Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Speaking in Tounges

So after 10+ years of living in Florence, I do by now consider myself to be a local.   I have grasped for the most part the Florentine lifestyle and feel that I have integrated myself quite well. (yes there are some things I will never get used to, but that a topic for another post) The vendors at my local market all know me by name and usually already know what I am going to buy. The waiters know what I will order for lunch and who I 'belong' with. I am even caught at times speaking in the local Florentine dialect which most Florentines find quite amusing.
What that means is that I sometimes drop my c’s as is consistent with the Florentine dialect, for example saying things like vado alla hasa,  instead of casa.  Or 'io sono Amerihana' I’ve also been told that I speak Italian with a Calabrese accent and may even unintentionally slip in a word here and there form the Calabrese dialect which causes some interesting looks of perplexity from the Florentines.  “Ma chi e questa ragazza Americana chi parla il dialetto Fiorintina/Calabrese?” One person even said to me jokingly that I was a very confused girl who    had an Italian first name, a German last name, 
and an American-Florentine-Calabrese accent. "Ma chi sei ho?"

The Florentines even have their own dictionary! Notice the spelling of Vocabolario (dictionary) is with an 'h' instead of a 'c' as well as vernacolo (vernacular) 

Since most of my Italian was learnt from my southern Italian husband it seems quite natural that I would begin to pick up on his accent. Many times without thinking I will say things like 'niasci cha’ instead of vai via or get out of here (usually to my cat). Yes, a totally different language I know. Even though I have picked up on some the words from the southern Calabrese dialect, I still have difficulty following a conversation. When I am amongst my in-laws and they are speaking that dialect a mile a minute, bona ugo! As the Florentines would say! I am completely lost.         

People will often ask me how long it took for me to learn to speak Italian and my response is always that I am still learning. Now yes there is an official textbook written, spoken and read Italian language and almost everyone will speak it, that is until you get out into some of the remote villages in the countryside or mountain villages. But most formally educated Italians will speak it. But the dialects are a language in and of themselves. And if one were to attempt to understand all of these dialects it would take a lifetime.

And I don’t mean different accents as we may think of it, English vs. American vs. Australian, or even the various American accents such as New Yourk (no not a spelling error) vs. L.A , like OMG! vs. Nashville, ya’ll know what I mean. No, not like that, although a Southern Italian will be able to pick out a Northerner from their accent in heartbeat and vice verse. What I really mean here is that when a Southerner speaks a true dialect a Northerner will not be able to understand what they are saying. For example, I remember watching the evening news and a Neapolitan man was being interviewed and it was subtitled in Italian. This is what I mean by another language entirely. I find myself struggling with the true Florentine dialect at times as well. And not even the pronunciation of the words but 'mode da dire' or Florentine slang so to speak, (excuse the pun). While Florence is known to have the purest dialect of the Italian language (yes, I know that is debatable as well) after all it was the Tuscans who essentially invented the language as it is spoken today.

It is known to date back to the 14th century and the writings of Dante Alighieri who is the author of the Divine Comedy, he was the first to write in what was considered to be the Tuscan language at the time, now referred to as Italian. Prior to that the known languages in the region were Latin and sometimes Greek. Anyhow, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a dialect here because there most definitely is.  I sometimes have difficulty understanding the elderly Florentines who still speak only in a traditional pure Florentine dialect.

Every region in Italy has one. And sometimes even the smaller towns or cities within a region will have a dialect within a dialect. For example, my husband has a friend who comes from town less than 10 kilometers away and they have a slightly different dialect. Understandable amongst each other sure, but different non the less. 

So why would there be so many different dialects in one tiny little country like Italy? Well just like everything else around here, this dates back centuries. The country of Italy as we know it today is actually younger than the United States. Up until 1861 the region was made up of separate city states, each with their own governing offices and laws, Italy became unified under one government in 1861. So each one of these city-states had immigrants from the various countries around them. Italy is surrounded by, France, Germany, Austria, Turkey, Croatia, Greece, Romania, Albania, Spain and Malta as well as many North African countries. Put it together and what have you got? Some serious mixing of language and culture. How's that for a melting pot?!

And if that weren't enough to confuse you, people will often ask what language do my husband I speak at home.........

........I would call it Itanglish, but that wouldn't even be accurate. It really is whatever comes out. My husband is infamous for making up words in English if he doesn't know how to say something, but somehow we have learned to understand each other. A dialect all to ourselves. We often catch each other saying things like 'Can you mettre quello in the oven, per favore?'

It certainly keeps things interesting.


  1. Sara, this rang true with me--raising bilingual kids is cause for a lot of linguistic alchemy around my house, funny combos, accents, Italo-americano hash, etc. With this great, thick linguistic minestrone in the Belpaese, it's a wonder Italians understand each other at all! Then again, some phrases--like "bunga bunga"--are universal!

  2. LOL! Thanks Elizabeth! Always love your analogies! I imagine the combo must cause for some laughter and interesting conversation in your house. I know it does around here! And yes the universal phrases. So true and so funny.


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