In the part of England I come from, all small areas of grassland surrounding your house, front or back, is called "the garden", qualified by the word "front" or "back", i.e. front garden or back garden.
"Yard" is very American to me, so I'm not quite understanding how "cortile" is supposed to be used, except that it kind of looks like the word "courtyard" (cort - court), so in my head that's what I'm taking it to mean... (Which is something entirely different, and more regal).
I guess what I'm really asking here is, are "giardino" and "cortile" interchangeable in the same way that "garden" and "yard" pretty much are between British English and American English?
A cortile isn't necessarily grassland; in fact, it's more often asphalt or pavement. It's the non-cultivated (i.e. no flowers or trees, as that would become a giardino) part of the property near the house where the kids can play, cars can sometimes park, and so on. It's more common in condos than villas, the latter tend to have a garden while condos either don't, or have private ones.
Then you did not read all of it. "The name derives from buildings that accommodated the diplomatic representatives of the Kingdom of Scotland and Scottish kings when they visited English royalty – in effect, the Scottish Embassy, although the institute was not formalized." This is what you read
It took its name from a street called Great Scotland Yard. "According to the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), the original Metropolitan Police Commissioner's office at 4 Whitehall Place, had a rear entrance on Great Scotland Yard. An 1862 map of Westminster shows the location. Over time, Scotland Yard was used generally as a metonym for the police headquarters."
Land, often uncultivated, next to buildings are often called yards. Later that yard was turned into a street. https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/yard#English
You are right: attraverso il cortile means I cross the yard or I'm crossing the yard. You don't distinguish between the two in Italian. If one is not accepted, you can report it. Edit: You do distinguish if you are using the present continuous tense in Italian, which is used in a particular context: only when you are doing it as you are speaking (I am crossing the yard right now = sto attraversando il cortile). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continuous_and_progressive_aspects#Present_tense
I'm not sure "area" or "region" is actually specific enough (and of course it would not mean region in terms of geography). I haven't been able to find that translation in any dictionaries I looked at. For example:
Perhaps f.formica can help more.
There is a meaning of 'area' in English which relates to basements - the yard (English yard not garden as in the US) outside the door, at basement level from which stairs must be climbed to get to the ground level. Usually small, and always enclosed. Similarly, a courtyard in England is generally enclosed, while a 'yard' is usually a utilitarian space between the house and the garden - not the same as a patio which is more for entertaining or play, the yard would be a hard-surfaced area where the bins are, the laundry hung out, the logs stored etc, etc.
Only a school playground might be a "cortile" when it is a paved courtyard. The playground at the park would be "parco giochi".
This is hard for Americans to remember because it doesn't mean lawn or flowery garden. As a Brit, I imagine cortile to be a patio or drive. Also could refer to other hardstandings like the concrete in front of a horse's stable. Or even an Oxbridge quad or court, but they mostly have paving round the edge and grass in the middle?
A garden has flowers and grass. A yard is usually a small concrete area behind a terraced house with no grass or flower beds. A courtyard is bigger and fancier and goes with an expensive house and may also include flower beds. I put "square" because I thought cortile could imply a public place. Evidently not.