Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The languages they spoke

Going to Venice from Ravenna, there are no direct trains. We had our choice of having a layover in Ferrara, Rovigo or Padova (Padua). From the map outside the Ferrara train station, it didn't look like the Duomo and other sites were far away but then, there was no scale. Fortunately the sidewalks were smooth and flat for our rollerbags (some places had very rough cobblestones for pavement, not fun for the suitcases). The photos above are of the Duomo and the castle. I had read an article (while trying to make my decision on what city to visit)saying that Ferrara is just as lovely as Florence but without the crowds.

What I should have done before the trip was review my Italian. I have all sorts of CDs I could have been listening to on my car trips but no. I figured it would come back to me but at the first place I had to speak it, at that awful Milano Centrale, I drew a blank. Of course I was tired and upset. Then Carla, the wonderful hostess in our first place in Desenzano did not know even a word of English. She was puzzled that I came by myself. I tried to tell her 'mi espouso' was coming later. That's Spanish, maybe. She corrected me, 'mio marito'. But it gradually came back and I was able to speak like a toddler with her saying 'brava' everytime I could string two words correctly together I had forgotten the word for 'bat' (lots of bats flying at us as we sat on the balcony at night)'pippistrella'

My favorite new word for jelly fish 'medusa'.

Italy hasn't been a country for long, about 150 years. For many years after the fall of the Roman empire, it was a collection of city states usually at  war with each other, each speaking its own dialect of Latin. Educated people wrote in Latin until Dante wrote in the Florentine version of it 700 years ago. This became the basis of standard Italian and is what I learned. Most of the people spoke it in Abruzzo though the further south you go, the more pronounced the rolling 'r's are. The cook at the monastery spoke some Sardinian version which was hard to understand. Her husband, the bar owner, spoke very understandably. Although throughout history, the Venetian city state was usually much more dominant and had its own language, Florence won out for the language. But that didn't stop the Venetians from speaking their hard to understand (for me) dialect and their street signs are in Venetian dialect. And the surrounding cities such as Verona speak it too.
Standard Italian: Casa del vino
Venetian: Ca' da ven
English: House of wine

So the only place that they spoke the language as I learned it on the trip was Florence. I had to make a slew of complicated train arrangements in the Bologna train station. Did the ticket person speak English? No. So much for the traveler's tip that in big cities, you can find English. And she spoke some strange dialect. Due-ah instead of due-a for 2. Eventually I got my tickets.

Strangely, we came upon several groups of French tourists who wanted us to take their photos. And they asked this in French, which I still can understand after years of listening to my step-grandmother (who spoke Quebecois). And I was able to ask in French for them to take our picture. After they did, Steve said 'gratzi'. I reminded him that they were French. He then said 'mercy' mispronounced as in have mercy on us. How many years of French did he have? More than me..but he never practiced it.

One of the rarest languages in the world is 'Ladin' spoken only in remote villages of the Alto Adige made more rare because there is at least 4 forms of it. Efforts are being made to preserve it. We didn't visit these villages, we visited ones that spoke German. Alto Adige, known locally as the Sudtirol, had been part of  Austria for the past 600 years or so (and Northern Italy was part of the Hapsburg empire for at least 100 years if not more). Italy won the land in WW1  Hitler let Mussolini keep it (he tried to give Italian place names to all the cities). To keep the residents happy, the region has been allowed to keep its languages. How's my German? I had to learn how to translate scientific papers into English to get my chemistry degree so my vocabulary is very specialized and not much help speaking it. I should have brushed up on this too.
trilingual road sign in the Sudtirol. Top:Ladin, Middle: German Bottom: Italian

Another confusing thing is that 'Ladin or Ladino" describes two completely different sets of languages. What they have in common is only that they are Latin based. The former is the Italian-like but different dialects spoken in remote mountain villages in NE Italy but the latter is the Spanish based language of the Sephardic Jews. Previous to the expulsion of the Moors and Jews and the Inquisition (thank you Queen Isabella and the Catholic church), many Jews spoke a version of Spanish and some still do..another dying language. The Ashkenazi Jews (of which most American Jews derive from including my husband) came from Germanic areas and thus Yiddish is German based. Are their more Yiddish speakers than Ladino speakers? Both are becoming rarer. The official language of Israel is Hebrew. Steve's parents could speak Yiddish but Steve only knows a few phrases.
One last day of relative warmness until some crappy winter weather comes in. I was able to run then bike between baby sitting and a dentist visit (good report there).

Update: Good news for local spritzi drinkers...Steve found a local source for Aperol. Three times as expensive as Italy but if you include airfare.....

1 comment:

Elephant's Child said...

We are fortunate that some things (food and beauty for example) cross the language barriers aren't we?
And when I think of the misunderstandings that arise from people speaking in my own language, I am amazed at how we ever manage in one that is foreign to us. Good will traversing boundaries?


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