Dante's Italian 'cotai': related modern words?

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by ArturoMartillo, Jan 6, 2009.

  1. ArturoMartillo Member

    American English
    I am re-reading through Dante's La Commedia Divina (trans. by Allen Mandelbaum but the Italian text is included) and I have a question about line 39 in the Fourth Canto, which reads, "...e di questi cotai son io medesmo."

    My question is: does the word cotai exist in any form in modern Italian?

    My Italian is still poor enough and I haven't yet found a good glossary of 13th century Italian online, so I thought I'd ask here. I hope this question isn't inappropriate.

    Thank you for any help!
  2. Uafa81

    Uafa81 Senior Member

    No, i think the closest form is "cotali".

    cotale (ant., letter.) → tale
  3. ArturoMartillo Member

    American English
    What about its etymology? I'm having trouble finding out anything about it on the web, let alone a good glossary of Dante's Italian. Any suggestions?

    EDIT: Or even its singular form? *Cotao? That doesn't seem right. To my limited understanding of Italian in seems like a strange form and I have no idea how poetic demands might have already clipped or abbreviated the word to make it fit the verse's meter.

    Last edited: Jan 6, 2009
  4. brian

    brian Senior Member

    AmE (New Orleans)
    *Cotao wouldn't be right. If anything it'd be cotae, from cotale (singular), with the l dropped just like cotali (plural) --> cotai.

    Here is some etymology.

    There are actually two questions going on here: if cotai means tali, then (1) where does the co- come from, and (2) where did the l go?

    For the former question, my link says co- comes from either ecce (well, I can't make out the 4th letter) or aeque or hoc.

    For the latter question, in the romance languages l is often turned into an i or weakened into gl (Italian)/ll (Spanish, French)/etc. or something similar, or it's completely dropped, especially when followed by an i. Compare for example English folio (strong l) with Italian foglio, or Italian tagliare with French tailler (ll being pronounced kind of like consonant y/i).

    The idea is that in the romance languages, oftentimes there is a clash when you have l + i so that the l gets weakened some how. That's why it's not surprising to see cotali --> cotai.

    But I would not expect that to happen with cotale because there isn't such a clash between l and e.

    But I'm not much of an expert in this field, so wait for other opinions.
  5. federicoft Senior Member

    This phenomenon is explained in this grammar from 1789 :)eek:) and this one from 1809. It was very common in Old Italian but it is now almost extinct.

    Basically, provided the stress doesn't fall on it and it isn't followed by a word-initial consonant, you can drop the final syllable of some verb endings and plural words, including pronouns, adding a final (which is optional in some cases and not allowed in some others) -i. The rule is actually a bit more complex than that, and includes many exceptions and oddities, in case feel free to ask. As you might imagine, it was a very common phenomenon in poetry, for the sake of prosody. Some typical examples includes:

    -with plural substantives
    capelli -> cape' -> capei (Erano i capei d'oro a l'aura sparsi)
    fratelli -> frate' -> fratei
    cavalli -> cava' -> cavai
    figliuoli -> figliuo'

    -with verb endings
    poteva -> potea
    faceva -> facea
    splendeva -> splendea (quando beltà splendea negli occhi tuoi ridenti e fuggitivi)

    -with pronouns
    tali -> tai
    cotali -> cotai
    egli -> ei (Ei fu, siccome immobile)


    It survives in few fixed cases in current Italian:
    belli -> bei
    degli -> dei
    quegli - > quei

    Last edited: Jan 9, 2009
  6. OldAvatar Senior Member

    This is very similar with what happened with Romanian language.

    -with verb endings (Romanian)
    poteva -> potea -> putea
    faceva -> facea -> făcea

    -with pronouns (Romanian)
    tali -> tai -> tăi
    egli -> ei (Ei fu, siccome immobile) -> ei
  7. federicoft Senior Member

    Interesting, this doesn't surprise me.

    Just to add that, with verb endings, the -v- is dropped but the final word of the termination is kept, instead of replacing it with -i.
    This happens just with the 3rd person singular imperfect of 2nd and 3rd conjugation verbs.

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