19 Mar /14

John Florio / Giovanni Florio – translator of the day

Born into one of the first English-Italian families in 1553, John Florio (Giovanni Florio) has several claims to fame. He compiled the first Italian English dictionary, which was also the very first English to use quotations. He translated Montaigne from French into English and Boccaccio’s Decameron from Italian into English. He certainly was part of the literature scene around 1600 which included Shakespeare, Sidney and Jonson. He also held the job as language teacher to the British court.

As a boy he learned four languages – English and Italian (from his parents), German from school and university, and French simply because it was impossible for an educated man in Europe at the time not to speak French. From the age of 25 he was publishing books about the Italian language starting with simple dialogues and an early how to learn Italian book (Perfect Induction to the Italian and English Tongues for a start), but his masterwork was A World of Words which came out in 1598, the year Shakespeare’s name appeared on a title page for the first time. He really prepared himself well for the task of compiling the dictionary, combing through hundreds of Italian books for the words to include.

John (Giovanni) Florio had a mission to bring European culture to the English. One of his first books was a compilation of Italian proverbs, he translated top Italian scientific books, but his work as one of the best promoters of Italian ever was A World of Words which has 46,000 Italian entries in its first edition. By the 1611 edition there were 74,000 words This dictionary introduced over 500 words into English for the first time – for example categorical, chuckle, compromise or even management. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, John Florio is the 77th most frequently quoted source with almost 4,000 quotations in total.

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