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Speaking Italian, and Who Should or Should Not, if at All!

Anthony J. Tamburri (September 17, 2010)
Many Italian-Americans do not speak Italian. Here are a few reasons why they should... and some suggestions for a first approach to the language!



The “who should or should not speak Italian” is an issue that is fundamentally unresolvable. What do I mean by such a seemingly essentialist declaration? Well, it is similar to the “chicken and the egg” debate that, in this case, is slightly modified as to why a plethora of children and grandchildren of Italian immigrants no longer speak the language. The conjecture is multiple, and one can never really arrive at a conclusion satisfactory to the majority, I would contend.

Gobetti, Daniela, Robert A. Hall, and Frances Adkins Hall, 2001 Italian and English Idioms. New York: Barron's Educational Series, 1996;

Italian catch Phrases

N.B.: the addition of this brief glossary is really for those who are not fluent in Italian and thus might benefit from its presence here.

“A presto” can be used to sign off an informal missive of sorts, wanting to say, “See/talk to you soon.”

“Abbastanza” means “enough” in the sense that there is enough quantity of something. To say “Enough!” as in “Stop already,” or something of the sort, then one uses the 3rd person singular of the verb “bastare,” as in “Basta!” People get this right more than half the time it is used.

“Alla riscossa” is part of a refrain from the song “Bandiera rossa” (The Red Flag), which was the slogan for the partisans fighting Fascism as well as the battle song of the Italian Communist Party (the old PCI).

“Che sah diche” is the Americanized version of “Che si dice?” It means “What does one say” literally; or, much more liberally, “What’s up?” of “What’s new?”

“Ciao” is one of the most mis-spelled words. It means “hello” or “good-bye.” Oh, it is not Italian to say “Ciao, for now!” Indeed, it is very un-Italian.

Gedrule,” or something of the sort, is the phonetic spelling of “cetriolo,” which means “cucumber” and is used in Italian also to call someone “stupid” or a “bumpkin.”

“Madone” are “Maron” are the two expressions of surprise and/or exclamation, which come from the standard Italian “Madonna”—Virgin Mary.

“Sempre Avanti” is used by many who do not know Italian. Its origins are that of the battle cry from Mussolini’s Fascist era. The expression was sometimes longer, as in: “Sempre avanti ad ogni costo per la grandezza della patria!”

“Stunahd” is the Americanized version of “stonato,” which literally is out of tune, out of harmony with what is going on.

“Ti voglio bene” means “I love you,” in both a familial and romantic way, used in wither occasion. It is not the equivalent of the sign-off in a letter, “love,” or the like. In this case, one would say “Con affetto,” literally, “with affection,” or something similar such as “affettuosità,” which we would freely translate “affections.”





Editors Note: This article by prof. Tamburri has evoked a conversation on our facebook page (www.facebook.com/iitaly). Here are some of the comments as of September 20, 11pm.

  • Nuccia Hinckley, Letizia Airos and 14 others like this.

    Anna Artillio Fleming how i wish my parents would have taught me.

    7 hours ago · 1 personLinda Marmone-Farrell likes this. · 

    Linda Marmone-Farrell I SAY THE SAME THING! THEY USED TO SPEAK ITALIAN SO WE WOULDN'T UNDERSTAND WHAT THEY WERE SAYING!

    7 hours ago · · 2 people2 people like this. · 

    Charles Catalosi Wow thats way my parents did speak so I would not understand them. Ok do I'm not the only one.

    7 hours ago ·· 1 personLinda Marmone-Farrell likes this. ·

    Andrea Zappone Interesting article, I heard the excuse "my family spoke dialect" so many times..not only in the US but in many other countries where Italians moved after WWII...I love the Italian Language, I don't care how impractical it might be!!!!!

    6 hours ago ·

    Cristiano Pellegrini

    Dear All,

    Believe me or not, this fact of the parents not talking to their children on purpose is the same thing said by all the Italo-American people who I meet here constantly in Rome. Don't be sad, through Mrs. Cammy Reali we can set up f...ree lessons via Skype. I would be proud to do this for you guys. A friend of mine living in Denver is doing also in this way with me from time to time. It's a good way to improve! Think of that!

    I wish to be in NYC with Cammy to attend the San Gennaro's Fiest Day, but there is an Ocean in between !

    Have a good day, ciao!
    See More

    6 hours ago · · 1 personGracie Stancati likes this. ·

    Maria Losquadro-Mazza I grew up speaking only italian in the house and stupidly i let outside forces convince me i had to be only american and speak only american. I so regreat it cause i lost a lot of it but i am not letting my kids do the same. At 2 they were inroled in a toddlers italian language program and my husband and i talk to them in italian as much as possible.

    6 hours ago · 3 people3 people like this. ·

    Maria C. Scali Want to thank my parents for speaking Italian at home, and teaching us to be proud of bring bilingual. Teachers used to try to convince them, that we would get confused in school , but in fact we always excelled !!

    5 hours ago · · 1 personLoading... ·

    Gracie Stancati Skype lessons sound like a wonderful idea! :) I grew up with Italian spoken in our home and of course in my grandparents home but they didn't want us to learn the language. I took a few courses in college but learned more when traveling to Italy over the years! It's a beautiful language but not easy b/c of all the dialects from region to region. Proper Italian is magical - like a song! I love EVERYTHING Italian! ....bella Italia

    4 hours ago · 1 personLoading... ·

    Gianluca Rottura I enjoyed the article. I believe it is important for ANYONE to learn Italian. Unfortunately, there are non-Italians who go out of their way to be Italian and act snobby with it, COMPLETELY MISSING THE POINT. Italians are not like that. People tend to do that with French as well. Learning another culture is no reason for one to beat another with it over the head. If you really want to be Italian, be loving. That's the foundation.

    4 hours ago ·· 4 peopleLoading... ·

    Kristen Leann Garrett Italia bella...

    3 hours ago ·

    Ellen Friedman che rottura....

    2 hours ago ·

    Roberto Bob Alvarez Every American-Italian should learn to speak.

    I have a 60-minute free audio lesson at
    www.learnitalian.us

    59 minutes ago ·

    Francesca Cerchia Pensa I love that the Neapolitan dialect was spoken in my home when I was a child. When I grew up, I also learned that other language spoken in Italy; Italian.

    21 minutes ago ·



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