One of the best things about being back in Italy was speaking Italian again. Like riding a bicycle, words we haven’t spoken in years were plucked up from somewhere deep down, and we found ourselves effortlessly communicating again in our adopted language at dinner parties, restaurants and other countless conversations with old friends. My Italian isn’t too sophisticated – I often take the easy road by constructing sentences around the easier grammar tenses while my husband is much braver – but it was back. Using the formal Lei without a missed beat. Extending long greetings when you say goodbye to someone. Buon Giorno, salve, ciao, ci vediamo, grazie a lei, arriverderci, a domani! Getting in a heated argument- which feels even better in Italian – at the best place for a fight, a ticket booth line at an Italian train station. The Italian language is old, complicated, challenging, and different depending where in Italy you are – but pays off as the most beautiful, expressive and delightful language to speak.
Confirming my love for the Italian language, I just finished “La Bella Lingua” by Dianne Hales.
Right before our trip, I picked this book up at our local bookstore with the intimate knowledge that it’s always a gamble when choosing a novel from the travel section. But this is the real deal.
Ms. Hales has done her homework (and more). The book is a love story to the Italian language, providing anecdotes through her experiences living and traveling in Italy and pursuits in studying the language. Her über thorough research reveals interesting and little known aspects of Italy’s history, literature and culture, and demonstrates how several key Italians and scholarly groups – past and present – have contributed to helping the language develop and survive. This book has inspired me to search at the local library for “The Divine Comedy” (or “Divina Commedia”) by Dante Aligheri, any film by De Sica, and the opera Madama Butterfly (which I was surprised to learn opened in 1904 at Milan’s La Scala and bombed, then reopened in Brescia, where we lived for several years, to then triumph in Paris and around the world!)
Hales makes the point that while a unified Italy is fairly new, the Italian language – which has served as the great unifier – is very old. The 14th century dialect of Florence – the language of Dante Aligheri himself – is little changed and what is taught and spoken in Italy today. English may be the language everyone needs to know, Hales writes, but Italian is the language people want to learn. With only 60 – 63 million native speakers Italian barely eclipses Urdu, Pakistan’s official language for 19th place as a spoken tongue. Yet Italian ranks fourth among the world’s most studied language. (Only four countries other than Italy recognize Italian as an official language.) The soaring popularity of the language is hardly surprising, she writes, with its exported food, fashion, art, architecture, music and culture … and I’ll add, Italian boyfriends.
For lovers of Italian – those of us who have lived or traveled to Italy and keep going back, who are fascinated with Italy’s history and culture and protagonists, and consider ourselves lifelong students of Italian, “La Bella Lingua” shares our passion and provides a new perspective and adventure through the world’s most enchanting language.
Next up: My favorite study Italian abroad schools in Italy