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Tullio De Mauro and the social limit of functional illiteracy

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Tullio De Mauro and the social limit of functional illiteracy

“The Italian language, for those who know how to use it by reading, writing and speaking, is fine. The Italians who know how to use it little are sick ”. So said Tullio De Mauro, scholar of the Italian language, semiologist, exponent of that Roman linguistic school that will see Antonino Pagliaro, his teacher, the most eminent representative and De Mauro himself the most important prosecutor, in an interview with Rai for a few years does.

Raised in Rome, the son of a chemist and a mathematics teacher, De Mauro was born ninety years ago – on March 31, 1932 – in Torre Annunziata in the province of Naples. Younger brother of the journalist Mauro De Mauro, kidnapped and killed by the Cosa Nostra in a never fully clarified affair, he was minister of public education in the second Amato government (from April 2001 to June 2001).

“Linguistic history of a united Italy”

His “Linguistic history of a united Italy” has been the reference text for scholars of our language for decades, like the “General Linguistics Course” of the Swiss structuralist semiologist Fernand de Saussure, which will have such an influence on him and which De Mauro himself translated and contributed to spreading in our country. An authentic leader De Mauro (politically he was always linked to the world of the left, so much so that in the mid-seventies he was elected regional councilor in Lazio in the ranks of the PCI and then councilor for public education), he directed for years the departments of Language Sciences in the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy, first, and that of Philological, Linguistic and Literary Studies in the Faculty of Humanities of the Sapienza University of Rome, then, which had contributed to found together with Alberto Asor Rosa.

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President of the Society of Italian Linguistics, he had repeatedly drawn attention to the phenomenon of functional illiteracy, that inability to understand and use the written and spoken language that results in the inability to fully understand the phenomena of our society. “The bad knowledge of written Italian and the bad relationship with reading – argued De Mauro with foresight – is a heavy limit for our entire social life that we have been dragging with us for many years and that becomes more and more serious because technologies develop, the demand for skills is increasing. We can no longer afford the luxury of ignorance that we have allowed ourselves for a long time ”. Ordinary member of the Accademia della Crusca, he also chaired the steering committee of the Premio Strega.

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