The diversity of Italian dialects has significantly shaped the language, particularly evident in the culinary domain. Regional recipes, each with unique flavours and traditions, transcend local borders to become national staples, carrying distinct dialectal and popular linguistic nuances. Famous dishes like risotto, minestrone, panettone, and terms such as pesto, bruschetta, and maritozzo have achieved global recognition, representing expressions of Italian cuisine.
Simone Pregnolato explores this linguistic and culinary journey in this chapter of the series “Italianisms in the World.” The focus is on the historical and geographical trajectory of iconic Italian foods and words, originating in various regions, cities, and dialects and gaining worldwide prominence.
A specific example is found in the beloved ingredient of Roman Culinary Tradition: the artichoke or “carciofo.” The term “carciofo” refers to the perennial plant Cynara cardunculus from the Asteraceae family, with its roots tracing back to the Arabic word ḫaršūf. The linguistic evolution of this culinary term, absent in medieval Italian, is traced through the Corpus AtLiTeG, part of the VoSLIG Historical Vocabulary of the Italian Language of Gastronomy.
Initially appearing in Renaissance works by Aretino and Ariosto, variations like “carciofola” circulated in Ferrara, eventually consolidating into “carciofo” across the Peninsula from the 18th century. The term acquired a metaphorical meaning, denoting a ‘foolish person,’ as documented in the Vocabolario della Crusca in 1729. Artusi’s “Scienza in cucina e l’Arte di mangiar bene” features Tuscan-style fried artichokes and highlights various artichoke-based dishes such as sauce, stew, and cutlets.
While “articiocco” became an official term in 16th-century Northern Italy, the term “artichoke,” of Arabic origin, gained international recognition. English, French, and German terms trace back to the 16th century, solidifying its gastronomic significance. Although the French and German equivalents (“carchoffle” and “Carciofen”) vanished, they still resonate with Italian origins. In French, “carchoffle” metaphorically referred to an ornamental detail in horse trappings reminiscent of an artichoke in shape.