BMCR 2020.09.17

Lingua, testi, storia: atti della giornata di studi in ricordo di Aldo Luigi Prosdocimi (Firenze, 6 giugno 2017)

, , Lingua, testi, storia: atti della giornata di studi in ricordo di Aldo Luigi Prosdocimi (Firenze, 6 giugno 2017). Biblioteca di "Studi etruschi, 62. Roma: Giorgo Bretschneider Editore, 2019. xi, 172 p.. ISBN9788876893131 €85,00.

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This volume is the result of a one-day conference in Florence held in memory of Aldo Prosdocimi in June 2017. Prosdocimi was a professor of Linguistics at the University of Padova (1974-2012), and, for a short period, he taught at the University of Urbino (1970-1974); his almost three hundred publications are collected in Scritti inediti e sparsi (2004).

Prosdocimi’s work has had a remarkable impact on the glorious tradition of Indo-European studies in Italy, especially in the field of Italic languages, and the Italian nationality of all contributors confirms that. Nonetheless, this Gedenschrift unveils Prosdocimi’s lack of influence abroad and, more widely, the low international impact of Italian scholarship on Indo-European studies in the 20th century. In the case of Prosdocimi, this fact is demonstrated by the paucity of international conference papers he published, partly reflecting his focus on the Venetic area.

The purpose of the ‘giornata di studi’ was to remember Prosdocimi both for his human and academic qualities: the ten papers are divided into short memories of the scholar (the first three) and contributions to topics pertaining to Prosdocimi’s main interests (the remaining seven). The papers follow the order they were given on that day and they are preceded by a very short summary on their purpose and subject matter: it becomes evident while reading that the Leitmotiv is praising Prosdocimi’s methodological approach. Throughout the contributions, it is suggested that the uniqueness of the scholar’s works consisted in his focus on the complexity of sources and in the constant revision of his ideas.

Considering the immense number of Prosdocimi’s publications, these Atti are extremely useful in providing a survey of his main contribution to scholarship through a balanced selection of a wide range of topics.

The first three essays are given by Camporeale, Prosdocimi’s colleague and friend, Del Tutto and Rigobianco, respectively the first and last of Prosdocimi’s students. Camporeale’s ‘Ricordo di un collega e di un amico’ combines anecdotal flavour with an overview of the scholar’s main interests, emphasizing Devoto’s influence on Prosdocimi’s research on the Italic languages and on his ‘magnum opus’, the edition of Le Tavole Iguvine (2). Prosdocimi’s two former graduate students recall the lessons in scholarship and life that he gave them. Del Tutto, the first graduate supervised by Prosdocimi at the University of Urbino, takes a highly personal approach in listing a decalogue of methodological rules that she continues to live by in her academic life. Rigobianco, the last Paduan graduate, briefly stresses Prosdocimi’s fundamental contribution to the academic community with his tireless questioning of received opinion.

The academic papers address issues of orthography (Mancini), Venetic epigraphy (Capuis and Chieco Bianchi), Celtic and Italic (Motta, Poccetti), onomastics (Silvestri) and finally Saussurian Indo-European studies (Vallini, Marchese).

In the first paper, Mancini avails himself of Prosdocimi’s functional approach to the idea of a writing systems as a ‘corpus dottrinale’, the transmission of which was governed and determined by rules of usage and not simply by the phonology of the language (14). Mancini offers a systematic analysis of the chronology, diffusion and reasons behind the allograph <xs> for <x> in Latin. He carefully summarises the previous accounts, all based on an incomplete corpus, while highlighting Prosdocimi’s contributions. Taking into account factors such as the typology and the geographical distribution of inscriptions, with useful tables, he shows that the allograph <xs> was not typical of archaic inscriptions, as sometimes thought, but was widespread throughout the Roman Republic and Empire (24-26). The writing was earlier associated with legal texts but later spread to informal documents, and this shift, Mancini claims, misled previous scholars. Furthermore, Mancini exploits literary and inscriptional evidence from Italic languages (Marrucinian and Umbrian) to bring the date of the first occurrence of the <xs> spelling back from the 2nd century BC to the end of the 3rd century BC – despite the often dubious dating of the sources supporting his hypothesis – and to argue that its use in the Tabulae Iguvinae has to be attributed to a Roman practice (33). On the basis of this evidence, he concludes that, while the formal reason of the digraph <xs> was the need to represent the two phonemes /ks/ when clustered in adjacent syllables (i.e. in /di:k – si:/), the cultural reason of its diffusion at that time was the contemporary introduction of the geminatio consonantium (43), which was further enhanced by the spread of the adoption of the Greek alphabet, especially in early Latin poetry.

The contribution by Capuis and Chieco Bianchi gives an overview of the prolific collaboration between Prosdocimi and the University of Padua Archaeological Institute and the Museo Nazionale di Este, institutions with which the authors are respectively affiliated (55). They provide a list of Venetic inscriptions interpreted by Prosdocimi, both from a linguistic and socio-historical point of view, along with useful pictures and/or facsimiles.

The contributions on the Celtic and Italic languages are the most wide-ranging. In Motta’s survey of Celtic studies in Italy, he reviews in the first part of the paper (68) the archaeological discoveries from the 1970s onward, summarising the linguistic or socio-historical issues raised by the findings. In the second part (79) he outlines Prosdocimi’s methodological contributions to the field: his innovative combination of inter- and extra-textual methods of epigraphic analysis, his perspective on the origin and diffusion of the Lepontic writing system as a process of learning and its transmission (80), his understanding of onomastics primarily as a means to identify individuals (82), and his subdivision of Celtic dialects (85). In this summary, the author makes a few noteworthy personal observations, pointing out, for instance, how deviations from writing conventions can be attributed to imperfect learning and not necessarily to different graphic schools (81).

Poccetti lists and briefly comments on the questions surrounding the Italic languages that Prosdocimi dealt with throughout his career, and quotes Prosdocimi to criticise criteria for fragmentary sources (Restsprachen)employed in modern editions (96). The author then shifts to the definition of ‘Italic’ and its position in Indo-European languages, which was re-assigned by Prosdocimi in his monographs La Lingua venetica and LeTavole Iguvine (105).[1] Prosdocimi’s concept of an Indo-European ‘dia-system’ in Italy is usefully summarised in a table (109); also valuable are the outline of the verbal and noun systems in Italic languages (110) and the pages on onomastics (115). Poccetti notes that onomastics was conceived by Prosdocimi as a classificatory system with a binomial structure and, effectively, as part of the vocabulary of the language, rejecting the exclusively etymological perspective privileged by previous scholars. Finally, Poccetti proposes that the subjective character of naming as opposing the ‘self’ to the ‘other’ is the most innovative of Prosdocimi’s ideas on onomastics (118).

The paper by Silvestri is also focussed on onomastics, and it is furnished with quotations from Prosdocimi’s works, examples from ancient and modern languages, and specific discussions. Silvestri gives new definitions of some phenomena observed by Prosdocimi: for instance, he calls ‘sguardo antropico’ the speaker’s point of view in giving proper names, such as toponyms with trans– and cis– prefixes (130), and ‘pragmatica della denominazione’ the presence of proper names in inscriptions (133). The paper ends with another original contribution by Silvestri, who suggests that the suffixes –ko– and –lo– in Italic are typical of heteronyms (136).

Vallini’s and Marchese’s papers both aim to restore the development of Saussurian thoughts on Indo-European through the manuscripts found in Geneva in 1996, both edited (Vallini) and unedited (Marchese).

Vallini’s contribution pays homage to Prosdocimi by describing Saussure’s ideas in relation to the 19th century linguistics of Bopp and the Neogrammarians (144). Saussure’s opinions are traced chronologically through the Souvenirs (1887-1903), Le sens du mot (1888), and Essence double (1891). Vallini focusses on the shaping of the contrast between ‘synchronie et diachronie’, with the rejection of the ‘anachronique’ (150), and on the opposition between ‘phonologie et morphologie’ (155).

Marchese quotes and analyses some passages of Saussure’s unedited Parisian manuscript AdS 383 on the concept of ‘cellule’ and argues that the terminus post quem and ante quem of the manuscript can be inferred by examining Saussure’s use of terminology (163). AdS 383 was probably written after the Mémoire sur le système primitif des voyelles dans les langues indo-européennes (1879) and before 1895, during the years when Saussure was struggling to find adequate definitions for his new classification of language. Specifically, Saussure distinguishes between ‘coupe phonétique’, phonetic syllable, and ‘coupe morpologique’, morphological unit, or, in his definition, ‘cellule’. In the pages analysed, Saussure shows that only the ‘cellule’ works to explain diachronically the formation of words in Indo-European, and it is not necessarily correlated to the ‘coupe phonétique’ (167).

Overall, the volume remains true to its stated aim to honour the memory of Prosdocimi’s personal and academic character. Some of the academic contributions focus on summarising the state of the art of questions which were dear to Prosdocimi (Bianchi and Capuis, Vallini), while others outline the development of Prosdocimi’s ideas or his innovative perspective on specific topics (Motta, Poccetti, Silvestri). The most original contributions are those by Marchese, with its inclusion of passages from the unedited Saussurian manuscript (although regrettably not reproduced in its entirety), and by Mancini, whose paper not only offers a convincing and systematic argument on Latin spelling, but also builds on Prosdocimi’s methodology through the use of databases such as EDCS, Epigraphische Datenbank Clauss-Slaby.

Like most volumes of this type, personal reminiscence and scholarly overviews are not always harmoniously combined, but readers can all find something of interest about Prosdocimi the man and his interests and his influence on scholarship on the Indo-European languages of Italy. Each paper is accompanied by a short bibliography: some authors list Prosdocimi’s works separately (Poccetti, Silvestri), others embedded in the rest of the references (Mancini, Capuis and Chieco Bianchi,). Vallini and Marchese have a separate section for Saussure’s works, with several divergences in abbreviations and names.[2] Clearly, a list of Prosdocimi’s works at the beginning of the volume would have been ideal, especially to avoid discrepancies in referencing specific works.[3]

Authors and Titles

G. Camporeale, Il ricordo di un collega e di un amico, 1-4.
L. Del Tutto, Il ricordo della prima laureata urbinate, 5-10.
L. Rigobianco, Il ricordo dell’ultimo allievo padovano, 11-12.
M. Mancini, Repertori grafici e regole d’uso: il caso latino <xs>, 13-54.
L. Capuis and A.M. Chieco Bianchi, Aldo Luigi Prosdocimi: dal venetico ai Veneti, 55-66.
F. Motta, Da Prestino a Carona: il celtico d’Italia oggi e la lezione di Aldo, 67-94.
P. Poccetti, Nel solco di A. L. Prosdocimi: italico e indoeuropeo d’Italia tra epigrafia, filologia e lingua, 95-126.
D. Silvestri, Per nomina per omina. In margine agli studi onomastici di Aldo Luigi Prosdocimi, 127-140.
C. Vallini, Saussure e la tradizione ottocentesca, 141-158.
M.P. Marchese, La ‘cellule’ in un manoscritto inedito di Ferdinand de Saussure: tra fonetica e morfologia, 159-172.


[1] Pellegrini, G.B., & Prosdocimi, A.L.P. (1967). La lingua venetica. Voll. 1 and 2, Padua and Florence; Prosdocimi, A.L.P. (2015). Le Tavole Iguvine.II. Preliminari all’interpretazione. La testualità: fatti e metodi. (Lingue e iscrizioni dell’Italia antica, 8), Florence: Leo S. Olschki.

[2] CLG as abbreviation of Cours de linguistique Générale listed with or without ‘=’, Saussure as ‘SAUSSURE F. DE’ or ‘SAUSSURE (DE) F.’.

[3] For instance Scritti Inediti e sparsi is listed as Prosdocimi 2004a in Mancini and as Prosdocimi 2004 in Poccetti, while Prosdocimi 2004a in Silvestri is ‘Anneiano tra Ateste e Mutina nell’Itinerarium Antonini’, published in Artissimum memoriae vinculum. Scritti di Geografia storica e di antichità in ricordo di Gioia Conta, Florence, pp. 343-351.