Home (Pär Larson)

Welcome to Universo Cantigas

Reflecting in 1935 on the need to complete the fifth edition of the Vocabolario degli Accademici della Crusca, abandoned over a decade earlier at the entry for ozono, the great Italian philologist and Dantean scholar, Michele Barbi (1867-1941), highlighted the almost total dearth in Italy

of a history of the language; of a proper historical grammar, especially for syntax […]; of good vocabularies, especially for Old Italian […]; of easy-to-use specialist glossaries for unfamiliar words, forms and senses; of reliable editions, at least of the most important and distinguished authors; of commentaries that offer a precise, faithful interpretation of the text, rather than a generic, approximate paraphrase […].

Barbi was right, of course, and history has borne him out. Today, the Italian language boasts an extensive literature, inaugurated in 1961 by Bruno Migliori’s history of the language, and continued by the grammars of Gerhard Rohlfs (1966-69), Pavao Tekavčić (1972), Arrigo Castellani (2000) and Giampaolo Salvi-Lorenzo Renzi (2010), the Grande Dizionario della Lingua Italiana, begun by Salvatore Battaglia in 1961 and completed in 2002, and reliable editions of most classic Italian writers. Most recently, this coming of age has brought with it projects such as the Tesoro della Lingua Italiana delle Origini. With 35,000 entries already published and free search access to corpora by word form, lemma or co-occurrence, this online historical dictionary is an essential resource for anybody interested in Old Italian.

Turning our gaze from the Italian peninsula to the Iberian, let us consider now the situation as regards the poetry of the troubadours who wrote and sang in Galician-Portuguese between the end of the 12th century and the middle of the 14th. A quick first glance reveals quite a positive state of affairs: on the historical grammar front, we find the two volumes of Manuel Ferreiro’s Gramática histórica galega (1995, 1997), as well as Historia da lingua galega (1998) and Fonética e fonoloxía históricas da lingua galega (2017) by Ramón Mariño Paz; for a useful specialist glossary, we have Dicionario de dicionarios do galego medieval (2006), compiled under the direction of Ernesto González Seoane; and, finally, there are a number of philologically sound editions of the poetry itself, with in-depth commentaries that go beyond the past habit of merely indicating the word’s origin.

Building on this foundation, in the past decade Manuel Ferreiro has created what is a useful, innovative and at the same time simple and intuitive tool: the Glosario da poesía medieval profana galego-portuguesa (GLOSSA), published online in 2014. GLOSSA, as the website explains, is ‘the first comprehensive, contextualised, dictionary-structure glossary of the full corpus of secular Galician-Portuguese lyric poetry’, in which lemmas are illustrated in context based on an editorially updated and revised corpus of secular Galician-Portuguese lyric poetry, the texts of which are often a notable improvement on those found in the vulgata.

The advent of Universo Cantigas thus comes as no surprise, since a new corpus of secular troubadour poetry was already heralded by the GLOSSA catalogue of forms and contexts. The Universo Cantigas project involves much more than this, however: its comprehensive corpus of critically edited texts, commented ex novo by expert philologists, is a true feat of philological, literary and linguistic endeavour.

Considering the scale of the task involved, the project is, naturally, a work in progress. New texts are added to the corpus on an ongoing basis as they are completed, corrections and modifications may be introduced at any stage, and all changes, however big or small, are immediately and automatically reflected in the glossary.

Universo Cantigas offers users a new edition of the entire corpus of Galician-Portuguese secular lyric poetry that is methodologically uniform (i.e. based on a single set of editing criteria), searchable by word and syntagm, and fully annotated with notes, commentaries and paraphrases, as well as providing access to a complete palaeographical transcription of the original, unadapted manuscript texts. Integrated computer tools allow users to search the glossary while reading simply by double-clicking on the word they wish to consult, and all editions, transcriptions and search results may be exported and printed.

It is with great satisfaction, therefore, that we greet this new arrival, whose novel design and functions make it an all the more welcome addition to the catalogue of similar endeavours for other cultures and literatures. Even at this fledgling stage, Universo Cantigas looks certain to become an essential resource for anybody with an interest in medieval Galician-Portuguese poetry.

Pär Larson, Florence, 13 May 2018