Why Do You Love Italian?
The annual international settimana della lingua italiana (week of the Italian Language) is a wonderful time to fall in love with Italian--but there are plenty of reasons to love this luscious language all year round. Here are my top ten:
1. Italian is “beautiful, fun and sexy.” That’s how people perceive Italy and its language, observes Stephen Brockman, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, “Why not?” he adds. “I can’t see anything wrong with that.” Neither can I.
2. No other language is more romantic. All the Romance languages evolved from the volgare (vernacular) of ancient Rome. Yet none may have so many seductive ways of expressing amore, from "Ti amo, mio tesoro" (I love you, my darling) for l’amore della tua vita (the love of your life) to "Ti voglio bene" for all others.
3. Everything sounds better in Italian. An ordinary towel becomes an asciugamano; a handkerchief, a fazzoletto; a dog leash, a guinzaglio. Garbage isn’t mere trash -- it’s spazzatura.
4. You can use your hands—a lot! In Italian speaking without gestures is like writing without punctuation. Hands become commas, exclamation points and question marks. Who even needs words when a tug at a bottom eyelid translates into "Attenzione!" ("Watch out! Pay attention!") and a straight line drawn in the air as “Perfetto!”
5. Italian has become the new French. With only an estimated 60 to 63 million native speakers (compared to a whopping 1.8 billion who claim at least a little English), Italian ranks fourth among the most studied languages—after English, Spanish and French, which Italian now rivals as a language of culture and refinement.
6. You can immerse yourself in an Italian masterpiece. You can’t sculpt like Michelangelo, paint like Leonardo or design like Giorgio Armani. But you can read and speak the language that 14th century poets—Dante first and foremost— crafted from “i più bei fiori” (the most beautiful flowers) of the effervescent Tuscan vernacular.
7. Speaking Italian may be the closest many of us get to singing. What makes Italian so musical are its vigorous vocali (vowels): An Italian “a” slides up from the throat into an ecstatic “aaaah.” Its “e” (pronounced like a hard English “a”) cheers like the hearty “ay” at the end of hip-hip-hooray. The “i” (which sounds like an English “e”) glides with the glee of the double e in bee. The “o” is an English “o” on steroids. The macho “u” is deeper, stronger and longer than its English counterpart.
8. Italian may be our universal mother tongue. Dating back almost three millennia, its primal sounds—virtually identical to those that roared through Roman amphitheaters thousands of years ago—strike a chord in our linguistic DNA.
9. You’re never too young—or too old—to learn Italian. As brain scans have shown, groping for even the simplest words in a different language ignites new clusters of neurons and synapses. Within weeks in an all-Italian class, preschoolers understand everything happening around them. It takes longer as we get older, but learning a second language later in life provides a different advantage: It helps stave off dementia.
10. Italians. The more you know of their language, the more you’ll realize how right the British author E.M. Forster was when he urged visitors to drop “that awful tourist idea that Italy’s only a museum of antiquities and art.” His advice: “Love and understand the Italians, for the people are more marvelous than the land.” Indeed they are. And if you’re of Italian descent, cherish Italy’s language as a marvelous part of your heritage.
As part of the international Week of the Italian Language, Dianne Hales, author of LA BELLA LINGUA, will present her new book, MONA LISA: A Life Discovered, at the Istituto Italiano di Cultura (Italian Cultural Institute) in San Francisco on Wednesday, October 29, at 6:30 p.m.