Across the globe, government services are being slashed in the name of austerity. In many countries, language services are not exempt from the chopping block– and in Italy, the damage may go so far as to include the Italian language academy itself, the Accademia della Crusca.
The academy was established in either 1582 or 1583. It published the first Italian dictionary ever released in 1612. Ever since, it has focused on training linguists and researchers who study Italian, working with the Italian government and other international governments to promote respect for all of Europe’s languages and working with schools and other organizations to keep the Italian language alive and vibrant by sharing “historical knowledge of the Italian language and awareness of its present evolution.”
Interestingly, the name translates to “bran academy,” as in “wheat bran.” Why bran? The founders saw their work as separating the wheat from the chaff in Italian language. Bran is a byproduct of the milling process.
Unfortunately, the Guardian reports if something isn’t done, more than four hundred years of scholarship will be brought to a close soon, as the Italian government is planning to cut all of the institution’s funding.
Nicoletta Maraschio, the academy’s president, explained to the newspaper that the outlook is bleak, and that the news couldn’t have come at a worse possible time:
“If we close, Italy loses a crucial point of reference for, and protector of its beautiful language, just when the globalisation of languages means it needs us most…The only thing that can ensure we survive is a direct intervention by Silvio Berlusconi.”
She further explained that Italy’s history as a motley collection of independent states makes the Italian language especially vulnerable:
“When Italy unified in the 19th century, Italian was written and dialect was spoken – only 10% actually spoke Italian,” she said. “It has since exploded thanks to mass media but is still evolving fast on people’s lips and in the face of globalisation it is very fragile, especially since we lack the pride in our language that the French have in theirs.”
Hopefully, the money to keep the historic institution running will be found somewhere.