Italian as a "Pure" Language

Steve Gustafson stevegus at
Thu Mar 22 04:38:20 UTC 2001

David L. White wrote:

>> ``The complexity of the English and French written languages stems from
>> historical events that have introduced spellings from other languages,
>> while, in comparison, Italian has remained quite pure,'' said Eraldo Paulesu
>> of the University of Milan Bicocca, the lead author of the study.

>         Heavens to Betsy, that's really too much to go for.  Most of the
> difficulties in English spellings come from things like "through", "enough",
> "do", "bead" vs. "head", and "now" vs. "mow", which are quite native.
> Things like "pizza" or even "frail" have very little to do with it.  The
> main advantage Italian has, to simplify a bit, is that it did not go through
> the Great Vowel Shift.

That might be simplifying a bit too much.  French has thrashed its sound
system even more violently than English did, and retains a traditional
orthography whose broad outlines were fixed slightly earlier than English's.
Yet the pronunciation of French words can usually be inferred from the

There are a number of different factors that made English so hard.  The main
etymological difficulty is not a difference between Germanic English and
Anglo-French words; they were written using the same system.  The real
dichotomy is between native [English and Anglo-French] and learned
[neo-Latinisms from scientific, technical, and religious vocabularies].
This gives English two competing systems of etymological spellings.  Either
one in isolation is fairly predictable; but you always have to know if you
are dealing with a learned word or an older one.

French consistently represents the speech of a relatively small community
that has always been the prestige dialect of French.  British English
developed that much later, and the prestige dialect tended to borrow from
surrounding forms much more freely.  The variety of pronunciations of the
digraph "ea" [bread, break, bream] is one conspicuous result of this
complicating factor.

Heus, nunc, mihi cantate hanc aeruginem.

Ceterum censeo sedem Romanam esse delendam.

More information about the Indo-european mailing list