The tongue ever turns to the aching tooth, so it is said, and the Italian tongue endeavours to satisfy the taste buds of those who expect it to keep up with the times. Being an ‘old’ language, it requires a certain degree of introspection in order to find the right words. In the new Italian Treccani Dictionary, Dizionario della lingua italiana, the synecdoche “Man” (which was previously used collectively) has been replaced with “person” and “human being”.
The new gender-sensitive dictionary will be available as from October. Valeria Della Valle and Giuseppe Patota are the two linguists who have been working on this project which also features another major novelty: for the first time gendered names and adjectives are to be listed in strict alphabetical order. In practice, this means that more often than not one will have to search for the feminine form in order to find the masculine, even when the latter has tended to be the umbrella word for both male and female. For example, the word “amico” (friend, noun m.) will come under the dictionary entry “amica” (friend, noun f.), and in order to find “medico” (doctor, noun m.) one will have to search under “medica” (doctor, noun f.), a neologism which with most Italians are still unfamiliar. Italian being a gendered language, all these words have a common prefix, followed by a suffix which changes according to the gender.
As usual, we’re relying on an image to help us make our point. If we were to untie this floral knot, what would be left? It will no longer be a calla lily but, on the other hand, it won’t yet be a tie (insofar as it only becomes a tie when you actually tie – or knot – it). We’ve tried to say it with flowers. Language ‘dresses’ thought and, as it changes with the times, so too the budding landscape of human relations is constantly bursting into blossom in a never-ending process of transformation.