At home with the Langobards

I speak Langobardic

A new school year starts today, and Langobardic won’t certainly be among the foreign languages to be studied; but what is the position of this language in relation to Italian?

In the articles published in this column we have repeatedly spoken about the lack of written sources and also about how the Langobards entrusted their wealth of knowledge and customs to oral transmission. A lack of sources also with regard to texts written in this language.

The Langobards were of course a foreign people to the Italics when they entered the peninsula in 568. The Greek-Gothic war had ended just fifteen years earlier leaving Italy devastated, depopulated and impoverished. The Langobards, strong and well armed, were met with little to no resistance.

At first they replaced the remaining Roman elite, but soon the two ethnic groups started to merge. Langobard laws came to be an alternative to Roman law, and when in 643 Rotharis decided to collect them in writing, he had them written in Latin. There are, however, some Langobard words that have no Latin counterpart, specific terms that we still know, such as feud and weregild.

Longobard Words

People were still speaking Latin at the time; certainly it was no longer the classical, cosmopolitan Latin that had ruled the world, but a language that had evolved to become the so-called Vulgar Latin; this was the language that received the Langobard inputs: not the high, incorruptible Latin of the learned, but the language of the common people.

Still today, both in Italian and in the regional dialects, many Langobard words are still in use, mainly words of common use, part of our fundamental lexicon indeed. Very humble words, which define tools, craftsmanship, breeding, body parts, relationships and clashes.

But the Langobards also left us a series of proper names, such as Adelmo, Adolfo, Alberto, Aldo, Armando, Bernardo, Filiberto, Guido, Leopoldo, Matilde, Rodolfo, and Ubaldo.

Happy Monday with the Langobards!

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