March 6, 2021 – 10:58
The case of the engineer Terrone and the accusations against the Academy
of Marco Biffi, professor of Italian Linguistics at the University of Florence
The case of the engineer Francesco Terrone who takes the Accademia della Crusca to court deserves some reflection. The starting point is that the engineer is rightly annoyed by the negative meaning that the term southerner has taken on in our linguistic history. For him it is not only a general question, which concerns all the inhabitants of southern Italy, but also a personal matter, linked to his surname. Its purpose is to highlight that the common name, and also the surname, actually have positive meanings as well; positive meanings that, reading the quotation marks of his statements to the newspapers, reside on the link to the “rich land of landowners and feudal lords, and therefore to wealth”. There is no need to dwell on this statement: everyone will have their own opinion in this regard, motivated or not, perhaps supported by historical studies that sufficiently deepen the question from various points of view.
Certainly it is easier to agree that Terrone is a “Surname whose descendants gave prestige to the whole of Italy”; also shared by many other surnames, perhaps even for everyone: just understand what it means to give prestige to Italy. For me, for example, it is also true to do one’s job honestly, whatever it may be, to love one’s family and one’s children, to try to live one’s life with respect for others and for the community to which one belongs (for Italians, that Italian). It is not difficult to infer that in this perspective the surnames whose descendants gave prestige to Italy are not few, fortunately. But what exactly does the Accademia della Crusca have to do with all this? The consulting service of the Accademia della Crusca on 12 September 2017, to answer some questions, published a fact sheet on terrone, dedicated to the word and its origin. It is a scientific text; of high scientific dissemination as is the case of the linguistic consulting service of the Accademia della Crusca. The discussion is conducted using the sources and lexicographical tools. The author is a promising young scholar at the time 26, from the province of Agrigento (sic!), Who was training at the Academy as part of a curricular internship provided for in the course of study in Letters of the University of Florence, followed by linguistic and academic experts. Moreover, even if he had been originally from the province of Lecco, as a scholar of the Italian language he would not have been able to write different things; but moreover in his case it can be well imagined that he certainly had no intention of being offensive towards his own land and its inhabitants.
The card is correct, it has been checked like every answer that is published on the Academy website, and its adequacy has been confirmed by the president of the Accademia della Crusca in every interview released in these days. There is no sharing or promotion of the negative meaning (I insist: how could there be in a text by a Sicilian boy?): Only an objective reconstruction of the facts. The most shocking thing is not that the Academy has been brought to court; but that it was brought to you to remove the negative meaning of the term. Like when children, convinced of their parents’ omnipotence, ask them to turn off the sun. The Academy cannot do it: it cannot do it scientifically, because it would fail in the ethics of the science it deals with (linguistics); but it cannot do so above all from a “legal” point of view.
So what can a court order on Crusca? To answer this question (rhetoric) it will still be necessary to convene a hearing, using public money, inserting a distraction (which I do not know and I do not want to quantify) in an already flooded judicial system. The Accademia della Crusca cannot erase the unacceptable negativity inherent in the offensive use of southerner; and neither can a court. So – at least that the affair serves this purpose – let’s roll up our sleeves: because instead the 60 million Italians who populate the peninsula can do something for the future.
March 6, 2021 | 10:58