Thursday, April 4, 2013

De Vulgari Eloquentia: The Board Game

I am teaching a freshman honors seminar in the fall on the events that transpired in 1492 in Spain. One of those events, probably the least well-known, is the publication of the first grammar of a Romance language, Antonio de Nebrija's Gramática de la lengua castellana. It is deeply tied to the other 1492 events because it sets itself out as being an explicit part of the imperial project. "Language," the introduction tells us in its most famous sentence, "has always been the companion of empire."

When I teach the Gramática, I like to introduce Dante's De vulgari eloquentia, his Latin-language defense of the romance vernaculars, as a sort of forerunner to the ideas set forth by Nebrija. I was Googling the ISBN number for the edition of the De vulgari that I want my students to buy so that I can finish putting together my syllabus and course packet, but it turns out that googling "de vulgari eloquentia" autocompletes to "de vulgari eloquentia: the board game." I abandoned my original search and clicked through to what Google suggested and found this:

And, clearly, I bought it, as there are the contents spread out on my office floor. It's a board game where the players' goal is, apparently, to prevail in disseminating their preferred Italian dialect as the lingua (erm) franca. I had thought I would play it with my freshman maybe for the second half of the class on the rise of romance vernaculars. It seemed to me like using a board game would be a good way of illustrating a high-culture/low-culture divide and posing the question of how do you communicate a message with people who might not have consistent or the highest level of education.

The game is played along three separate axes, has a variety of different types of tokes and there are twelve pages of mad-complicated directions that I suspect one has to consult frequently during gameplay...

...and that might be what ultimately puts the kibosh on my actually using it in class. I don't mind using class time to take alternative approaches to the material, but I don't know that I want the instructions to become another text that has to be deciphered. If it were a game I could explain quickly and drop them into more easily, it would be great; but, as a colleague aptly put it, the De Vulgari is hard enough itself.


  1. Maybe the BBC has a simplified version? For comparison, see To be sure, the original version ( is not much more complicated than Snakes and Ladders)

  2. I'm not sure. I'd imagine there are more proprietary issues with this one than with the Ur game, but it's worth a look.

  3. Also, I'm thinking I might just have playing the board game one afternoon as an optional in-house "field trip."