabilitate such a relation of necessity. Through such rules, which are the same in all languages, and also a view that was shared by both the speculative grammarians and Dante, one is able to come to grips with the type of organization and the order that governs the modes of signifying based precisely on the rapport of necessity between the nomina and the res extra. For Dante there is no doubt that the linguistic faculty is permanent and immutable among all members of the human species and grammar represents such a concept since "the art of grammar [...] is nothing but a certain unalterable identity of speech unchanged by time and place" Cgramatica nichil aliud est quam quedam inalterabilis locutionis idemptitas diversis temporibus atque locis", D.V.E. 1.9.11). On the other hand, Dante attempts to find the eminent vernacular by searching among all the Italian dialects and he does not come up with a suitable one. For Dante there is no dialect that could be actualized in this or that vernacular and having the stature of the eminent one. It is certainly so, considering that the eminent vernacular for him is the instrument of poetic expression. As such, "language signs" ("signa locutionis"), especially those upon which rests the substantiales modes of signifying, cannot be actualized in a well defined model, but in the model that is not a model. The eminent vernacular is "illustrious, cardinal, courtly, curial" ("illustre, cardinale, aulicum, curiale"). It is an instrument of expression beyond all models, the true medium capable of immortalizing truth. That which, along with grammar, offers the possibility to find the lost relation of necessity between the nomina and the res extra, between the nomina and God, as we will see in the specificity of the Divine Comedy.

How does Dante bring together the "vernacular" ("vulgaris locutio") and "grammar" ("locutio secundaria") in order to find the eminent vernacular? Although both forms of language are subject to changes in time and space, since they are created by man, and "man is a most unstable and changeable animal" ("homo sit instabilissimum atque variabilissimum animal"), therefore every language "cannot be durable or lasting but must vary according to time and place like other human things such as manners and customs" ("nec durabilis nec continua esse potest, sed sicut alia que nostra sunt, puta mores et habitus, per locorum temporumque distantias variari oportet", D.V.E. 1.9.6). Nonetheless, grammar provides an understanding for that innate linguistic faculty which is proper to humans, (15) and the vernacular is able to craft the concrete actualization of said linguistic faculty which grammar provides only as a form of meta-linguistic awareness. Thus, vernacular and grammar together are repositories of those essential attributes that the eminent vernacular should contain, that which he calls illustrious, cardinal, courtly, and curial.

An aspect worth noting in the D.V.E. is the use Dante makes of "ydioma", "lingua", "loquela", and "locutio", for which Dante's lexical choices are not accidental according to Eco. (16) He suggests that when Dante uses "ydioma", "lingua", and "loquela" he is referring to the Saussurrian notion of langue. Instead when he uses "locutio" he refers to a wider linguistic range which must be understood as parole, since Dante often uses it in contexts which suggest the human linguistic faculty and the entire activity of parole (La ricerca 46). This is a striking point for the on-going critical debate, especially after Pier Vincenzo Mengaldo's view of the D.V.E. as a treatise containing noticeable "contraddizioni teoriche". (17) In addition to the views expressed by other Dante scholars who maintain logical conciliatory positions in reply to Mengaldo's opposite view of "theoretical contradictions", I suggest that Dante's theoretical framework of the D.V.E. contains all the characteristics for an elaboration of a modern theory of language which is essentially dealt with as a theory of verbal signs.

By defining the human language as "rational and sensory sign" ("rationale signum et sensuale", D.V.E. 1.3.3), Dante gives no indication that such a sign has any real connections with its object. As it would be, for example, for the iconic sign (the sign perceived as resembling or possessing some characteristics or qualities of the signified, such as a picture, onomatopoeia, gesture imitations, etc.). Or the indexical sign (the sign which is somehow directly connected physically or causally to the signified. Examples of this type would be natural signs, medical symptoms, measuring instruments, signals, pointers, etc.). The linguistic sign for Dante is basically arbitrary, yet not entirely arbitrary as it appears in the aforementioned citation. For it is somewhat comparable to what six centuries later Ferdinand de Saussure's general definition of the linguistic sign is and what Charles Senders Peirce referred to as symbolic sign. Such a comparison, however, requires some explanatory remarks. Although Dante speaks of arbitrariness regarding the linguistic sign, the central point of his treatise is to find the vanished relation between the signa and the res in order to create a model for the eminent vernacular. Dante's notion of sign, although arbitrary in its great part, contains nonetheless traces of the Aristotelian signic necessity ("tekmerion"). Yet Dante's traces of necessity contained in the linguistic sign are different from Aristotle's. While for Aristotle the notion of necessity has a purely logical connection with its object, and the signs he discusses are essentially non-linguistic signs ("semeia" or "tekmeria" which are explainable syllogistically, such as symptoms), for Dante even the linguistic signs or what Aristotle calls "symbols" ("symbola") acquire in part the function of necessity in relation to their object (res extra). On this precise aspect, Dante was influenced by the Modist ideas circulating not only in Paris but also in Bologna and various parts of Tuscany (Corti, Dante 15, 30) and became a sort of theoretical debate in places of intellectual gatherings. By sharing the Modist view of a universal grammar, which is essentially based on the modi significandi, Dante added novelty to his theory of the eminent vernacular. The verbal sign is certainly arbitrary since it signifies "ad placitum", and according to the Modists it is the accidental form of language (forma accidentais locutionis). Nonetheless, the same verbal sign contains also the substantial form of language (forma substantiales locutionis) which corresponds to those innate linguistic universals that function as the formal principles of language itself. This is possible because humans, by nature, are endowed with linguistic ability, and God created them upon the creation of the human soul ("dicimus certain formam locutionis a Deo cure anima prima concreatam fuisse", D.V.E. 1.6.4). The idea of a human innate predisposition for "certam formam locutionis" is irrefutable in the D.V.E. to the point that man "[eagerly] spoke at once as soon as he had received breath from life-giving Power", and for Dante "it is more human in man to make himself heard than to hear, (18) provided that he is heard and hears as a man" ("loquentem primum, mox post afflatus est ab animante Virtute, incunctanter fuisse locutum. Nam in homine sentiri humanius credimus quam sentire, dummodo sentiatur et sentiat taquam homo", 1.5.1).

In the attempt to reconcile arbitrariness and necessity in the correlation between the signa and the res, Dante has no other choice but to use an original theory of signs, whereby both modes of signifying, that is, accidental and substantial must be embedded in the form of understanding of humans, which is in itself a semiotic process. This condition makes Dante's theory of signs a very contemporary one in that the linguistic ability of humans is co-created with the modi essendi, and the latter are contained in the res extra, in the Object which provides a rapport of causality between the modi significandi substantiales and the res extra. Further, all modes of signifying are an outcome of our ways of understanding things (modi intellingendi), and which produce images of the Object. As a result of this process of knowing, images are inevitably removed from the essence of the Object. Therefore, the relation between the nomina and the res takes place by means of our mode of knowing the res (modi intelligendi) for the reason that any mental phenomenon, any intellectual act foresees a content pointing in the direction of the intentional object. Not coincidentally, a similar idea can be found in Siger of Brabant. (19) The following illustration may clarify this notion. You will notice that the modi significandi substantiales maintain two placement values: 1) a direct one with the res through the innate speech ability of humans; 2) an indirect one which is mediated by the speech identity (locutionis ydemptitas) and is immanent in the signa.

Dante's idea of object does not simply refer to any object, but to the Object, to the res extra or to the Divine Object which is God. The linguistic sign of the eminent vernacular, therefore, while being arbitrary for the face that between the signifier and the signified there is not a relation of necessity, and this is the reason for the proliferation of languages, it nonetheless upholds, by means of its rigorously semiotic nature, traces of correlation with the Divine Object. The human linguistic aptitude, as a result of combinable elements residing in the intellectual faculties of creating signs and in the natural ability to preserve the signic, even if faint, value of the Divine Object because it is innate in the modi essendi, allows Dante to assert that such attributes can be found only in the eminent vernacular. A model this latter one that does not exist and neither is Dante able to find it among the fourteen Italian dialects. The only true model for Dante is the one that is not a model; that is, the poetic language, which manifests itself unpredictably between a state of presence and of evanesce. The twofold theoretical process which grounds the eminent vernacular between the existential condition of presence of the signa and the evanescence of the res points out the crucial role of discourse and its semiotic implications which also clarifies the Dantean unpredictability of the poetic language as the interplay between presence and evanescence.


The expression "simple speech signs" ("simplicissima signa locutionis", D.V.E. 1.16.3) Dante uses to refer to the eminent vernacular are the simple speech signs that make up the linguistic rules common to all Italian dialects, yet proper to none. This is a textual condition pointing in the direction of the discursive relevance of the treatise, since Dante here endeavors to find an inimitable model for poetic expression. Dante's attempt, as we all know, is only ideal because no language is fully endowed with such faculties. Nonetheless, all languages may become the verbal medium for poetic expression as a result of their semiotic nature and provided that they conform to the characteristics of being illustrious, cardinal, courtly, and curial. The semiotic nature of language, being dialogic in its true sense, constantly recalls a collaborative engagement between language (which contains signs that are confirmed and conventionalized by the system through their internal functioning dialogism and a community of speakers) and that which has the potential capability and dynamism to produce new signs that may be identified as discourse.

In trying to describe how a semiotics of discourse works in Dante, we must attempt to elucidate first its characteristics from a theoretical point of view and on the level of its meta-linguistic functioning. The first theoretical obstacle we need to overcome is how the signifying process, which engages both the modi significandi accidentales and the modi significandi substantiales, is achievable and applicable to the eminent vernacular. In other words, to overcome such an obstacle how does Dante actualize the eminent vernacular since he cannot find a model for it? And the answer resides exactly in the discourse of the eminent vernacular because discourse is like a semiotic grammar which regulates reasonable signifying paths and makes them realize in action through the signa and in the form of lived experience. In order to actualize simultaneously modes of signifying that are accidentals and substantiales, discourse must be viewed as a dynamic mechanism of structuring speech acts mediating between the Saussurian langue and parole and ruling over the entire process of formation of such speech acts. It is first of all a form of human presence which engages unforeseen responses on the part of the actant. It is from the preliminary step of presence that conditions develop for a generative trajectory of discourse able to produce signs, and by means of signs discourse is actualized. The actualization of discourse is made possible because from a content-based beginning, discourse must move in the direction of a grammar of expression which is fundamentally a semiotic production. Also, discourse formation entails challenging and pushing in the background other existing discourses. The content-based beginning is not empty beginning but a point of departure linked with already-existing categories of signification whereby discourse, observed as the moment of enunciation in action, becomes sign only when it reaches the end of its course; it is a series of speech acts semiotized a posteriori. Yet it is exactly this undefined aspect of language that interests us the most because it is the dynamism of the utterance in its process of becoming that allows us to grasp the poetic instant of language, the instant in which the modi significandi accidentales and substantiales converge and become actualized, even if for a short-lived instant, in what Dante calls the eminent vernacular.

Discourse is a complex mode of signifying and the way Dante theorizes it in the D.V.E. is indicative of such a complexity. The only possible actualization of the eminent vernacular is through poetry and in the poetic type of the song. The song is "the most excellent construction" ("supremam constructionem", 2.6.7), and the "action of composing words that are set to a metric form" ("actio completa dictantis verba modulationi armonizata", 2.8.6). This "actio completa dictantis verba", or the poet's specific task of 'binding words' of Conv. 4.6.3, requires intuition which lives only through discourse as an instant of semiotic abduction. Here abduction is taken in the Peircian sense, that is, as "the process of forming explanatory hypothesis. It is the only logical operation which introduces any new idea" (CP 5.171). It is basically the linguistic intuition that brings about added value to the moment in which it happens and actively partakes in the making of discourse. The starting point of this moment is not semiotically empty but semiotically flowing in the universe of related possibilities of signification, and the unique combination of such related possibilities orients the poet toward the formation of new meaning which lives in the newly combined form of the signa. It can be compared somehow to what Lotman called semiosphere or "the semiotic space necessary for the existence and functioning of languages, not the sum total of different languages; in a sense the semiosphere has a prior existence and is in constant interaction with languages" (Lotman, Universe 123). Moreover, the act that produces abduction is an all-encompassing one in that it spontaneously takes into account and activates all fields of presence which leads the reader to look at what happens to discourse seen as a form of improvisation in action. From a logical point of view, the linguistic intuition deriving from the act of abduction is not predetermined or rehearsed. Thus it qualifies as improvisation in action, as an extemporal act relying on the shared availability of all external signs impacting the inner world of the poet and manifesting itself in a responsive mode, which ultimately leaves behind the poetic creation in the linguistic signs. Dante's greatest challenge in the D.V.E. is that of finding a way to make the eminent vernacular live verbally because it is therein he finds the greatest model of the "primordial language" ("primiloquium") used by Adam. From the beginning of Book One to the end of Book Two (although Dante could have told us more about the eminent vernacular had he completed the treatise) the only possible way to make it concrete is through poetry. Theoretically, Dante can explain the possibility of such a concretization only by means of a semiotics of discourse.

But let us proceed in order and try first to eliminate the apparent "theoretical contradictions" emerging from the treatise. Dante begins by saying that between the eminent vernacular and the grammatical language, nobler among the two is the vernacular. It is so because the eminent vernacular is natural (but also unstable) whereas the "grammatical language" ("gramatica") is artificial Cvulgaris ... naturalis est nobis ... [gramatica] artificialis existat", 1.1.4). Dante also tells us that the grammatical language, such as Latin and/or Greek, is indispensable because it contains a speech identity which is inalterable through times and places Cgramatica nichil aliud est quam quedam inalterabilis locutionis ydemptitas diversis temporibus atque loci", 1.9.11). If is governed by the consensus of many nations, and it is not subject to individual arbitrariness ("de comuni consensus multarum gentium fuerit regulate, nulli singulari arbitrio videtur obnoxia", 1.9.11). These two apparently contradictory statements constitute the stumbling block of the ongoing critical debate of Dante scholarship because on the one hand Dante describes the vernacular as the model to follow, but it is also subject to changes and without rules; on the other hand the grammatical language, which is artificial and that he does not recommended as the model to follow, happens to have continuity and commonality among various nations of the world. In reality Dante is very coherent with his theoretical approach and the alleged contradictions can be easily overcome if we reply by saying that the vernacular, which is natural but unstable and without rules, is not what Dante calls the eminent vernacular. And neither does Dante attempt to compare any type of vernacular (Sicilian, Florentine, etc.) with the eminent one. The eminent vernacular claims no model among the vernaculars. The only characteristic it shares with them is that of being natural, and further down we will discuss how if is so. In regards to gramatica, Dante makes reference to "linguistic universals" ("gramatica facultatis", 1.9.11) which are intrinsically present in languages that are governed by rules and that are not subject to noticeable changes, as would be the case for Latin and/or Greek. What does all this mean and how cana semiotics of discourse prove to land usefulness to the on-going critical debate?

Again, Dante's preoccupation in the D.V.E. is that of making the innate naturalness of the vernacular and the artificialness of the grammatical language coexist in a tangible manner. In order to achieve such a goal he has to move on the meta-linguistic plane of his exposition and introduce the notion of language in movement. That is, the eminent vernacular can only be actualized at the moment of utterance, when various factors come into play, such as presence, as the concrete manifestation of utterance connected with the "body proper, a sensing body that is the first form that the actant of enunciation takes"; (20) abduction, as "the process of forming explanatory hypothesis" (Peirce, CP 5.171) grounded in previous existing cultural codes and able to validate the existence of possible-new worlds; improvisation, as the way in which the actant is synchronized with the external world and the responsive inner impact it produces on the individual; and finally performance, which must be taken as the distinctive linguistic action having the purpose to accomplish something. It is exactly within this moment of poetic intuition, a moment of discourse formation that the eminent vernacular can be actualized in the form of verbal signs.

The semiotics of discourse Dante attempts to draw in the D.V.E. is a complex one in that the entire process is articulated on a sort of difficult correlation (ratio difficilis). He is essentially engaged with the semiotic theorization of the eminent vernacular as an outcome of the poetic creation. As such, the poetic creation entails using and discarding at the same time previously formed linguistic codes. The poet must use existent linguistic codes in order to test and create new codes. Semiotically, discourse in the D.V.E. constitutes the crucial act whereby Adam's "primiloquium" emerges for a short-lived instant within the contingent reality of the postlapsarian language. Hence, the act itself is what Dante calls the eminent vernacular, because the Edenic naturalness of the vernacular, as natural as the first cry of a new born infant, connects with the rational process of the artificial language and ultimately produces the experience of truth. The crucial point of the semiotics of discourse in the D.V.E. is therefore the perception of the sensible and intelligible linked with already-existing categories of signification whereby the enunciation in action becomes sign only when it reaches the end of its course; it is semiotized a posteriori. Yet it is exactly this undefined aspect of language that interests Dante the most because it is the dynamism of the utterance in its process of becoming that allows him to grasp the poetical dimension of language, that which is-not-yet-sign in order to offer something new. Once this is successfully achieved, those codes which were previously available to the poet are not important any longer, they are simply the expression of a linguistic conventionality. The actualization of the poetic creation, as much as the actualization of the eminent vernacular, may have successive recourses provided that discourse is engaged in its polyhedric complexity as illustrated above. Therefore, the apparent contradictions that in one way the eminent vernacular can exist only on "ideally rational grounds" (Ascoli 138) and, at the same time, the possibility of making it actual through the poetic creation are abolished. The elimination of such contradictions is possible because in order to make the eminent vernacular live poetically it has to acquire a written form. The eminent vernacular is the outcome of an expression of the soul. The expression of the soul is an intrinsic faculty of the soul itself, since it was created by God together with the soul ("certam formam locutionis a Deo cum anima prima concreatam fuisse", 1.6.4). It has to acquire a sensory form, not only as vox but also as signum, in addition to its rational one ("Oportuit ergo genus humanum ad comunicandas inter se conceptions suas aliquod rationale signum et sensuale habere", 1.3.2) in order to provide the condition to be apprehended by humans and to guarantee a sort of enduring stability. The enduring stability of the eminent vernacular here does not mean acquiring the form of any grammatical language, but rather producing the condition for apprehensible-sensory vestiges contained in the historicized signa. Dante, however, does not put it quite this way but such a conclusion is the only legitimate one in order to actualize it meta-linguistically in the D.V.E. and, later on, poetically in the Divine Comedy.

In his theoretical attempt, Dante is faced with the fundamental problem of finding an adequate way to turn the eminent vernacular into a system of signification. Semiotically a system of signification necessitates syntactic rules (rules governing the combination of signs); semantic rules (rules for the signification of signs); behavioral rules (rules for the organization of syntactic and semantic rules entailing human responsive actions). All of these put together form what Eco calls an "s-code" or "system-code" (A Theory, 38). From the correlation of various s-codes, ordinary codes are formed for the specific purpose of producing signification. This is what generally happens for the production of codes. The fundamental part of the code is its sign. It is through the correlation of an expression-level and a content-level that the code can be formed, replicated, or even changed. Consequently, the other difficulty with which Dante is faced is the way in which to produce signs (modi faciendi signa, A Theory 217).

The problematic aspect of sign production emerges from Dante's survey of the fourteen Italian dialects, among which he is looking for a suitable model having all the adequate characteristics of the eminent vernacular. He singles out the ones that have no useful attributes whatsoever such as the Romanesque, the dialects in the region of Ancona and Friuli, Sardinian, Aquileians and Istrians, Milanese and Bergamasques, dialects from Casentino and Fratta, those from Perugia, Orvieto, Viterbo, Civita Castellana, and the Genoese. He then moves on to discuss the ones that do present positive attributes. Among them Dante mentions the Sicilian dialect from the court of Frederic II (not the ordinary one spoken by Sicilians) which is the model used by all ltalians for poetry ("eo quod quicquid poetantur Ytali sicilianum vocatur", 1.11.2). Tuscan dialects have many useful attributes but the people from Tuscany, both plebeians and learned, are foolish to believe they are the ones to possess the eminent vernacular ("... Tuscos, qui, propter amentiam suam infroniti titulum sibi vulgaris illustris arrogare videntur", 1.13.1). Finally the Bolognese, having the consistency of estimable gentleness, Dante finds it to be a good model ("Bononienses [...] eorum locution [...] laudabilem suavitatem remaneat temperate: quod procul dubio nostro iudicio sic esse censemus", 1.15.5). However, regarding the Bolognese, Dante calls it a good model in comparison with the municipal dialects, and not inevitably as a good model for the eminent vernacular ("Itaque si preponentes eos in vulgari sermone sola municipalia Latinorum vulgaria comparando considerant, allubescentes cocordamus cure illis, si vero simpliciter vulgare bononiense preferendum existimant, dissentients discordamus ab eis", 1.15.6). The linguistic picture drawn above is indicative of Dante's problematic condition regarding sign production on two levels. On the one hand a model based on an actual dialect does not exist and as a result of it he must create one. On the other hand, after his failed attempt of finding a suitable model among the municipal dialects, he dwells on the Sicilian, Tuscan, and Bolognese dialects which contain useful attributes. Nonetheless, the examples he provides are poetic examples, and Dante's model for his eminent vernacular will be a poetic model having the elusive traits "common to all" dialects and "proper to none" (1.16.4, 6; 1.18.2). Dante's endeavor on these two levels of sign production is dominated by a difficult correlation (ratio difficilis) because "the expression-type" (or the abstract model for a concrete signic occurrence, which is the law or rule that makes signs be recognized as such conventionally or as what Peirce calls "legisign") is the same as the content-type. This means that the abstract model correlates an undefined abstract content lacking the power of denotativeness, since Dante's model claims no unitary and conventionalized model. The difficult correlation is also due to the fact that Dante's eminent vernacular is an unprecedented mode of signifying. Thus, in absence of an expression-type, the expression-token (the actual, concrete signic occurrence or what Peirce recognizes as an actually existing thing or event which is sign) "is directly accorded to its content" (Eco, A theory 183).

One last point which in my view captures clearly Dante's semiotic value of language is his definition of poetry. He defines poetry as "a fiction that is composed according to the rules of poetic and musical art" ("fictio rethorica musicaque poita", 2.4.2-3). A similar view emerges from Convivio 2.1.3 where he gives instructions to the reader regarding the proper way of interpreting poetry. "The first is called the literal, [and this is the sense that does not go beyond the fictitious words, as in the fables of poets]" ("L'uno si chiama litterale, [e questo e quello che non si stende piu oltre che la lettera de le parole fittizie, si come sono le favole de li poeti"]). "[The next is called allegorical], and this is the one that is hidden beneath the cloak of these fables, and is truth hidden beneath a beautiful lie" (["L'altro si chiama allegorico,] e questo e quello che si nasconde sotto 'l manto di queste favole, ed e una veritade ascosa sotto bella menzogna"). True is also that at this specific point of the Conv. there is a lacuna in the text, and specifically at the point in which Dante provides the definition for the literal and the allegorical senses, as noted above for the parts in brackets. However, as pointed out by Charles Singleton, "no one who knows the general argument of the whole work will, I think, make serious objection to the way the editors of the accepted critical text have filled the lacuna." (21) The importance of these citations contained in the D.V.E. and in the Conv. are clearly indications of Dante's semiotic treatment of the verbal medium. For Dante the semiotic process is a true functioning system of language. It is a process which entails the substitution and postponement of its referent. He calls words "parole fittizie" knowing clearly that their true functioning system is based on the condition of substitution and postponement of their referent. This is possible because the verbal sign is bi-planar, it possesses an expression level that needs to be correlated to a content level. The sign stands for something or an idea which is the signified object. The signified object is not an actual object but the idea that develops in the mind of the person who makes such a correlation. To produce further references about the signified object more correlated signs are required and for these ones others and so on ad infinitum. This is what Peirce calls "unlimited semiosis". Dante did not put it quite this way overtly, nevertheless the "fictio rethorica" of the D.V.E. and the "parole fittizie", and the "veritade ascosa sotto bella menzogna" of the Conv. are undoubtedly Dante's meta-semiotic attempts aiming at explaining language as a functioning system of signs. It is due to these semiotic characteristics of the verbal signs, that is, substitution and postponement of the object that humans can lie willingly because they have a reason to lie; and unwillingly because the characteristics of substitution and postponement of the object are contained in the signs and, therefore, the semiotic system is intrinsically a form of lie itself. Poetry, therefore, which is the creation of possible worlds by means of words, is primarily a manifestation of lie and only referentially a manifestation of truth. We will have the opportunity to return on this issue in further depth elsewhere.

As we can see, the central aspect dominating the D.V.E. is a semiotic one which entails the formation of discourse as the only signifying medium able to actualize, although ephemerally, the eminent vernacular. Discourse is a fluid signifying condition and its mode of signification relies on the difficult correlation between signs and their content. If the D.V.E. is Dante's theoretical treatise dealing with the eminent vernacular in a meta-semio-linguistic manner, the Divine Comedy is the work in which Dante de facto crafts it.


Wayne State University


(1) This and all English citations from the De vulgari eloquentia are taken from Marianne Shapiro's trans.: De vulgari eloquentia, Dante's Book of Exile (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990) 49. For all the Latin citations from the De vulgari eloquentia I used Dante Alighieri, opere minori, ed. Pier Vincenzo Mengaldo (Milano, Napoli: Ricciardi, 1979). Henceforth, the De vulgari eloquentia will be abbreviated as D.V.E..

(2) Dante, like St. Augustine, divides the verbal sign into (i) sensory manifesta tion insofar as it is articulated sound ("vox articulata or sonus"); (ii) what is apprehended by the mind or the signified, which corresponds to Augustine's "dicibile", "significatio". In chapter V of De dialectica Augustine defines "dictio" as "a word, but a word which signifies simultaneously both the preceding units, the word (verbum) itself and that which is produced in the mind by means of the word ('dicibile')". "Dictio" is "what is spoken not for its own sake, but for the sake of signifying something else." Augustine's notion of "dicibile", as noted by Giovanni Manetti, Theories of Sign in Classical Antiquity (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1993) 158, "corresponds, even from the point of view of the linguistic transposition, to the stoic lekton". It is the concept of dictio which according to Baratin (quoted in Manetti 158) constitutes "the element of conjunction between the theory of language and the theory of the sign."

(3) The Works of Aristotle, ed. W. D. Ross (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924).

(4) S. Aur. Augustini, De doctrina christiana (Urbe Sacti Ludovici: Officina Synodi Missouriensi Lutheranae, 1927) 2.2.

(5) Aristotle, Rhetorica, 1.2, 1357b, trans. John H. Freese (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1926) 27-29. Analytica priora 2.27, 70a, trans. A. J. Jenkinson, ed. W. D. Ross (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1928): "A probability and a sign are not identical, but a probability is a generally approved proposition: what men know to happen or not to happen, to be or not to be, for the most part thus and thus, is a probability, e.g. 'the envious hate', 'the beloved show affection'. A sign means a demonstrative proposition necessary or generally approved: for anything such that when it is another thing is, or when it has come into being the other has come into being before or after, is a sign of the other's being or having come into being. Now an enthymeme is a syllogism starting from probabilities or signs, and a sign may be taken in three ways, corresponding to the position of the middle term in the figures. For it may be taken as in the first figure or the second or the third. For example the proof that a woman is with child because she has milk is in the first figure: for to have milk is the middle term. Let A represent to be with child, B to have milk, C woman. The proof that wise men are good, since Pittacus is good, comes through the last figure. Let A stand for good, B for wise men, C for Pittacus. Itis true then to affirm both A and B of C: only men do not say the latter, because they know it, though they state the former. The proof that a woman is with child because she is pale is meant to come through the middle figure: for since paleness follows women with child and is a concomitant of this woman, people suppose it has been proved that she is with child. Let A stand for paleness, B for being with child, C for woman. Now if the one proposition is stated, we have only a sign, but if the other is stated as well, a syllogism, e.g. 'Pittacus is generous, since ambitious men are generous and Pittacus is ambitious.' Or again 'Wise men are good, since Pittacus is not only good but wise.' In this way then syllogisms are formed, only that which proceeds through the first figure is irrefutable if it is true (for it is universal), that which proceeds through the last figure is refutable even if the conclusion is true, since the syllogism is not universal nor correlative to the matter in question: for though Pittacus is good, it is not therefore necessary that all other wise men should be good. But the syllogism which proceeds through the middle figure is always refutable in any case: for a syllogism can never be formed when the terms are related in this way: for though a woman with child is pale, and this woman also is pale, it is not necessary that she should be with child. Truth then may be found in signs whatever their kind, but they have the differences we have stated."

(6) Charles Sanders Peirce, Collected Papers, 3.361 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1933) 211.

(7) Fig. 2.1 is a reproduction of Manetti's illustration on page 72, fig. 5.1.

(8) Umberto Eco, Costantino Marmo, On the Medieval Theory of Signs (Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing, 1989) 6.

(9) See De interpretatione 1.5, 16a, in The Works of Aristotle, ed. W. D. Ross (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924). Here Aristotle states: "Just as all men have not the same writing, so all men have not the same speech sounds, but the mental experiences, which these directly symbolize, are the same for all, as also are those things of which our experiences are the images." This means that even if exist various languages to express that which reality evokes in human beings, the affections of the soul, sensations, and ideas are nonetheless the same in all humans. According to this Aristotelian view, the noun is not completely lacking a universal foundation inhabiting thought and reality.

(10) Dante a un nuovo crocevia (Firenze: Libreria Commissionaria Sansoni, 1981) 9.

(11) For a comprehensive discussion of the Modist influences on Dante, specifically the ones from Siger of Brabant and Boetius of Dacia, see Maria Corti, "La teoria del segno nei logici modisti e in Dante", Quaderni del Circolo Semiologico Siciliano 15-16 (1981): 69-84. From the same author see also Dante a un nuovo crocevia.

(12) "[...] con cio sia cosa che li nomi seguitino le nominate cose, si come e scritto: 'Nomina sunt consequentia rerum'" (since it is known that names derive from the things named, as it is written: 'Nomina sunt consequentia rerum', Vita nuova, 13:4).

(13) Isidore of Seville is quoted by Ernest Robert Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1973) 497. The following quotation is taken from Dino S. Cervigni, "Beatrice's Act of Naming," Dino Cervigni's Homepage, 14 may 2008, endnote 25. ming.pdf: "On the issue of names imposed ad placitum, see for instance: 'Et nota, sicut apud logicum discernitur, alium esse sonum non vocem, alium esse sonum vocem; aliam vocem significativam, aliam non significativam; aliam significativam naturaliter, aliam ad placitum' (Alan of Lille, Sententiae 243D; qtd. Ziolkowski 84); '[...] voces significantes sunt ad placitum et ex beneplacito imponentis' (Alan of Lille, Summa 'Quoniam homines' 142; qtd. Ziolkowski 106, with the foll. quotation by Boethius in note: 'Nomen ergo est vox significativa secundum placitum'). On the issue of the conventionality of words see Bloch 44-53".

(14) This is a case comparable to the modern notion of Noam Chomsky's gen erative grammar.

(15) "That man should speak at all is nature's act" ("Opera naturale e ch'uom favella", Paradiso 26.130).

(16) See La ricerca della lingua perfetta (Roma, Bari: Laterza, 1993) 45-6. On this issue Eco explains that Dante uses "ydioma" to refer to the Hebrew language (D.V.E. 1.4, 1.6, and 1.7) and to the proliferation of languages, in particular to that of the romance languages. He uses "loquela" when he speaks of Babel and of the confusion of languages (confusio linguarum, D.V.E. 1.6). Yet in the saine context, Dante uses also "ydioma" for both the Hebrew and the confused languages. A similar thing Dante does with "loquela" which he employs in order to examine the Genovese and the Tuscan dialects and also to refer to other Italian dialects and to Hebrew.

(17) Linguistica e retorica di Dante (Pisa: Nistri-Lischi, 1978) 11. See also Gustavo Vinay, "Ricerche sul De vulgari eloquentia," Giornale Storico della Letteratura Italiana 136 (1959): 272-3. More recently some critics have embraced some views which attempt to provide answers to Mengaldo's position and which ultimately looked at finding a logical coherence in the D.V.E.. For an indepth and detailed discussion on this matter see Albert Russel Ascoli, Dante and the Making of a Modern Author (Cambridge, Cambridge UP, 2008) 139, and particularly n. 19.

(18) The emphasis on "to make himself heard" and "to hear" is mine.

(19) Questions sur la Metaphisique, ed. C. A. Graiff, in Philosophes Medievaux I (1948) 220, 20-21. Siger maintains that indeed names are "signs of things" ("signa rerum"), but not insofar as they signify things for what they are, but for their mode of knowning ("voces non habent tantum significare res modo quo sunt, sed etiam modo quo intelliguntur"). See also Corti, Dante 17, note 19.

(20) Fontanille, 56. In the making of discourse, the actant of enunciation is the author and/or the reader of the poetic text insofar as they are both engaged in the actualization of language.

(21) "Dante's Allegory", Speculum 25.1 (1950) 78. Reprinted in Charles Single ton, Commedia: Elements of Structure (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1954); further reprinted in Charles Singleton, Dante's Commedia: Elements of Structure (1977; Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP, 1980).

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Valeria Della Valle and Giuseppe Patota. L'italiano: Biografia di una lingua.
Enrico Malato. Per una nuova edizione commentata delle opere di Dante.
John C. Barnes and Jennifer Petrie, eds.: Dante and the Human Body. Eight Essays.

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