to learn italian or english? both…

One of the greatest rewards of teaching is when your students teach you something. I have taught one of the most challenging courses in my 4 years here this spring semester: Advanced Italian Grammar a.k.a intro to Italian linguistics. I attempted to present students to the scientific study of language, from phonology to morphology to syntax to sociolinguistics. Interspersed there was also the history of the Italian language as well as a unit on dialects. I was very enthusiastic about this course and we all know that a good dose of enthusiasm is contagious…

As part of the course requirements, my students were to keep a linguistic diary. I wanted them to consult various forms of media and reflect metalinguistically on Italian. These 10 journal entries for many were expected: influences of foreign words in the Italian language, phonetic and semantic variations of dialects, denotative and connotative significance in newspaper headlines, web, etc. Then, a few students surprise me: YouTube videos, movie clips, Italian corporate websites & advertisements to provide great examples of living language and how the scientific study of it is actually relevant.

One student used this as a sample of the development of oral proficiency for an Italian ESL (English as a second language) learner and takes this discussion to the concept of sociolinguistic awareness. The ESL student asks the Corriere della Sera’s resident expert of Italians why it is so difficult to understand spoken English. Beppe Severgnini (columnist, author) replies to this question:

L’inglese, come mi ha spiegato il guru Giles Watson con cui ho aggiornato “Lezioni Semiserie”, è ostico per l’orecchio italiano. Noi – come i francesi e gli spagnoli – parliamo una lingua “syllable-timed”, in cui la velocità di pronuncia corrisponde grosso modo al numero di sillabe che contiene. L’inglese è una lingua “stress-timed”: la durata della frase corrisponde al numero di accenti con cui chi parla sceglie di scandirla.

English, as it was explained to me by the master Giles Watson…is unpalatable for the Italian ear. We (Italians)-like the French and Spanish-speak a “syllable-timed” language whose pronunciation tempo is determined by and large by the number of syllables contained in an utterance. English is a “stressed-timed” language: the length of the statement corresponds to the number of inflections that the speaker wishes to articulate.


Even more interesting are the “one-a-day for a month” reasons Severgnini provides to encourage Italians to learn English. I will highlight those that I found utterly amusing 😉 (all translations are mine…)

1 Perché siete stanchi di dire “Non parlo l’inglese, ma lo capisco…”.
1. Because you are tired of saying “I don’t speak English but I understand it…”

2 Perché parlare con le mani, alla lunga, stanca.
2. Because speaking with your hands, in the long run, is tiring.

3 Perché capirete come riempire quel modulo su internet (un terzo della Rete funziona in inglese).
3. Because you will understand how to fill out that online form (1/3 of the Web is in English)

4 Perché così, quando vi insultano all’estero, evitate di ringraziare.
4. Because when Italians are insulted abroad, you won’t thank them.

6 Perché in America saprete leggere i cartelli stradali (one way non è una canzone di Frank Sinatra: vuol dire “senso unico”).
6. Because in America you will know how to read street signs (one way is not a Sinatra tune:…)

14 Perché quando sentirete “Vorrei shiftare la vostra attenzione sul break-even del nostro business, un must che stressa la necessità di downsizing”, almeno lo sapete: vi stanno licenziando.
14. Because when you hear “I would like to shift your attention to our business’ break-even point, a must which stresses the necessity to downsize”, you will know that you are being fired.

15. Perché un po’ già lo parlate. No comment, in fondo, è una frase completa.
15. Because you already speak it a bit. No comment, is in fact a complete sentence.

20 Perché comunque è impossibile far peggio di quel ministro italiano che, a New York, ha chiesto “gamberetts and fagiols”.
20. Because it’s impossible anyway to speak worse than that Italian minister in New York that asked for “gamberetts and fagiols”.

26 Perché capirete le canzoni inglesi e americane, e vi renderete conto che spesso sono più cretine delle nostre.
26. Because you will understand American and English songs and realize that often they are more idiotic than Italian songs.

27 Perché se George Bush dovesse invitarvi a cena, potrete commentare la cucina della Casa Bianca (Good heaven! How can you eat this junk, old boy? Now I see why you’re so nervous all the time and you ended up messing around in the Middle East…).
27. Because if Bush were to invite you to dinner, you could comment about White House cuisine (Good heaven! How can you eat this junk, old boy? Now I see why you’re so nervous all the time and you ended up messing around in the Middle East…).

29 Perché un brasiliano, per chiedere a un tedesco in Italia di presentargli un collega francese per discutere dello svedese Ibrahimovic, parlerà inglese.
29. Because a Brasilian asking a German in Italy to introduce him to a French colleague to discuss the Swedisch Ibrahimovic will speak in English.

31 Perché è trendy, baby.

italian festival @ montclair

festivale.jpgItaly’s malaise (see my previous post) may not be cured by the Italian Festival of the Arts and Humanities, but it will bring a series of stimulating, alluring, satisfying and entertaining events to the University in the Spring 2008 semester.

Maybe you may find something (everything is free, except for the production of Hey Girl, which is part of the $15 Peak Performance program) in which you are interested—food, film, fine art & architecture & more—and if there is something you may wish to know more about, leave me a comment and I’ll try to provide you with more info or people to contact about it.

P.S. Although the involvement of our actual department was quite minimal, for reasons unbeknownst  to me, there are some symposia that have been coordinated by our faculty.

Twitter’s “what are you doing?” is making families

Months ago, when I first turned onto Twitter, I had a question … who cares what you or I are doing? In October, following my Twitter friends, I stumbled upon a post We are family from @stefigno that was so striking as it gave me an answer to my question. And I really want to share it with my non-Italian world (any errors and omissions are mine and mine alone). Mille grazie Stefano! Mesi fa, quando ho scoperto Twitter, anch’io avevo una domanda…ma a chi importa ciò che faccio io o fai tu? In ottobre, attraverso i ragazzi di Twitter, ho trovato il post We are family di @stefigno che mi ha così colpito perché è riuscito a rispondere alla mia domanda. E adesso lo condivido con il mio mondo non-italiano (qualsiasi errore o omissione è della traduttrice). Mille grazie Stefano!

A great symbol of humanity and etiquette that is repeated daily and gladdens my heart comes from guys (and girls!) on Twitter. On the wings of that little blue bird, it is clear that we love each other. Since the world is controlled by violence and malice and permeated by corruption and negativity, why not join us on Twitter too?

Twitters always say good morning to each other, they never forget to say hello—giving you a little wink ;). Still wearing pajamas, they smile at you, or wrapped in blankets, they wish you a good start to your day. There are those who will offer to make you coffee, bring you a croissant…and if a day goes bad right from the start, well then reading that stream of greetings will warm the cockles of your heart.

At lunch no one forgets to detail their respective menu. One will be envious of another’s penne pasta with salmon sauce, yet another will be tempted by pizza and rice balls, but no one will forget to say “buon appetito”.

In the height of the afternoon, when work stress starts to show, so does boredom, annoyance, irritation—for others too? Forget about it…let’s take a break. Tea? Herbal or regular? A bit more coffee? Serene are we, Twitters, who will never desert you. Occasional lack of affection will pop up here and there (after all, remember, we are human), as do various requests, curiosities, doubts: on Twitter there will always be someone who will send you an affectionate kiss, who will caress you, smile at you or send you that oh-so coveted link.

Then night falls, what are we doing? Some are studying, others are reading; some are working, others are making love, but goodnight wishes are always exchanged even at the craziest and most despairing hours…between yawns and psycho-physical melt downs. Another day has passed for us guys (and girls) and it has been simply pleasant being on Twitter…see you tomorrow?