Arriving in Florence can be overwhelming if you don’t speak the local language, but if visitors take a step back and enjoy the rare privilege of perceiving language as sound and not as significance, they are in for a treat.
The signature aspirated “c” sound and the absence of diphthongization (“bono” instead of “buono”) are just two of the phonetic characteristics of the Gorgia Toscana (“Tuscan throat”) that define the distinctive musicality of the dialect. I met up with actor, writer and composer David Riondino, who is promoting his new album “Bocca baciata non perde ventura, anzi rinnova come fa la luna”, a musical adaptation of Boccaccio’s Decameron. Riondino avidly follows the musical and poetical evolution of the Florentine language. He is also founder of the Accademia dell’Ottava, a cultural association that preserves and promotes ottava rima, one of Tuscany’s oldest rhyming stanzas adopted by poets Matteo Maria Boiardo and Ludovico Ariosto and much admired by W.B. Yeats. Curious to know more about the ever-changing voice of our city, we tackled the subject while commenting and listening to Florentine rap, folk and improvised poetry matches.
“We are witnessing an ongoing transformation in the Tuscan vocabulary. Where once the literary world presented a predominance of words related to beauty and art, nowadays the lexicon is tied to the new semantics of gastronomy, to the savvy and sophisticated presentation of food and wine. The average Florentine is destined to rent out his home, learn languages and become a sommelier. We are becoming a population of waiters and renters!” Riondino half jokes.
In 1861, the Tuscan dialect became the official language of newly unified Italy due to its similarities with Latin and its geographic centrality, although it was Dante who first kick started this linguistic revolution with his Divine Comedy. Over time, our regional language has also acquired more modern uses and outlets; Florentine rapper Millelemmi is an interesting example. His 2013 album “Cortellaha” brims with witty dialectal distinctiveness.
“Ottava rima singers could be seen as the ancestors of our modern MCs. It would be interesting to combine Florentine rap and the principles of the Camerata de’ Bardi,” Riondino provokes. “Singing in dialect, contemporary songwriters like Bobo Rondelli and Lorenzo Baglioni have managed to leave an interesting mark and muster up a certain fascination. All vernacular speech is well suited to wordplay and kidding around, but Tuscan has the advantage of being understandable by all. Its inflections don’t cloud out the words, unlike Sicilian or northern forms of speech. That’s what makes the Tuscan dialect so national and why our comedians are so popular all over the boot.”