ROME, ITALY – Br. Scottston Brentwood, O. de M. shares with us the newest installment of his reflections from Eternal City…
I realize I have been rather silent lately, but with the changing weather my sinuses etc have been in open rebellion, I find I’m constantly tired from thinking in two languages simultaneously, and I have been racking my brain with the various past tenses in preparation for my exams. On Friday, I had my exam to determine if I move up to the next level, and I am happy to say that when the grade was given out afterward, I was told I was “optimal.” Thus, all IS truly well in the “Eternal City.” I will strive to be more attentive to writing you – forgive my silence.
I thought I’d share something I did for school with you. The following is my thoughts on the Italian Language as well as some examples of the differences between English and Italian. For those who know Italian, I’m sure this will bring back some memories.
I will write more as time allows.
Google Translators and my Thoughts on Italian…(in English)
One of my Italian friends who is learning English enjoys typing various English sentences that he understands into the online translators and makes fun of the translations that are made in Italian. I did not comprehend this until I tried it myself. WOW! I was honestly surprised at the MISTAKES. Some I could understand, but in some cases, you would type something like, “I went to the store,” and the translation said, “I did NOT go to the store.” Now I see why a human translator is indispensable for inter-lingual communications. I can only presume how pathetic English speakers appear in the eyes of those who employ translations from these “online tools.” Such is life.
When I studied Anthropology I learned that language is a reflection of the culture from which it derives. If you truly wish to understand the outlook of a culture, you MUST learn the language AS they use it. I can attest that with Italian this is true. I submit as my evidence Italian traffic. In Italy, everything is a suggestion – traffic lights, traffic lanes, stop signs, even parking places. There are more exceptions to the rules than there are applications OF the rules. The same holds true for the language.
So what is unique about the Italian Language? Personally, I think it is almost impossible to learn it! The grammar is a THOUSAND times more difficult than English, and though most think, “Italian is like Spanish or French,” it is the Spanish speakers who have the hardest time in class (I have had many Spanish speaking classmates). One teacher became frustrated with one Spanish student and finally said, “Remember, when you use ‘Se’ in Spanish, it is ‘Si’ in Italian, and when you use ‘Si’ in Spanish, it is ‘Se’ in Italian, unless it is a combined pronoun with an indirect object or…” the list continued. The student(s) continued to make the same mistakes, however.
Some other things to consider with Italian: When we say things like “I am taking a class” in English, in Italian it is, “I am making a class.” When we say, “It is cold today,” in Italian it is, “It makes cold today.” If you want to say, “I am cold,” in Italian you MUST say, “I have cold.” If you say the literal “I am cold,” it means your personality is reticent and few people like you. The same principle pertains to the verb, “finished.” To say the English equivalent of “I am finished working,” you MUST say, “I have finished working.” To say “I am finished” means you are physically deceased.
In English we use the present and future tenses a LOT. In Italian, they use the present and PAST. To say, “yes, yes, I underSTAND” (present tense – si, si, io copisco), in Italian you MUST say, “yes, yes, I underSTOOD” (past tense – si, si, ho copito). One Italian friend said once, “You could never be Italian.” When I asked why, he retorted, “Because you use the future tense, and Italians do not.” In speaking, Italians NEVER use the future tense. It is found only in books (if its found at all). For example, “Today I am going to class (present tense), and tomorrow I WILL go to class (future tense)” in SPOKEN Italian would be, “Today I am going to class (present tense), and tomorrow I am going to class (present tense).”
For me, the past tense in Italian is the bane of my studies. English has four past tenses, but Italian has five. I now understand and use four of the five, but the fifth (passato remoto) is hardly ever used in North or Central Italy…only in the South of Italy is it used, so I will not worry about it at the moment. Still, for school, I have to know it.
In Italian, the word meaning, “to like something” does not exist as it does in English. In Italian, to “like” something is worded as an INDIRECT object. For example, “I like books” in Italian would be, “To me, the books are pleasing.”
My litany could continue, but I will spare you the rambling. My point to all of this is merely that Italian as a language is VASTLY diverse when contrasted with English (or any language for that matter). Also, in order to understand where the Italians (or any other culture) are coming from, you must learn the language – the way in which they think, is the way in which they speak. You cannot understand where they are coming from if you cannot think in the same manner as they do. Grammar is one ASPECT of a language, but I am confident if you looked at our own language you would see that what the grammar says we should say and what we ACTUALLY say are usually different. Therefore, I will keep studying this language, as futile as it may seem. I said before it is ALMOST impossible to learn…I did not say it WAS impossible…