The Wonders of Language

Well, I have just made a startling discovery, and one that may have knocked my confidence for my love of languages.

I was just talking with my boyfriend, Andrea, and he said a sentence in Italian to me, and then this was followed by him saying  “Don’t translate that!”...this then immediately lead me to believe that he has either insulted me or said something he didn’t want me to know! He then explained that in his dialect it was a compliment, but in standard, or for that matter any other dialect of Italian, it could mean something completely different. We have this concept in English slightly, where the Americans would say something is ‘phit’ or ‘phat’ means brilliant, great to cool etc, (or the one I hate…but slightly different as it is an old English word, that is so gay! meaning, that is so silly, weird, stupid or any other useless word) but to listen to it, it sounds like an insult!

Anyway, I digress! The point of this was to talk about the Italian…for example, in standard Italian, the word for slipper is ciabatta (yes, the bread!), but in Venetian dialect it would be savata. Another, glasses in standard Italian in occhiali, and in Venetian; ociai. These little differences for anyone learning a language can cause havoc (we also have two different dialects in Wales, North Walian, and South Walian). Some more examples of the differences between the Italian Andrea speaks, and the standard Italian would be:

  • Him = lui (standard) > eo (Venetian)
  • Cobweb = ragnatela > scarpia
  • hai problemi? = Do you have a problem? > Gheto problemi?
  • (funny one)… Tu sei sano come un pesce = you are as fit as a fish > ti si san come un pese – which is very different!

I then started to panic, as I really want to learn Italian, for some obvious reasons, but also purely for my love for the language, the culture, music, food and the people. I began to think that I would get to confused with what language I was learning, if I was saying the right word, or worse, if I was having a conversation and they said a word in a dialect, and I mistake it for another word…it could get rather embarrassing if i started another tangent of conversation and the other person is left there dumbfounded at what I am talking about. However, this could be said about all languages, with the way things differ; if you were to say, “I’m full” literally (word for word translation) in French, it could mean “Im pregnant” … the list is endless, I’m sure!

I have been reassured, however, that everyone speaks the standard Italian, so I will still be able to live my dream of being able to converse with the fellow Italians! I did a spot (and when I say spot, i looked at 2 different sources, that is how small) of research on this topic, and it turns out that when all homes could afford to have TV and radio, that is secured the place for everyone to speak a common language, which is the standard Italian that is used in the media, and education (just like the Queen’s English, in schools – not so sure).

Amazing, hey?


2 comments on “The Wonders of Language

  1. As a linguist I find this the beauty of all languages. I totally understand your stress and confusion towards this but you should look at it as a positive thing. In Spain, the word for ‘uneducated’ is ‘maleducado’ which can translate as ‘badly educated’, which could suggest that the culture of Spain used to see people who are rude, would therefore be uneducated and thus poor? Because they couldn’t afford to go to school? Obviously i’m just making assumptions here and going into it without actually knowing the facts but it’s amazing how the language reflects on a culture.

    As someone who studies languages I’d say the best thing to do is to study standard Italian as everyone will speak this, and then when you’re at the point where you’re comfortable with it, maybe look into dialect and see which catches your fancy (maybe Andrea’s dialect would be nice to learn) and it will be alot easier as the words will mostly be cognates and the grammar wont differ that much.

    The thing which stresses me out is the fact that in Arabic there are so many different versions which are mostly completely different from standard Arabic! That’s why I’m chosing to focus more on Standard Arabic and then when I’m comfortable I’ll study Egyptian Arabic as it’s the most widely spoken dialect and it’d make more sense as Arabs dont speak MSA to each other day to day! 🙂

    • Hi, thank you for your comment Nathan, and yes, I am intending on learning the standard, I would be a fool not to. It is interesting about languages isn’t it, how their words differ. And don’t get me started on Arabic! haha, I share your stresses. 🙂

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