Wednesday, March 2, 2011

. . .Ma Sto Imparando Ancora,
or “How to Butcher a Beautiful Language”

Timm Schamberger/AFP/Getty Images

Don’t be jealous of my mastery of Pig Latin.
There’s no need.
Really. I had an unfair advantage since, as a child, in our home we spoke it almost exclusively. That, and Ubbi Dubbi (but only on high holidays).
I know you’re thinking ‘Is she talking about the language spoken by members of the genus Sus and other precocious even-toed ungulates under the Roman Empire’?
Yes. Yes I am. As you’re probably aware, that language nearly died out pretty soon after some blessed genius discovered prosciutto. But within our family and others who worshipped bacon religiously (with masses conducted in Pig Latin, of course), there was a valiant effort to keep it alive. We are seriously cultured people, I realize . . .and what a beautiful legacy, no?

OK, maybe we didn’t speak it exclusively.
I think what I meant was that my parents spoke it exclusively when they didn’t want me and my brothers to understand what they were saying. But what can I say? Some of us just have an ear for languages, I guess, and I picked it up quickly.

. . .Or maybe it was because, as a youngster, when I asked my mother and father if I could stay up late to watch my favorite TV program, I heard among their chatter “Ionic-bay Oman-way”, and it wasn’t hard to figure out that they were talking about none other than Miss Jaime Sommers. I excitedly and foolishly blurted out something like, “Hey, I know what you’re talking about! You can’t fool me!”, and thus had to go to bed without my Bionic Woman fix. The use of Pig Latin tapered off in our house after that.

But the bacon-worship is kind of true.

I’m reflecting upon (or you could say "grasping at’’) my Pig Latin skills as a means of soothing my seriously bruised ego. This particular contusion arises courtesy of the Italian language. And just now, as I write this sentence, it occurs to me that when Americans try to do their stereotypical imitation of an Italian speaking English, it bears some resemblance to the hauntingly musical rhythms of Pig Latin. That is, if you’re doing it right—which is to say, doing it so very, very wrong. Mi dispiace, Italia.

I’ve been trying to learn Italian for a few years now, though admittedly I’ve only been devoting serious time to it over the last year-and-a-half or so. It’s getting to where I can sort of imitate an Italian Tarzan (Tarzano?). I’m frequently complimented on my accent, but I’m guessing that might be because the listener is trying to find something--anything--positive to say. My partner, who is Italian, says this isn’t so. He says my accent is really quite good, and getting better all the time. According to him, I used to read Italian like Pope John Paul II who, while fluent, had a tendency to put his em-PHA-sis on all the wrong syll-A-bles. But now, this only hap-PENS with me some-TIMES. But this praise worries me, as the accent is really all I’ve got going for me when it comes to Italian.

The anxiety arises from the realization that, if I spoke with a heavy American accent, people would understand that I’m just a beginner with Italian, and might even give me a little bit of a break, cut me some slack. But without anything resembling a developed vocabulary and some understanding of grammar, a good Italian accent might make it appear that I’m just a really dumb Italian person. I can picture their beautiful Roman faces staring at me as they flip back their chin-length, dark, wavy hair (sorry, but whenever freely picturing Italians, I choose soccer player images, for reasons that will be obvious to the ladies if they’ve ever watched a game), seeming bewildered and a wee bit frustrated.

Of course, this can have its advantages. When you’re dumb, people maybe don’t expect much from you. It might go something like this (in English equivalent, for the benefit of the majority of my readers):

Italian person: Ah, scusi, Blanche [they would pronounce Blan-kay].

Me: Yes?

Italian Person: Coulda you please stir this pot of sauce slowly while I tend to something else?

Me: You want me that I am for you tomato stirred that thing?

Italian Person: Uh . . . never mind.

See what I mean? Stupidity has its charms. Of course, there’s a flip side when, in an extreme emergency I need to tell someone something and I end up like Lassie, whimpering unintelligibly while they say, “What is it, girl!? What is it? Enrico fell off a cliff? No? What is it girl? Antonia has been hit by a Vespa? Giuseppe is choking on his pici? No? Madonna, Girl!! What the hell is it!?”

So, yes, clearly I will continue with the studying. This ain’t no Pig Latin, I’ll tell you that. I’m sure I’ll write more on the subject, as I continue to embarrass myself, as in the weeks when my partner’s family visited from Italy, and I kept offering them pomeriggi [afternoons] from my garden, instead of pomodori [tomatoes]. The only up-side (besides getting to keep more of my tomatoes) is that over those weeks I learned quite well the phrase non ho capito [I didn’t understand] and the proper facial expression to use when someone says something crazy.

So, as they say in my family, “Ay-stay uned-tay” for more. This could get really entertaining.

Image credit: Timm Schamberger/AFP/Getty Images

1 comment:

  1. ig pay atin lay oulshap ebay ethay anguagelay of the ua sa alay


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