RIALFrI - Repertorio Informatizzato Antica Letteratura Franco-Italiana# ISSN 2282-6920

Repertorio Informatizzato Antica Letteratura Franco-Italiana

Repertorio Informatizzato Antica Letteratura Franco-Italiana


Il Dizionario del Franco-Italiano (DiFrI).

Definition of the corpus, the spatio-temporal coordinates, the first entries


The Dictionary of Franco-Italian (DiFrI). The Dictionary of Franco-Italian (DiFrI) originated within the computerised Repertory of Old Franco-Italian Literature (RIALFrI, www.rialfri.eu). From the outset, the project to make those medieval texts of the Italian Peninsula that had the singular characteristic of being presented in a mixed literary language searchable online had as one of its main objectives the creation of a complete interpretative glossary over time.

Although there is a series of problems to be tackled that, if considered in isolation, seem to discourage this type of initiative (definition of the corpus, description of the ways in which two different systems come together that never crystallise into a true contact language to the extent that scholars  have repeatedly wondered whether Franco-Italian as such exists or not), analysing little-used medieval texts from a lexical point of view could nevertheless offer interesting results to the scholarly community. Franco-Italian may have merely an accidental rather than a substantial identity (Barbato 2015), but these hybrid texts and their manuscripts undoubtedly exist and await study. They are difficult for the modern reader to understand, the data already available is scattered (in glossaries of individual texts, in articles that are not always easy to access or locate), and sometimes studies are lacking altogether: the usefulness of such a tool seems undeniable.


Definition of the corpus. For DiFrI, we decided to focus the lexical survey on original works written in French by Italian authors. The works selected according to this criterion are quite heterogeneous from a linguistic point of view (ranging from Brunetto Latini’s correct French to the language heavily influenced by the northern Italian vernaculars of the Geste francor), but the variety of possible outcomes seems to be a positive aspect, as many of the different varieties of French in Italy are thus represented and available for investigation.

This first criterion was supplemented with some versions or remakes of French texts made in Italy that were particularly interesting for linguistic reasons: the copy of the Chanson de Roland preserved in Biblioteca Marciana French manuscript 4 (=225), the version of Foucon de Candie in another manuscript at the Biblioteca Marciana, French 20, and the Udine Bovo d’Antona, for instance. The Geste francor was of course considered in its entirety and not only for the presumably original parts.

Our corpus thus includes first and foremost the works of so-called Franco-Italian or Franco-Venetian literature proper, which mainly consists of chansons de geste and other narrative texts in verse (medieval romances and hagiographic tales) characterised by a high degree of linguistic hybridity. These texts originated in the Northeast of the Italian peninsula (Lombardy, Emilia, Veneto) and may have been enjoyed through oral recitation and were written by Italians in an artificial literary language that was shaped over time with the aim of making French works more comprehensible to the native audience without renouncing the prestige of the transalpine model.

Complementary to this area is the Northwest of the Peninsula, with the Livre du Chevalier Errant by Tommaso di Saluzzo, the Bataille de Gamenario and other examples of 15th-century Italian French that originate mainly from Piedmont.

Another type of text is represented by the prose works of Italian writers who used French to address a wider audience because, as explained in the Histoires de Venise, “Lengue franceise cort parmi le monde” [‘The French language is known thoughout (literally, runs around) the world’]. Marco Polo’s travel narratives, the language of which includes at least three different linguistic layers (the author’s idiolect, Rustichello’s scripta and the influence of copyists), and the falconry treatises Moamin and Ghatrif translated from Arabic through a Latin intermediary by Daniele Deloc of Cremona present phenomena of mixture partially similar to those found in Franco-Italian literature. The same interference phenomena, albeit less invasive, appear in Rustichello da Pisa’s Compilation, where the  language additionally undergoes  interference from some Tuscan scriptae. In other works, however, the vernacular influence is reduced to very little. The language of Aldobrandino da Siena’s treatise on hygiene and Brunetto Latini’s encyclopaedia, which they wrote in French while in France, is, in fact, comparable to that used by the native-speaking authors of the time. The Venetian Martin da Canal (c. 1275) also wrote in good French, tinged, however, with a few “Outremer” features.

And it is precisely to a Mediterranean-type context that a writer like Filippo da Novara, active in Cyprus, leads. The Italianisms found in his work may not be due so much to his origin as to the fact that they were by then widespread terms in the overseas koiné created as a result of travels and migrations of the romance-language-speaking peoples in the Mediterranean during the Crusader period. In the French of the Levantine kingdoms, traits from different dialects were combined with some Occitanisms and a lexicon characterised by Italian and Catalan, as well as Arabic and Byzantine borrowings from the local populations. Marco Polo, Martin da Canal and even Brunetto Latini include some of these terms in their works. The “intersections entre lexique des auteurs italiens utilisant le français pour atteindre un public international et le vocabulaire d’Outremer” [‘intersections between the lexicon of Italian authors using French to reach an international audience and Overseas vocabulary’] (Zinelli 2016) show how appropriate it is to consider in our corpus also Filippo da Novara, who, besides perfectly matching the criterion of “Italian author writing in French”, allows us to keep this broader Mediterranean context in the background.

A further Italian geographical area that must be considered in the history of Italian French is Naples and the Kingdom of Sicily. Southern Italian dialects retain traces of the passage of the Normans and Angevins (Varvaro 1981, Valenti 2014). In Naples, French was for a time the language of administration (Dunbabin 2011; Minervini 2015) and of the court, encompassing both documentary and literary textual production. For the time being, we have published online the Ystoire de li Normant by Amato di Montecassino, translation of a lost Latin chronicle, a work that presents phenomena of hybridism similar to those found in texts written in the North, but which is distinguished by the fact that the Italian vernacular that interferes with French is not Gallo-Italic or Tuscan, but Southern, and can therefore sometimes provide fruitful opportunities for comparison and integration.

Finally, this corpus should be supplemented with manuscripts of French works transcribed in Italy, which, albeit with a lower degree of hybridisation, present graphic, phonetic and morphological interference phenomena due to the more or less conscious practice of medieval copyists to update the language of the text they transcribed. In this way, the contribution of another important area in the pan-Italian perspective, the Tuscan-Ligurian area, is included. The fifty or so codices transcribed in Genoese prisons by mostly Pisan copyists present a fairly uniform scripta, but demonstrate relatively few lexical novelties, so that they will be used only for sporadic sampling and comparisons with DiFrI entries.


The chronological span extends from the earliest literary text written in French in medieval Italy that has come down to us, Enanchet (second quarter of the 13th century, 1226-1252), to the passage in French of Lo balzino by Rogeri da Piacenza (1497-1498). The last important literary texts are the Huon d’Auvergne from Padua (late 14th-early 15th century) and Aquilon de Bavière by Raffaele da Verona (1379-1407). Contrary to what is usually stated in studies of Franco-Italian, which by convention end the phenomenon with Raffaele da Verona, the fashion for French remained quite active even during the 15th century, as evidenced by the “Tituli” of the Castle of La Manta (1416-1426), some mottos of noble families (common throughout the 15th century, like the motto of the Marquis of Vigevano Gian Giacomo Trivulzio Ne t’esmai ‘do not lose heart’, ‘do not be afraid’ is dated as far back as 1503 and 1509), inscriptions, epitaphs and the Adventitious Writings of Ashburnham manuscript 1076 (14th-15th century).


The DiFrI will make it possible to investigate the elaboration of a literary scripta, articulated in several varieties, that amalgamates local, regional and supra-regional forms and terms of the Italian peninsula with French to varying degrees and with dynamics to be established from case to case. In order to characterise the more or less strong dialect components of lexicon present in each the text of the corpus, when it is possible to do so, two different types of distinctive diatopic pieces of information appear: on the one hand, the area of origin of each quoted passage thanks to information about the author and/or the place where the manuscript was copied; on the other hand, the area of diffusion of the lexeme (Veneto [the region], Venetian [the city], Lombard, Paduan, Tuscan, Northern, Italian, for words that have a pan-Italian distribution, ‘Outremer French’, for words that refer to the diffusion of French in the Levantine kingdoms, etc.). Chronological coordinates will complete those spatial coordinates.

When the lemmatisation is completed, the possible levels of interference between French and northern Italian vernaculars will be marked for the individual forms according to the diagram:

Semantics Morphology Spelling and Phonetics
French form FS FM FP
Hybrid form (French-Italian) HS HM HP
Italian form IS IM IP

In the collection of lemmas, we seek to include all the attested entries in order to bring out not only the deviations from French, that is, the lexical and semantic differentiation coefficient of Franco-Italian scripta and of Italian French with respect to French, but also the common component, so as to be able to reconstruct, over time, the elaboration process of this written literary language and its variational dynamics.


Headwords. Our dictionary of reference is the Altfranzösisches Wörterbuch by Adolf Tobler and Ernst Lommatzsch, et al., 1925-2002,11 vols., Berlin/Wiesbaden/Stuttgart, Steiner: the DIFRI entries take up its headwords. If the lemma form of the TL is not attested in our corpus, our lemma is enclosed in square brackets (cf. [QUIERRE ‘Which has the form of a geometric square’, qaires, quaire]. If the entry we create is not present in the TL, it is preceded by an asterisk (cf., e.g., *QAILLEROIL ‘A percussion instrument used as a lure to attract quail or other birds, quail’). If a word is not present in the TL, the problem arises as to which form to put in the lemma and we have opted for the characteristic form actually attested and possibly reconstructed in the singular or in the infinitive. It may happen that these symbols are co-present, because sometimes it was necessary to reconstruct the hypothetical singular entry of a lemma not present in the TL, as is the case for *[JUBER] ‘juber’ [jacket-maker], of which only the plural form jubers is attested, or *[NAISCENCE] ‘escrescenza, tumore’ [excrescence, tumour] for the attested naiscences, and so on.

The TL will be accompanied by glossaries of individual editions and studies about Franco-Italian and Italian French. We will also return several times to the texts, all of which will be read and analysed in full. As the lemmatisation continues, the wording of the entries can be refined, identifying other graphic forms or lemmas that initially escaped the listing, and going into greater detail. One of the advantages of computerisation means precisely being able to modify and improve search results by integrating new features in a cost-effective manner. For this reason, next to the date on which each entry is put online, appears the date of the last update. For the letter Q, this process has been well tested and is at a more advanced stage, because the entries are not very many and, therefore, this letter was chosen as a test field to verify the effectiveness of the proposed update system.

A not inconsiderable problem is the inclusion of new headwords. One may, for instance, wonder whether the demonstrative questo [this] should be linked to the French cist [this] or whether it would be preferable to assign it an autonomous entry. In this case, the decision was an easy one to make, because the etymon of questo is different from that of its French counterpart and it seems entirely legitimate to create two entries with cross-references between them. In other cases, however, the choice is by no means obvious, and a series of concrete cases to will help define a standardised procedure to be applied consistently.


The models. The models for drafting the entries derive from the Tesoro della Lingua Italiana delle Origini (TLIO), the (DÉAF. Dictionnaire étymologique de l’ancien français électronique (GHIJKL)), and the Dictionnaire du Moyen Français (DMF), the latter especially for the way different semantic fields are organised according to a progressive branching from the basic meaning.

This project presupposes intensive lemmatisation of the texts, which has already begun using the Pyrrha programme developed by the École nationale des Chartes in Paris.

Francesca Gambino

Translation by Leslie Zarker Morgan

Date of creation of the page: March 31, 2020.

Last updated: September 15, 2022.

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