My husband and I are still unpacking from moving into the new house so I’m still finding surprises in his things. Like this gem – a vintage Italian language book. I’m not sure where it came from. I’m a huge fan of old books and this one had me smiling for a while! From 1946, it has words and phrases for all sorts of things…
Among my favourites:
“The bread is not fresh!” “Il pane non è fresco!”
“Will you recharge my accumulator?” “Favorisca ricaricare il mio accumulatore.”
“If anyone asks for me say I am not at home.” “Se qualcuno me cerca dica che non sono in casa.”
“Two front teeth have to be extracted.” “Mi deve estrarre due denti davanti.”
“I cannot wear a material pattern with large flowers.” “Non posso portate tessuti stampati a grandi fiori.”
A lot of planting went on this last long weekend, including in my own garden and in my parents’. In the process, I ended up spending some time with a younger cousin, teaching her Italian words for the vegetables my mother was diligently preparing to sow. It was a moment that made me consider, and I consider it fairly often, how much I know and don’t know about communicating in Italian.
At home, my grandparents spoke almost entirely in Italian. My parents a mixture of English and Italian though I always answered in English. In grade school, my parents enrolled me in Saturday morning Italian school (I think I still have the workbooks somewhere). In high school I became uninterested in it all. In University, I took courses in Italian trying to gain it back. As a result I can understand Italian fluently, I have written 20 page essays in Italian but my pronunciation is limited so I don’t speak it except in single words here and there. I’m at a loss of how to fix this, or how it came to be, but I do intensely feel as though it mars my connection with my heritage. I’m apparently not alone in this thinking.
Recently, BBC Radio 4 broadcasted an interesting show titled “Losing your Parents’ Language” that interviewed immigrants to Britain and their expanding generations about growing up with parents who have a different language, what it is like to have a language barrier within a family and those trying to keep languages alive.
One of the more interesting items in the piece is the poem “Mother Tongue” by poet Dean Atta. His mother, born in Britain from Greek parents, spoke to her parents in Greek but her children in English. The language barrier was tough on Dean, who often felt like an outsider when his grandparents were around or on trips to Greece. The poem repeats the idea that “our mother has swallowed her tongue.” Of his trips back to Greece with his family, Dean writes:
Made in England, we’re half this and half that
But they could more easily overlook that fact
If we could speak with our mother’s tongue
Not let our skin speak for us
I’ve been itching to see something new. Get away and plan a vacation. While we’ve been planning, we’ve been joking around and it brought up a word my grandmother used to use: vacationa. I’m sure you won’t find that in a dictionary anywhere, but let’s use it in a sentence as Nanna would have (I never called her Nonna): “Where you go on vacationa?” Neither Italian nor Canadian, it was her word from vacation and it stood in the middle of two languages and two cultures. It was, and is, Italiese.
I love these altered words used by older Italians…ones that have found their way into my own Italian language knowledge as well. Beyond them being adored by Italian-Canadians, the creation of new words is also worthy of academic study. From the inner workings of the Internet, I found a paper from 1984 documenting the development and use of Italiese: “Canadian Italian: a Case in Point of How Language Adapts to Environment.” Here’s their definition of the new words Italian immigrants created as they settled in Canada:
The Canadian version of Italian (and its dialects) constitutes a case of what linguists commonly refer to as an “ethnic dialect” or ethnolect, of the mother tongue….Known vicariously as italiese (a blend of italiano and inglese “English”) or Italo-Canadian.
You can check out the full paper, but here’s my sum up with some words and how they have changed:
Happy Valentines Day! I could go on about the Italian origins of this romantic day but I found this cute little book instead that offers something way more useful. Berlitz’s Hide this Italian book for Lovers offers a slew of fun, cute, sexy and romantic Italian love phrases that not only sound really good (and there is pronunciation help!), they could just land you an awesome Valentines date! “I can’t live without you” …make it hotter with “Non posso vivere senza di te.” Here’s a few key Italian love phrases for Valentine’s day.