The longer I stay in Italy, the more preoccupied I become with the nature of communication. Learning a new language has never come easy to me. My 2 years of French yield little beyond a poorly pronounced ‘bonjour’ and until a year ago, my years of Italian brought me only the basic colours and numbers.
I used to say that language is just a series of codes – that at its most basic it is inherently meaningless. That which we call small talk is such a major part of our lives that it may as well be devoid of all meaning. Learning a new language, these phrases come quickly.
Buongiorno, anch’io, come va, tutto bene, ciao, a dopo.
Entire conversations are yielded from simple phrases which cover only the most basic of emotional interactions – are you well? Are you working today? Nice weather, isn’t it? The more I became a part of Pieve Santo Stefano, the more I became dismayed by my lack of Italian… I felt myself limited by the codes. Of course, I wanted to wish everyone well, but I didn’t like being bound into the system where such a wish was an expected response. When I say ‘buona giornata’, I want it to be clear that I mean it. When you are bound by the system, such a thing cannot be assumed. I began to feel that if people knew my only Italian was about it being a nice day, that they could not be sure how I actually felt about the weather.
For anyone that values the way they communicate with those around them, such a limitation can be quite disappointing and, at times, infuriating. The system works, the conversation continues as you would expect it, and you become more and more frustrated at your own limitations. Limitations of thought, something I had overcome long ago. When you operate in your mother tongue, there comes a point where you accept your proficiency (creative development aside) – you know the words you know and you know how to express yourself. Your language evolves with your mental capacity, and rarely does one limit the expression of the other.
With a second language, especially one you learn through immersion rather than a book (and additionally, one which must be used almost immediately, with or without any confirmation of proficiency) you are often confronted with the limitation of language on the intellect. Often, I reach the middle of a sentence to realise I literally have no words to express the thought. I find myself fishing for lacklustre replacements, bastardising my own idea in the process, and offer up something cheap and tawdry by comparison.
I mention all of this to make a grander point – the stage which follows the coded system of limitation is a bounteous one, and it is triggered by community. After the weather has been discussed every day for weeks, you reach for new vocabulary and find true nuggets of expression that fall within the limitations of a new language, but express the individual nonetheless, albeit free of poetic intervention. Adjectives like stanco, ansioso, allegro, triste and deluso. The verbs which follow: piangere, prendere in giro, innamorare, scherzare.
And so begins a new stage of connection with this place I have begun to call home. Limited though I might be by my words, it is one of truth and one of real, meaningful connection.Tagged: australia, italia, italiani, italy, language, lingue italiano, pievani, pievano, pieve santo stefano, toscana, tuscany