Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Florence & Firenze

Sometimes, the internet can be really satisfying. We've all gotten used to the ease of finding out the answers to easy questions, that is to say questions that have been made easy by the internet. But sometimes, every once in a while, the internet gives you an answer that by all normal logic shouldn't be easy at all. Like this one: why does the entire world call Florence Florence, or something resembling Florence, except the Italians? It is normal for different languages to have different names for certain places, but it seems really odd for Italian to be so drastically the odd one out when it comes to the very place where Italian was invented. So why is that? Florence sounds kind of French, but the French didn't come to Italy until the time of Machiavelli, while the Florentine coins were known as Florins centuries before then, so that can't be it.

This seems like a question that doesn't come with any obvious search terms. The English wiki-page talks about Florence, and the Italian one about Firenze. Never the twain shall meet. And yet, there it is, in the very first line of the English wiki:
Florence (Italian: Firenze [fiˈrɛntse] ( listen), alternate obsolete form: Fiorenza; Latin: Florentia)
In other words: we start with a Roman colony called Florentia (the region was of course Etruscan before it was Roman, but the Etruscans preferred to build their cities on tops of hills, which is why they founded Fiesole instead). After centuries of vulgate Latin and Italian, this l becomes an i, giving us "Fiorenza" and, to this day, Fiorentina. From there, it is easy to see why the Italians might drop the awkward o to end up with Firenza/Firenze. (The latter is the plural, if my memory of Italian grammar is correct. I'm not sure why the town would have a name in plural, though.)

Meanwhile, the rest of the world stuck with the original Latin, where Florentia becomes Florence in France, and via there in the rest of the world as well. Easy as pie. In fact, even in the internet age this was surprisingly easy.

1 comment:

Sloburn said...

Just to let you know I found your blog searching for the same thing why the whole world says Florence and Italians say Firenze.