Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Italian – Music to the Ears!

Meraviglioso! Bello! Interessante!

Marvelous, beautiful and interesting!

These are just some of the words that can be used to describe the experience of hearing the Italian language spoken.

Italian is one of the many Romance languages and to hear it spoken is quite literally music to the ears. It is also the Romance language that has the most similarity to the vocabulary words used in Latin. Although its sentence construction, conjugation and use of male and female genders in the language are similar to French and the other Romance languages, Italian simply has a way of sounding poetic. Even when a cab driver is yelling at an errant pedestrian, or a seller is arguing with a buyer when he is unwilling to give his wares for a bargain, Italian can sound like a lullaby of a mother to her child or a love song between lovers. 

Andrea Bocelli

Whether it’s hearing an opera performance, listening to Italian football fans vigorously cheer on their teams or simply listening to the ingredients list on a menu, Italian is undoubtedly a language with a cadence that falls quite pleasurably on the ears. There’s a softness yet almost lyrical quality to it. Sometimes, it almost seems like a song is being sung to you as you hear the words.

Not just for the Italians

Italian is obviously the lingua franca in the country of Italy. Aside from the Vatican City and Italy, it is widely spoken even outside the country’s borders. In Europe, Italian is spoken in Switzerland, France, Monaco, Croatia, Slovenia and even in Libya, Somalia and Eritrea. Thanks to immigration, there are over a million Italian speakers in the country, concentrated mostly in the cities of New York, Miami, Philadelphia, Chicago and Boston.

About 65 million people in Europe speak the language. That means approximately 13% of the European population speak Italian as their primary language, while another 14 million in the EU use it as a second language. Around the world, Italian speakers number about 85 million. It is also recognized as one of the four official languages in Switzerland, aside from German, French and Romansh.

The evolution of other European languages

Latin is the language that spread across Europe, as one of the many gifts of the Roman Empire to the world. This imposed language eventually influenced the dialects and language of the nations under the Empire’s rule.

For many European languages, the lingua franca evolved from the most dominant dialect spoken in the most important city of the country. This means that the language or dialect spoken in the capital city of a certain country came to be the language that spread to the rest of the nation.

For example, what we know as French today is the Parisian dialect spoken during the medieval times. Therefore, the Latin-derived dialects such as Spanish, French and Portuguese emerged as languages of their own over the centuries since they were the most used dialects or languages in their respective countries.

There were many dialects spoken in the different city-states in the Italian Peninsula. For obvious reasons, this made it difficult for different people from different regions to communicate, as there was no single accepted language.

Italian is similar in its evolution to other Romance languages, although it is really a combination of the most beautiful dialects spoken in the Italian peninsula, including Sicilian and Dalmatian, which is now an extinct language.

The Tuscan dialect rose into prominence around the 14th century. This is because of the city’s importance as a center of commerce, thereby making it a center of influence. At the same time, the Tuscan dialect remained closest to classical Latin.

The dialect in Florence is what would evolve into the Italian language that we know today, as influenced by a great poet from Tuscany.

The language of poets

It is widely accepted the Florentine poet Dante is credited with formalizing the language that is known as Italian today. Instead of using Latin, Dante opted to write his masterpiece, Commedia or the Divine Comedy, in his own dialect Florentine.

Divine Comedy. Dante. Giovanni di Paolo

Back then, Italy wasn’t truly a nation, but a collection of city-states with its own dialects and culture. In writing his work in il dolce stil nuovo or the “sweet new style”, the Tuscan writer thereby helped shaped the vernacular that he was using.

In using the vulgar tongue, Dante was effectively able to show that his vernacular could express the proper sentiments in a beautiful and artistic manner, comparable to if not better than Latin. At the same time, two other Florentine writers, Petrarca and Boccaccio, rose into prominence, thereby cementing the Tuscan vernacular as an important language. Many centuries later, Italian intellectuals would use the language as written by Dante as the basis of what is to become what is today known as Italian.

Italian unification

The need for a central language arose with the emergence of Italy as a nation by 1861. This way, the nation would have a unified language that would be recognized and understood by all. The Italian intellectuals therefore looked to its past to find the most beautiful language and chose the vernacular that Dante has popularized in the 14th century. At the same time, they incorporated the most beautiful aspects and words from the many other dialects in the country, to produce one of the loveliest languages in the world today.

Is it any wonder then that the language is one that actually sounds like poetry and music? It is precisely because in many ways, a poet helped create the language! In writing the Divine Comedy in triple rhyme or Terza rima, Dante gave the language a cascading rhythm and its unique cadence.

No wonder people can appreciate opera even without understanding a word of Italian. The words themselves can tug at the heartstrings and the cadence of the language can evoke a variety of emotions.

Ordinario to straodinario

The language is derived from Latin, although it has taken a life of its own. There’s something indescribably beautiful about hearing the Italian language spoken. With its distinctive stress and contrast between the short and long consonants, any word spoken in Italian takes on a whole new flavor or texture, even with words as mundane as dondolate (swing or rock), chiocciola (scroll) or magari (maybe). Everyday words just sound so much more interesting when spoken in Italian, transforming the mundane into something special.

Ordinary words can seem to refer to something extra special, just because it is in Italian. The commonplace toothpick becomes stuzzicadenti, butterfly is farfalla, toilet paper is carte igiencia, while strange or stranissimo just sounds quite intriguing or intrigante.

Today, Italian is one of the top five most commonly studied languages in the world. For those going to Italy, the experience of being surrounded by the cacophony of Italian words is similar to listening to the most beautiful symphony.

Is the Italian language music to the ears? Assolutamente!

Photo Credits: Wikimedia Commons – Divine Comedy, Andrea Bocelli


Unknown said...

Your article about Italian language is interesting.People should gain proper knowledge in Italian language so that they can achieve fluency. I love to read italian
books and enjoy to listen Italian music.

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I have been studying to learn

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