Keywords: Italian language question; language and Enlightenment; Saggio sulla filosofia delle lingue; Carlo Denina.
This article proposes a semantic and functional analysis of the notion of dialect in several 18 th century authors. The main focus is on Melchiorre Cesarotti; the analysis also extends to other key theorists in the Italian linguistic debate, such as Muratori, Baretti, Alberti di Villanuova and Denina. With the exception of Denina, dialects appear to be conceptualised by these authors not as separate glottological units but as modalities, or internal varieties, of a roof-language, whose identity is understood as relying on a set of linguistic features and lexical items that are supposed to be common to all Italian dialects since their origins in the Early Middle Ages. This is a schema that is essentially different from modern ideas of the relationship between dialects and a roof-language like Italian.