And the Voice of the People Climbed Parnassus: Lingua Napolitana from Street Dialect to Canon *
This chapter examines the role of seventeenth-century Neapolitan vernacular in relation to three major themes. First, the local intellectual debate on the language question that changed Neapolitan vernacular from a predominantly oral dialect into a literary language. Second, the multifarious use of Neapolitan in texts, both in prose and poetry, were intended to be performed. Third, the variety of contexts, namely courts, academies, theatres, and streets, within which texts in Neapolitan were read, sung, or recited. The first recorded usage of Neapolitan vernacular in literary texts dates from the late medieval period. Until the beginning of the seventeenth century, however, this is a fragmentary literary tradition. In seventeenth-century Naples the language question was at the centre of a debate that blurred divisions between the world of scholars and that of humble people. Literature in Neapolitan that merged orality and literacy also enjoyed wide circulation. Orally performed vernacular literature functioned as a tool to spread and comment on pieces of news.