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Written By: daveski on January 19, 2009 1 Comment

Come sta? Thanks to youki, sandra, juski, Jinny and Jeremiah for all the helpful comments last time. I’d like to say I’ve picked up a little fluency in Italian but that wouldn’t quite be true…

I’ve wanted to follow up for the past several days but it’s been a chore getting online. 25 euro for a day in the hotel! I’ll post again about the linguistic landscape workshop that just finished yesterday, and impressions and a few pictures from a very fast week in Siena. Here I’m just writing a few of the random thoughts about the language that I feel like I just barely brushed up against. Some of these thoughts I noted down then and there, and a few I’m adding now, on the BART train enveloped again in English and the other sounds and sights of the warm Bay Area.

  • Why does it seem like I’ve heard “bambino” before? Bambino, bambina, little boy, little girl. The word(s) pops up here and there without my knowing what it meant. Do I remember it from the Godfather or something? Or is it just so sonorous that it sounds natural no matter what it means? Same with “domani”, “tomorrow”.
  • I can’t believe “piano” means “floor”, as in 3rd floor. But there it is! “3° piano.” I stay on the 1st piano. I smile.
  • For some reason the ‘conversion’ between Spanish and Italian pronunciation has me tripping over the “chi”s and the “che”s. “Che” written sounds like “ke” and “ce” sounds like “che”. And “que” (ke)…not to be found. Orthography, you hide so much…
  • Speaking of pronunciation, how do you tame your tongue—and throat, it seems—to say “gli”? Like in “gli Italiano” (the Italians)…I asked Francesca about this and she told me at lunch one day and I dutifully tried to repeat once, twice, but by three times I was getting pretty embarrassed at how much I sounded like a frog…
  • Perusing the Italian phrase book gives me all kind of Berlitz learning chuckles. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been invaluable, but something has to be said about “Dove posso cambiare il bambino?” It means “Where can I change the baby.” I get it, now that I’ve learned “dove” (doh-veh) means “where” and “posso” is basically “I can”. And “bambino” we know! But my mental image of “cambiare” gives me the sentence “Where can I exchange the baby?” instead. No diapers involved. Doh! … And why do they ever have the words you need for bargaining for a lower price at the market in a phrasebook like this. Like you’re going to read or hear a price offered and will then be able to bust out your Berlitz and pull off a successful negotiation? Riiiiiiight. Someone should make a video about that.
  • At the hotel the last night in Florence, I go up to the counter and stammer out a greeting in Italian, ask the guy if he speaks English. “No, pero…. hablas español?” I managed to find out that there were rooms available and got him to take 45 euro instead of 50, all the while my Spanish and a few Italian words with a few others in French and English for good measure (why not?) seemed to be in free variation. It’s amazing we ever negotiated any kind of understanding. Made me wonder – are all languages you learn as ‘foreign languages’ stored in the same little box in your head? Why does a word from one language come out when you’re trying to speak another? Does this only happen with languages that have been learned (partially, piecemeal, in phrasebooks, etc.) rather than acquired earlier and at a deeper level?

Dove posso cambiare la testa?

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One Response to “Buongiorno.”

  1. Youki on: 19 January 2009 at 10:37 pm

    Interesting, I learned from music that “piano” means “soft” in Italian. I wonder if there’s a cultural subtext that I’m/we’re unaware of.

    I look up the etymology of “piano” and it comes from Latin planus – level, flat, even. “Plan” and “plane” as well come from planus.

    So etymologically, piano (Italian for floor), piano (the musical instrument), plane, and plan are all related.

    I then look up “forte,” Italian for loud or strong. No surprise, it is etymologically derived from Latin fors (force) but wait, it means chance, luck (like fortuitous). That doesn’t make sense to me. Then I think back to plan, as in “to plan a heist” which is a set of intended actions. The opposite of chance. Now that makes sense.

    We’re physiologically wired to associate an increase in volume with potential danger. It makes sense, noise is generated by movement and can be an index for an approaching predator. Could it be that words so seemingly unrelated as piano and floor are in fact, metaphors we live by?

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