De vulgari eloquentia (I, ix, 1-11)

(1) Nos autem oportet quam nunc habemus rationem periclitari, cum inquirere intendamus de hiis in quibus nullius auctoritate fulcimur, hoc est de unius eiusdemque a principio ydiomatis variatione secuta. Et quia per notiora ytinera salubrius breviusque transitur, per illud tantum quod nobis est ydioma pergamus, alia desinentes; nam, quod in uno est, rationali videtur in aliis esse causa. (1) Now I must undertake to risk whatever intelligence I possess, since I intend to enquire into matters in which I can be supported by no authority - that is, into the process of change by which one and the same language became many. And since it is quicker and safer to travel along better-known routes, I shall set out only along that of our own language, leaving the others aside; for what can be seen to be a reason in one case can be assumed to be the cause in others.
(2) Est igitur super quod gradimur ydioma tractando tripharium, ut superius dictum est; nam alii oc, alii , alii vero dicunt oïl. Et quod unum fuerit a principio confusionis (quod prius probandum est), apparet, quia convenimus in vocabulis multis, velut eloquentes doctores ostendunt; que quidem convenientia ipsi confusioni repugnat, que ruit celitus in hedificatione Babel. (2) The language with which I shall be concerned, then, has three parts, as I said above: for some say oc, some say sì, and others, indeed, say oïl. And the fact - which must first of all be proved - that this language was once unitary, at the time of the primal confusion, is clear, because the three parts agree on so many words, as masters of eloquence and learning show. This agreement denies the very confusion that was hurled down from heaven at the time of the building of Babel.
(3) Trilingues ergo doctores in multis conveniunt, et maxime in hoc vocabulo quod est Amor. Gerardus de Brunel: Sim sentis fezelz amics, Per ver encusera amor. Rex Navarre: De fin amor si vient sen et bonté. Dominus Guido Guinizelli: Né fa amor prima che gentil core, Né gentil cor prima che amor natura. (3) Learned writers in all three vernaculars agree, then, on many words, and especially on the word 'love'. Thus Giraut de Borneil: Si.m sentis fezelz amics, per ver encusera amor; [If I felt I were a genuine and accepted lover; I would indeed bring charges against love] The King of Navarre: De fin amor si vient sen et bonté; [From true love come knowledge and goodness] Master Guido Guinizzelli: Né fe' amor prima che gentil core, né gentil cor prima che amor, natura. [Nor did nature create love before the gentle heart, nor the gentle heart before love]
(4) Quare autem tripharie principalius variatum sit, investigemus; et quare quelibet istarum variationum in se ipsa varietur, puta dextre Ytalie locutio ab ea que est sinistre; nam aliter Paduani, et aliter Pisani locuntur; et quare vicinius habitantes adhuc discrepant in loquendo, ut Mediolanenses et Veronenses, Romani et Florentini; nec non convenientes in eodem nomine gentis, ut Neapoletani et Caetani, Ravennates et Faventini; et quod mirabilius est, sub eadem civilitate morantes, ut Bononienses Burgi sancti Felicis et Bononienses Strate Maioris. (4) But now we must investigate why the original language should first have split into three, and why each of the three different forms exhibits variations of its own, so that, for instance, the speech of the right side of Italy differs from that of the left (for the people of Padua speak one way and those of Pisa another). We must also ask why people who live close together still differ in their speech (such as the Milanese and the Veronese, or the Romans and the Florentines); why the same is true of people who originally belonged to the same tribe (such as those of Naples and Gaeta, or Ravenna and Faenza); and, what is still more remarkable, why it is true of people living in the same city (such as the Bolognese of Borgo San Felice and those of Strada Maggiore).
(5) Hee omnes differentie atque sermonum varietates quid accidunt, una eademque ratione patebit. (5) It will be clear that all these differences and varieties of speech occur for one and the same reason.
(6) Dicimus ergo quod nullus effectus superat suam causam in quantum effectus est, quia nichil potest efficere quod non est. Cum igitur omnis nostra loquela, preter illam homini primo concreatam a Deo, sit a nostro beneplacito reparata post confusionem illam que nil fuit aliud quam prioris oblivio, et homo sit instabilissimum atque variabilissimum animal, nec durabilis nec continua esse potest; sed sicut alia que nostra sunt, puta mores et habitus, per locorum temporumque distantias variari oportet. (6) I say, therefore, that no effect exceeds its cause in so far as it is an effect, because nothing can bring about that which it itself is not. Since, therefore, all our language (except that created by God along with the first man) has been assembled, in haphazard fashion, in the aftermath of the great confusion that brought nothing else than oblivion to whatever language had existed before, and since human beings are highly unstable and variable animals, our language can be neither durable nor consistent with itself; but, like everything else that belongs to us (such as manners and customs), it must vary according to distances of space and time.
(7) Nec dubitandum reor modo in eo quod diximus 'temporum', sed potius oppinamur tenendum; nam, si alia nostra opera perscruptemur, multo magis discrepare videmur a vetustissimis concivibus nostris quam a coetaneis perlonginquis. Quapropter audacter testamur quod si vetustissimi Papienses nunc resurgerent, sermone vario vel diverso cum modernis Papiensibus loquerentur. (7) Nor do I think that this principle can be doubted even when I apply it, as I just have, to 'time'; rather, it should be held with conviction. For, if we thoroughly examine other works of humanity, we can see that we differ much more from ancient inhabitants of our own city than from our contemporaries who live far off. On this account, therefore, I make so bold as to declare that if the ancient citizens of Pavia were to rise from the grave, they would speak a language distinct and different from that of the Pavians of today.
(8) Nec aliter mirum videatur quod dicimus, quam percipere iuvenem exoletum quem exolescere non videmus. Nam que paulatim moventur minime perpenduntur a nobis; et quanto longiora tempora variatio rei ad perpendi requirit, tanto rem illam stabiliorem putamus. (8) Nor should what I have just said seem more strange than to see a young man grown to maturity when we have not witnessed his growing. For, when things happen little by little, we scarcely register their progress; and the longer the time that the changes in a thing take to be detected, the more stable we consider that thing to be.
(9) Non etenim admiramur si extimationes hominum qui parum distant a brutis, putant eandem civitatem sub inmutabili semper civicasse sermone, cum sermonis variatio civitatis eiusdem non sine longissima temporum successione paulatim contingat et hominum vita sit etiam ipsa sua natura brevissima. (9) Let us not, then, be surprised that, in the opinion of men who differ little from brute beasts, it seems credible that a particular city should always have carried on its affairs in an unchanging language, since changes in a city's speech can only come about gradually, and over a vast span of time; and human life is, by its nature, very short.
(10) Si ergo per eandem gentem sermo variatur, ut dictum est, successive per tempora, nec stare ullo modo potest, necesse est ut disiunctim abmotimque morantibus varie varietur, ceu varie variantur mores et habitus, qui nec natura nec consortio firmantur, sed humanis beneplacitis localique congruitate nascuntur. (10) If, therefore, the speech of a given people changes, as I have said, with the passing of time, and if it can in no way remain stable, it must be the case that the speech of people who live distant and apart from each other also varies in many ways, just as do their manners and customs - which are not maintained either by nature or association, but arise from people's preferences and geographical proximity.
(11) Hinc moti sunt inventores gramatice facultatis; que quidem gramatica nichil aliud est quam quedam inalterabilis locutionis idemptitas diversis temporibus atque locis. Hec, cum de comuni consensu multarum gentium fuerit regulata, nulli singulari arbitrio videtur obnoxia, et per consequens nec variabilis esse potest. Adinvenerunt ergo illam, ne, propter variationem sermonis arbitrio singularium fluitantis, vel nullo modo, vel saltem imperfecte antiquorum attingeremus auctoritates et gesta, sive illorum quos a nobis locorum diversitas facit esse diversos. (11) This was the point from which the inventors of the art of grammar began; for their gramatica is nothing less than a certain immutable identity of language in different times and places. Its rules having been formulated with the common consent of many peoples, it can be subject to no individual will; and, as a result, it cannot change. So those who devised this language did so lest, through changes in language dependent on the arbitrary judgement of individuals, we should become either unable, or, at best, only partially able, to enter into contact with the deeds and authoritative writings of the ancients, or of those whose difference of location makes them different from us.