School of Humanities

Josh Brown Abstract

"Language variation in 15th century Milan: evidence of the Lombard koinè in the letters (1397-1402) of the Milanese merchant Giovanni da Pessano"


The linguistic make-up of Lombardy at the beginning of the 14th century was a picture of fragmentation with every city-state having its own local, municipal vernacular. During the 14th and 15th centuries, increased contact between these vernaculars led to a process of koineisation, during which the most local linguistic features of the Lombard varieties were abandoned and a koinè formed, common to much of medieval Lombardy. In non-literary writing, the presence of the koinè varied according to the degree of formality. The koinè was stronger in formal contexts, such as the language of the chancery. Informal writing, like chronicles and merchant letters, show a higher frequency of local linguistic forms. The letters written by the 14th century Milanese merchant Giovanni da Pessano are characterised by their informal and practical nature and, therefore, one would expect a strong adherence to the local forms of language from Milan. I show that the northern elements found in the letters of Giovanni da Pessano are best characterized by the northern koinè and cannot be identified with the vernacular from any one city-state.

Seminar 21 June, 2011