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Italian Languages

Francesca Fais

Here is, only for you a very "maccheronical" history of Italian Languages (.yes, I wrote right, languagES, and if you're able to manage me 'till the end you'll know why!!) and then some practical advices.

As everybody knows there's a wide separation between the language we learn at school or not with some other courses and all our courses, and cassetes and videos and the language which is really spoken in a country. this is strongly linked with the idea, .no,. better. the stereotype one has of the people of that country. Alas! How many people saw I in London with bowler hat and umbrella reading Financial Times! .none. (By the way, if you come here don't expect to see anybody eating maccheroni and ragù with the open skirt, showing his .and sometimes also her.. bear-hairy chest and singing Oh sole mio.). This one little piece has the aim to show a little frame of real Italian. The biggest problem is (and none could guess) there isn't a whole unique Italian language!!! Everywhere here you go you can find a different vocabulary, sounds and soemtimes even grammar (maybe that's one of the reason why we say Africans are our borthers.) This diversification is caused by the incredible history of Italy.

I won't make it too long, or you won't read it all (neither I'd do, don't worry) but it has to be said that it's a real mess!!! First of all we seemed to be all Latins. seemed. ih, ih, ih, .that's the question! The problem is that Latins were originally a very very little population living in the center of my sweet peninsula. Alle the rest was populated with a lot of different peoples with a lot of different lingustical (and not only) origins. I'll make only a little but important example: Etrurian. Did you know that, even if we're able to read Etrurian alphets we're never been able to translate it? We don't know it comes form! It's surely not Germanic nor Latin nor Aramaic, and probably not indoeuropean.uff!! And did you know that Italics were a microscopic people settle where now lies Naple, and which did nothing but being conquered by Latins? In the North, on the other had, we had a profusion of Celtic and German dialects, joy of all phylology students, and in the South Greece sopread out more and more (in Calabria we have also today some little town which local dialect is ancient Geek)

Anyway, you could imagine that if the situation was complicated even when the Roman Empire was steadly there, the real confusion that happened after it's falling can't be figured out but on a nightmere! First of all Latin developed on its way. It's "last updated version" could be the one written in Vulgata (this is considered the connection between ancient Latin and modern Italian, it's a translation of the Bible. the first in which the apple of the snake appears!), but this development was quite only in central Italy. The North and the South lived separated. They were still influenced by Latin, but with very different histories. The North was dominated by French, then Germans arrived, then Spanish an half and Austrian the other, then they mix up the dominations, and Venice had contacts with Arabians, then again French with Savoia. maybe I've forgotten something in the middle, but not too much important (my brain isn't a PC!!! Arrrrgh!!) The South was conquerred by Arabian, then Normans, then Swedish, then French and Sapnish wich alternated one to the other for some centuries, then Savoia.

After all this mess the question rises naturally: how could you understand each other? Big one! We owe all to our Messia, our Salvador of the language: Dante Alighieri! (a praise and a bow for Him!) He wrote during the very beginning of 1300, in a period during which every educated man used Latin for his prose or poetry. Dante decided to use for his Divina Commedia (and not only) a vulgar language, in particular the dialect of Florence used by letterates. This was the same language thorough which, during the same centry, both Petrarca and Boccacio wrote (remember Canzoniere and Decameron?) . During a first period all the educated elite was orrified by this decision, because only Latin, even if modern, was worth literature! But then they realised that a new written national language was needed. During 1500s an archibishop, Pietro Bembo, declared that only the dialect of Florence was up to new Literature.

This is a very important fact. From that day on all writers used only the real words previously written by Petrarca and Bocaccio (and you have to take this sentence literally). On the other hand common people talked with their own local dialect. I have to inform you that it doesn't mean that they had a common core and different accents or variations (such as English nowaday between Scotland, Ireland Australian and among USA) nooooo!! They were really different languages!! And they had nothing at all to share with literature. Only during 1800s someone realized that Italy needed also a unique langage for literature and common day speech, and Manzoni wrote Promessi Sposi in dialect of Florence in order to give Italy a national language, but it was then too late! That's why, for example, my grandma' can speak only in the dialect of Omegna, my birthplace which is a city of some 10,000 ab. in the real North of Italy, which has Celts, Latin, German, French origin (and much more) which is very different from the one Gozzano (the place where I live, only 20 kms far from Omegna) which has more Spanish origin (because it's nearer to Novara, the biggere city in 100 kms, which had a Sanish legion during 1600s and has wider different dialect). Over all it's a real fortune that I'm going to school and I studied Italian grammar, because if I had to go to Venice, or Naples, or Geneva, or Rome, knowing only my own dialect I think I would have felt the same as when I went to Damasco!!

I've joked a little bit, obviously, but for a foreign learner the situation while travelling around Italy isn't so different. I mean that for someone abroad that is studying Italian not only our grammar isn't that easy and spoken language is complitely different from the one of Land of Dreams where courses lie, but in every province there are variations (linked also with variations of habits, lifestyles psycology and so on.) Nowadays in Italy we can quite all speak Italian, but every region has it's peculiarities. I hope it won't make you so scared not to wish learning Italian anymore!! Don't worry too much!! The situation isn't that bad. you've only to remember, or try understand at the moment, some strange differences.

For example: if you go to Milan and someone tell you that you're a baüscia, don't worry too much, it's worse if you're in Venice and someone calls you mona or in Florence grullo and bischero. In Rome you could be named burino or buzzicone, but you don't have to get angry, .well, not too much. but if someone there calls you fijo de na mignotta or de 'ndrocchia feel free to smak his face (as you have absolutely to do if you listend phrases as: ma vedi d'annate, ma vattel a pijà, alimortacci tua!). In Naple the same reaction could be acted for words like zumpaperete and scurnacchiato. Ask for dishes such as paniscia or casöla only in Piedmont, and for fonduta only in Valle d'Aosta, for abbacchio allamatriciana or cipollotti co' le cotiche in Lazio, and cannoli in Sicily. During the speech, we use a lot of onomatopeic itercalars such as né, mo, bastalà in Piedmont; belandi, belanfijo in Liguaria; ciò in Veneto; sorbole in Emilia- Romagna; ahò, ennnnamo, eeeddaaaiie, anvedi in Lazio, iamme in Campania; meeeeeeee in Sicilia, tsù in Sardegna (if you mix them all altoghether you can sing "The little farm, ia ia oh!"). If you go to Tuscany and never hear the sound tch don't worry, it doesn't exist there, .I think people of Calabria stole it, in fact they have a triple tccccch!!

Well, it's better if I end up here. It's not much but at least I think that now you have some little instruments to survive. If you keep quite, my dear pupils, next time we'll talk about the difference between the language of signs for deafs and the one for Italians!!

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