When dealing with any culture in the world, we can assume we become really acquainted with them only in the moment we learn the relative language. A language is much more than a way to communicate, it is the “mirror of the society”, as we say in Italy, since it contains the psychology of a country, the way local people reason and their attitude toward life. On the other hand, when one becomes acquainted with a language, the ability to pay attention to the sound of the words is lost, as we are much more concentrated on the meaning, with the unavoidable consequence of forgetting about the music which is intrinsic into the words. For this reason, when speaking about Italian, I really enjoy reading this series of posts by Ishita: being in the process of learning my language, she is still able to recognize the sound of the words, which, as a native speaker, I automatically overlook all the time (thanks Ishita!)
One thing is sure, though: every language is fascinating and today I will try to list the words I like the most in every language I’m familiar with.
As I explained in my series of 100 Italian Facts (day 99), the majority of people in my country is diglossic. Diglossia is a particular condition in which a community commonly uses two languages: one for the ordinary conversations in everyday life (in my case Venetian) and the other for the formal situations (in my case Italian). I think we can affirm that Central Venetian is my first language, the one of my roots, even though here we grow up learning local languages and Italian simultaneously.
But let’s talk about my favourite Venetian words:
You think I am joking, right? That’s the most Italian of words, you’d think. Well, actually “Ciao” was born in Venice and was later adopted all over the country (and all over the world nowadays!). Its original form was actually “s’ciao” which basically means “[I’m your] slave”. Not very flattering, but hey, you know how referential they were in the good old days.
Bagigio is “arachide” in Italian and “peanut” in English. This is a word that other Italians who don’t live in Veneto find adorable for its sound. In fact it is often used also as a pet name, eheh. I have lately found out that bagigio derived from the Arab. Venetian merchants probably imported this kind of nuts from the Arabic world and they adopted the name as well.
I’m so glad I have chosen two “international” words for such a small reality like Veneto!
This one dates back at the time when I was staying in Ireland after high school to learn English and I shared a flat with two Spanish girls. At the time we hooked up with a group of students from all over Europe and when talking to other fellow Italians in our own language, I often caught my flatmates staring at us with dreamy eyes. They said we sounded “melodic” and they could spend hours listening to us speaking 😀 In one occasion one of my flatmates said to me how she loved the Italian word “bambino” (child), since she thought it sounded perfect to indicate a small human being. I thought she was right and since then “bambino” probably is my favourite Italian word.
I’m a keen reader of mountaineering literature and thanks to this kind of books I came across the word “strapiombante” (overhanging). Strapiombante is not commonly used by people, in fact, when you’re talking about a vertiginous rock face, you usually prefer parete vertiginosa to parete strapiombante. But I’ve come to love strapiombante, it gives more the idea of the peril and the void below. In fact strapiombante contains the word piombo, which is the metal lead, and so it gives you the idea of what happens if you fall from that rock side: you precipitate like lead. That’s the Italian in me, guys, we like to be dramatic and this stands also for the vocabulary 😀
I haven’t a single doubt about my favourite English word, it is surely bliss. When Muse’s album Origin of Simmetry came out, I was still trying to enlarge my poor English vocabulary and I remember I had to look up the meaning of this Bliss title song, since I had not idea what the hell it was. Once I learned what it meant, I was fascinated and I thought it was one of the cases in which signifier and meaning coincided. Moreover, I can’t help but “hear” the song when this word comes up.
Unheimlich and Wortschatz
In terms of vocabulary, German surely is a fascinating language. Besides the classic concept of Heimat and its derived words ( I particularly like unheimlich, meaning eerie but literary suggesting the concept of not feeling at home), I really love Wortschatz, translated as lexicon, but literary meaning treasure of words.
I couldn’t end this kind of post with a better word, I think.