Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Parlo Italiano - why I love the Italian language

Perhaps it’s an occupational hazard – or perq – but as a writer, I’m preoccupied with words. So it’s not surprising that one of the things I love best about Italy is its mellifluous, musical, euphonious language. Every letter pronounced. Every syllable rolled lovingly across the tongue. Every nuance explored. For instance the Italians have two verbs meaning “to play”, because they realised the necessity of differentiating between playing a game (giocare) and playing a musical note (suonare).

Italian words have a lavish soul, and that speaks to my love of excess. What a delight to wrap my mouth around words such as strofinaccio (towelling), le soppraccilia (eyebrows), il lustrino (sequin), or even che cosa (what)? I love eavesdropping whenever I hear Italian spoken – not because I understand more than a word here or there, but because the sound is endlessly pleasing.

It’s not just the words, but they way that they are delivered, that gets me every time. At my first language lesson at Edinburgh’s Italian Institute, the teacher asked us to repeat after her. Tiny, mewling sounds came out of our mouths and she laughed. What a bunch of uptight Brits, she teased (never mind that I’m actually American, the description fit). “You can’t speak Italian without moving your mouth,” she insisted. “And if you can use your hands, as well, that’s even better.”

Long before I owned so much as a phrasebook, I enjoyed lengthy conversations with locals wherever I travelled in Italy. The art of mime is not dead there, nor is it denigrated. If you just show willing, an Italian will fight tooth and nail to be understood, offering up words in any other languages that might appeal to you, acting out the main points of his thesis – anything to facilitate communication. That’s because the Italian nature is inclusive, not exclusive. What’s not to love about that?

Lee Randall is a feature writer for the Scotsman and a lover of all things italian.

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