Ten Reasons Why I Still Love Italian
Almost a decade ago, in the first chapter of La Bella Lingua, I confessed to being an inammorata,“enchanted by Italian, fascinated by its story and its stories, tantalized by its adventures, addicted to its sound, and ever eager to spend more time in its company.”
I still feel this way. Why? Here are just ten of the reasons:
1. No other language is more romantic. All the Romance languages evolved from the volgare (vernacular) of ancient Rome. Yet none may have so many 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.
2. Everything sounds better in Italian. An ordinary towel becomes an asciugamano; a handkerchief, a fazzoletto. Garbage isn’t mere trash — it’s spazzatura.
3. You can use your hands—a lot! In Italian 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!”
4. Speaking Italian is almost like singing. The reason: 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 and stronger than its English counterpart.
5. 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.
6. When you study Italian, you immerse yourself in an Italian masterpiece. You can’t sculpt like Michelangelo or paint like Leonardo, but you can read and speak a language crafted by 14th-century poets — Dante foremost among them.
7. Italian has become the new French. h 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 in the world—after English, Spanish and French, which Italian now rivals as a language of culture and refinement.
8. Italian is “beautiful, fun and sexy.” That’s how people perceive both Italy and its language, observed Stephen Brockman, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, “Why not?” he adds. “I can’t see anything wrong with that.” Neither can I.
9. Italians.The better you know their language, the more you’ll realize how right the British author E.M. Forster was when he advised: “Love and understand the Italians, for the people are more marvelous than the land.” I couldn’t agree more.
10. A new revised, updated and expanded edition of LA BELLA LINGUA, coming in 2019. What better way to celebrate a ten-year love affair with the world's most enchanting language?
Dianne Hales is the author of LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language and MONA LISA: A Life Discovered. Click here to preorder her upcoming book, LA PASSIONE: How Italy Seduced the World.
My thanks to Stacy Pollard for the graphic (above) that she originally created for her "Prayers and Piazza" blog.