Friday, November 4, 2011

Il dialetto locale

Many times over the past 10 months I've made mention of the various Italian dialects and idiosyncrasies of the Italian language, especially Italian-American language, which itself is a dialect. Don't believe there's an Italian-American dialect? The words "bacouz" and "agita" aren't Italian. The former is an Italian pronunciation of "back house" or "outhouse" and means "bathroom" and "agita" isn't the proper way of expressing heartburn. But there they are. I found this fabulous link tonight! Go check out all the fun words you'll finally know how to spell, especially if your mom ever called you a scocciament  ;) 

Hubby seems to have figured out the key to Italian pronunciation: Say it like you're chewing food. That's the only way capicola becomes "Gabbagool!" But I digress! 

I've been practicing my Italian lately, really working on improving the weaker parts of my comprehension- My reading comprehension is better than my listening comprehension. This is what I have been concentrating on as opposed to the big stack of books I've wanted to get to and the long list of tasks and meditations and exercises and practical magic work staring at me. I think that's why it's been difficult for me to blog lately. In addition to more limited time, I've been focusing on the same thing for the past few weeks and haven't been exploring the way I usually do and turning that into a post. I figured I should let everyone know what I've been up to!

I've wanted to become fluent in Italian for a while now. Mostly it's another measure of devotion. I want to be able to communicate with my ancestors in their language. I know that I have many different ancestors who spoke many different languages, but still, it's an effort on their behalf. It's not something a deity or patron pointed me towards, it's an offering from me to my relatives, especially the ones who were forced to learn English when they came here and suppressed their native language so that their children would be seen as American. I want to honor that and to honor Them by reclaiming it because now it's ok to speak more than one language. Plus, I want to be able to speak secretly in public con le mie coorti!

Here is the problem with my plan: The various branches of my Italian family tree come from very different regions and each region of Italy has its own dialect. Some are so similar there's barely a noticeable difference. Some are so different that neighbors can't understand each other. What's the problem with "standard" Italian? It's based on the Tuscan and Florentine dialects. It wasn't picked at random: It was the dialect of the great writers of the time, including Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio. This article on the evolution of the Italian language sums it up:
It was not until the 19th century that the language spoken by educated Tuscans spread to become the language of a new nation. The unification of Italy in 1861 had a profound impact not only on the political scene but also resulted in a significant social, economical, and cultural transformation. With mandatory schooling, the literacy rate increased, and many speakers abandoned their native dialect in favor of the national language.
Hmm... Willingly abandoned it? Forced to abandon it? Even 150 years later there is controversy over the unification of Italy and the class warfare between the northern and southern regions. Let's also remember that Sicily was its own, independent nation. It also has it's own, independent language which does not have the same Latin roots as Italian dialects do. Ethnologues have identified words in Siclian which are believed to be from the ancient inhabitants of the island, the Sicels (the language in Sicily is called sicilianu)

I'm starting with the modern/standard, brushing up on my Italian-American dialect, and talking to my cousins who are still thick with sicilianu. The language is magical and lyrical and has a rhythm to it that english simply lacks. There are incantations in Italian whose magic depends as much on the tune and the meter as the words. However, the meter and the tune are very intuitive and once you hear it, the words make even more sense with the music than when standing alone on a page. I know my studies will make my practice more proficient. And I'll be able to read things in their language. 

Hmm I do have some Greek under my belt already... only a few more languages to go and I can cover the whole family? Better get to work.

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