Friday, January 15, 2016

Nomina sunt…? Onomastics between Hermeneutics, Linguistics and Comparative Studies



Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, 

Department of Humanities, 

March 3-4, 2016 





«Cuatro días se le pasaron en imaginar qué nombre le pondría». 
Cervantes, Don Quijote 



Since their appearance, studies in onomastics have contributed to a deeper comprehension of texts, authors and contexts, thanks to their tight links with philology, historical linguistics and glottology. For example, the use of archaic forms crystallized in toponyms or anthroponyms is a key-element when it comes to establish relevant chronological issues regarding vernacular languages and varieties. In literature, one can observe three main options of dealing with proper nouns, sometimes overlapping in the same work: reticence, neutrality, and evident semanticity. When adopting a reticent strategy, the author is to choose between two different paths. One is that of anonymity, for both characters and settings (for example, the protagonist of Pirandello’s Enrico IV, or the unnamed locations of Kafka’s Process). Otherwise, the author might choose to screen or mask real identities through senhal, anagrams or conspicuous transformations (as Sciascia does with Regalpetra, standing for the real Racalmuto). 


The second option, that of neutrality, consists in the preference for “common” nouns as means to portray both everymen or unconventional characters - such as Fielding’s Tom Jones or Tozzi’s Pietro Rosi; the same can be said for cities and countries actually existing. Finally, some names display a clear semantic depth, even though their meaning is left to the reader’s hypothesis: it is the case of Joyce’s Dedalus, Gadda’s Maradagàl, Márquez’ Macondo. 

A specific case of study is the use of proper nouns as expression of disapproval or even condemnation - an attitude that might deeply influence the very same nature of the text. This kind of works, addressing specific individuals with specific names, can be either unpublished and not circulating (as is the case of Ariosto’s Satire), or published but not clearly naming the responsible (as Pasolini’s article about massacres in 1974). 

Another area of research concerns common nouns. These latter can suggest new ideas about an author’s poetics (grounding on the different nuances of a same key-word) or about cultural history: an entire Weltanschauung can be represented by abstract nouns such as ‘gentilezza’, ‘classe’ or ‘nazione’. Neologisms and «lost words», as they are called by Beccaria in his I nomi del mondo, belong to the same field. 

Obviously, nouns are held to be capable of conveying further meanings about the characters they identify since classical literature. Thus, Telemachos is «he who fights from the distance», Phrasikleia, the well-known character of epigrams, is «she who shows the kleos», and the same can be said for several characters of Greek and Latin comedies. 

Intersections between onomastics, comparative literature and translation studies are another profitable area of interest, for they allow to compare Italian cases with European tendencies and to face issues such as the loss of meanings (for example, The Importance of Being Earnest is sometimes translated as L’importanza di chiamarsi Franco). 

Onomastics’ studies can also involve inquiries on eteronyms (Pessoa’s ones are renowned) and pseudonyms. In such cases, different names can lead to nonequivalent works and creative attitudes, but they can also affect the relationship between author and text, or author and reader. The conference aims at gathering Ph.D. students and young researchers (who have completed their Ph.D. in the last 5 years) working in the fields of Classics, Language and Literatures, Linguistics and Comparative Studies. 20 minute talks can be given in either Italian or English. By the end of 2016 the proceedings will be published online by Edizioni Ca’ Foscari. 

Proposers are invited to submit: 

- an anonymous abstract (500 words max); 
- short bio-bibliographical note (500 words max). 

Both files shall be sent to onomastica.cafoscari@gmail.com before January 17th, 2016. Communication of acceptance will be delivered via email on January 25 th, 2016.