Graziadio Isaia Ascoli

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Graziadio Ascoli
Graziadio Isaia Ascoli.
Graziadio Isaia Ascoli.
Born16 July 1829 (1829-07-16)
Gorizia, Austrian Empire
Died21 January 1907 (1907-01-22) (aged 77)
Milan, Kingdom of Italy

Graziadio Isaia Ascoli (pronounced [ɡrattsja(d)ˈdiːo izaˈiːa ˈaskoli]; 16 July 1829 – 21 January 1907) was an Italian linguist.[1][2][3][4][5][6]

Life and work[edit]

He was born to Elena (neè Norba) and Leone Flaminio Ascoli, in a wealthy Italian-speaking Jewish family in the multiethnic town of Gorizia, then part of the Austrian Empire (now in Italy). His father Leone, whose family had originally emigrated from Ascoli Piceno, was a paper businessman, and owned three factories: one in Piedimonte-Podgora, one in Strassig, both now neighborhoods included into the city of Gorizia, while the third was in Passariano hamlet, near Codroipo, then part of the Italian Kingdom. The family lived in comfort house, bought on November 25, 1807 at 125 San Giovanni district, now 1 San Giovanni Street, into the Jewish ghetto of Gorizia, right beside the St. John church. On March 10, 1830 Ascoli’s father Leone died, leaving his widow in charge of the entire family business. However Elena Ascoli was a strong woman, and within few years, with the help of Salomon Lo-Ly, she improved the family fortune and business. Growing up in a multiethnic town, (In 1567 the apostolic nuncio Girolamo da Porcia wrote: "In eating, drinking and dressing, they are German. They speak three languages: German, Slavic and Italian "), he learned some of the other idioms traditionally spoken in town, the official German, Italian, Venetian, Slovene and Friulian. Ascoli did not receive any formal higher education, as he never attended public or religious school, but instead received private lesson at home, and in 1854 wrote his first major work, on Oriental languages. During the second half of 1800s, the Jewish community of Gorizia was one of the most active Jewish communities within the empire; notable members like the Rabbi Abraham Vita Reggio, and his son Isacco Samuele, the Talmud Teacher Samuel Vita Lolli, gave their contribution to enrich the community. Later Ascoli came close to Samuel David Luzzatto Jewish scholar, a poet, and a member of the Wissenschaft des Judentums movement ,and with his son Filosseno, with whom he developed a great friendship. His inherent interest for languages, introduced him to two catholic priests; Stefan Kocijancic, the librarian of the Theological seminary of Gorizia, a scholar of Slavism and Orientalism, and the Abbot, Jacopo Pirono, who was the author of the first Friulian glossary, to whom Ascoli dedicated his very first work, written in 1846 when he was only 17. In 1850, Ascoli entered in the family business. From November 8th, 1850, until October 1853, he shared the duty of Chief of the Gorizia Jewish community with, Chancellor J.S. Pavia, Mr Samuel Senigallia, and the Rabbi Isacco Samuele Reggio. During this time he drafted the General Regulation for the Jewish Religious School. On March 23rd, 1850 he become engaged to Fanny Beatrice Kohen, a Jewish girl from Trieste. They married on January 4th,1852, after she recovered from a long illness. Between 1854 and 1861, edited by the Paternolli printery of Gorizia, he published the” Studi orientali e linguistici” in three separate books, which included the translation of the ten chants of Nala, episode of the Mahabharata, a study on the Alessandrina teaching post of San Marco, and some essays on the Italian dialects. On January 21st, 1853, his wife gave birth to his daughter, Betty Diamajanti, and on April 19, 1854 between 17:00 and 18:00 hours, as he entered in his diaries, his first male child, Leone, was born. The other two children, Lia and Moise, were born on July 14,1856 and November 30, 1857 respectively. In 1859, he went on a trip to Turin; there he met Giacomo Lignana and Gabriele Fava; he moved then to Bergamo where he met Gabriele Rosa, to reach eventually, Florence, where he met again his old friends of the “ Italian Historical Archives” - a quarterly magazine founded in 1842 by of Gian Pietro Vasseux, Biondelli, Fausto Lasinio, and Michele Amari, an Italian patriot and historian. On the magazine he published the translation of the letter sent by the Turkish Sultan Suleiman II to Frederick of Gonzaga.

Towards the end of 1860, Ascoli was offered the university chair of Semitic Languages at the Bologna, which he refused, because his will was to teach in Florence. On January 2nd,1861, Ascoli was offered a chair at the newly opened University faculty of philosophy of Milan and appointed professor by Royal decree the day after. This time he accepted the nomination and prepared to move to Milan. He sold the family business to Baron Ritter de Zahony on June 2nd,1861. This assignment not only fulfilled his personal ambitions, but also the wishes of his wife Fanny who wanted to leave Gorizia. It was in Milan where he gained international reputation when he started writing in German, for prestigious magazines such as “ Zeitschrift fur Vergleichende Sprachforschungen” and thanks to his articles he met, Emil Rödiger, Fleischer and Kuhn. On Thursday November 25th, 1886, was going to be a landmark in Ascoli’s life; that day marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of teaching into the Milan University. He received honors both in Milan and Gorizia, and was presented with a special medal given by his students, coined for the occasion. His hometown honored him by naming the local Jewish kindergarten after him. On August 14th, 1892 on the Milan newspaper “ Il Secolo” (the Century) Ascoli published a letter in defence of the Jewish traditions. The letter was a response to a defamatory article published by a Catholic newspaper, “ l’Osservatore Cattolico” (The Catholic Observer) in which was stated that the Jewish celebrate Easter by “communicating with the heart of a killed young”. A liberal that he was, he sided and defended in the Senate, Professor Ettore Ciccotti; a socialist, who was denied the chair at Milan University because of his political ideas. In another script published on the “Nuova Antologia” a monthly magazine founded in Florence in 1866 by Francesco Protonotari, a professor of Pisa University, he discussed the situation between the Italian and Slavic populations of eastern Italy, under the Austrian rule, and also analyzing the situation of the 700,000 indigenous Italian living in the Austria Empire, in Trentino and Julian March. With another letter he analyzed the reasons why the Austrian government prevented the establishment of the Italian University of Trieste. After 1866 the Italian students of the Julian March and the other Italian Lands under the Austrian Empire, could not matriculate in the Padua University anymore, as the city was now included into the Italian Kingdom. There was an attempt to create Italian courses for Italian students at the Innsbruck University, but the courses were then closed, for of the support given to the Italian irredentism, by the students. Ascoli deplored the conditions of the Italian students in Austria, but stated that an Italian University in Trieste would have turned into a centre of the Italian Irredentism. He concluded that the situation in which the Italian and Slavic indigenous population was living was a “deliberate strategy of division”. In 1902 Ascoli held a speech in Milan, where he exalted the Italian patriot Guglielmo Oberdan. During the same year his wife Fanny passed away, and Ascoli gave up teaching at the university. Towards the end of 1906 he fell sick with flue. He briefly recovered but fell hill again, eventually dying on January 21st,1907 of heart failure.

In Italy, he is above all known for his studies of Italian dialects, which he was first to classify systematically. In the Italian language question (questione della lingua), he did not accept a standard language based on the Florentine dialect as proposed by Alessandro Manzoni, but argued for a levelling of the dialects.

He is founder of the so-called substratum theory, which explains cases of formation and development of languages as a result of interference with previous languages spoken by populations in question.

in 1889 Ascoli was appointed member of the Senate of the Kingdom of Italy. He was awarded many honorary orders, among which the german "Pour le Mérite" and the italian "Ordine civile di Savoia" and "Ordine dei SS. Maurizio e Lazzaro"; he was also a member of many scientific academies, such as the Accademia dei Lincei (since 1875) and the Accademia della Crusca (since 1895)[7].

Political views[edit]

Ascoli considered himself foremost a Friulian of Jewish religion, but was also an Italian patriot. One of his most lasting and politically most influential contributions was the coinage of the geographical term Venezia Giulia to denote what was hitherto known as the Austrian Littoral. Ascoli suggested that northeast Italy was composed by three historically, geographically and culturally interconnected regions, which he called the Three Venices. According to his classification, these three historical-geographical regions were:

Ascoli coined these names following the internal divisions in the Italy during ancient Roman rule, and applied them to the 19th century. His geographical redefinition had a strong political implication: it was aimed at showing that the peripheral areas of the Austrian Empire were in fact gravitating towards Italy. His denomination was soon taken over by Italian irredentist who sought for the annexation of the Trentino, the Austrian Littoral, Fiume and Dalmatia to Italy.

In World War I, the terms Venezia Giulia and Venezia Tridentina became the official denominations for the new territories acquired by Italy from Austria-Hungary with the treaties of Saint Germain and Rapallo. The Kingdom of Italy used Ascoli's terms to replace the previous traditional denominations, Tyrol and Austrian Littoral. The former term fell into disuse after the fall of the Fascist regime. The latter, however, still exists in the name of the Italian region Friuli-Venezia Giulia. The term "Venezia Euganea", on the other hand, never gained any significant support, although it was sporadically used during the Fascist period.


Works published in Italian:

  • G.I. Ascoli, La pasitelegrafia, Trieste, Tipografia del Lloyd Austraco, 1851[8][9]
  • G.I. Ascoli, "Del nesso ario-semitico. Lettera al professore Adalberto Kuhn di Berlino", Il Politecnico, vol. 21 (1864), pp. 190–216
  • G.I. Ascoli, "Del nesso ario-semitico. lettera seconda al professore Francesco Bopp", Il Politecnico, vol. 22 (1864) pp. 121–151
  • G.I. Ascoli, "Studi ario-semitici", Memorie del Reale Istituto Lombardo, cl. II, vol. 10 (1867), pp. 1–36
  • Pier Gabriele Goidànich: ASCOLI, Graziadio Isaia, in: Enciclopedia Italiana, Roma 1929 (online su
  • S. Morgana – A. Bianchi Robbiati (curr.), Graziadio Isaia Ascoli "milanese". Giornate di Studio. 28 Febbraio – 1 Marzo 2007, Milano, LED Edizioni Universitarie, 2009, ISBN 978-88-7916-415-3


  1. ^ [1], Graziadio Isaia Ascoli – Encyclopædia Britannica
  2. ^ [2], Autore:Graziadio Isaia Ascoli – Wikisource
  3. ^ [3], Archivio glottologico italiano : Ascoli, Graziadio Isaia, 1829–1907 ...
  4. ^ [4], Graziadio Isaia Ascoli – Wikiquote
  5. ^ ASCOLI, Graziadio Isaia, Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani
  6. ^ Àscoli, Graziadio Isaia, Enciclopedia Treccani
  7. ^ Members of the Senate of the Kingdom of Italy
  8. ^ [5], La pasitelegrafia – Graziadio Isaia Ascoli – Google Books
  9. ^ [6], La pasitelegrafia by Graziadio Isaia Ascoli | LibraryThing

External links[edit]