31 January 2014

@ the Italian primary school :: 21

A conversation at the breakfast table about words and cultures and gumbo prompted by the study of ancient cultures in school...

Young One: Mamma, did you know that Sicilians hire people to scream?
Me: Do they? Why is that so?
Young One:  When someone dies, they hire people to scream, to keep yelling for a long time.
Me: You mean to mourn, to weep, to cry.
Young One: Yes. That’s what I said. They got it from the Ancient Egyptians.
Me: I see. I did not know that. You realize that not all Sicilians do this. It would be similar to saying all Southerners eat gumbo, and we know that isn’t the case, only…
Young One (interrupting): Only the jolly ones like gumbo, Mamma. I know that.

She still gets some things a bit mixed up in her bilingual brain and her translation isn’t always natural and perfect.  Here I think she confused some words in the two languages for "cry" and "weep," some subtle differences, but I’m certain that she understands exactly what she means, just as she assures me, even if it isn't "scream." 

And, yes, she was totally serious with her remark about gumbo being for jolly folks.  (I have no idea what she means by that!)

In the same morning we had a conversation about “further” and “farther,”  prompted by her encounter with the word “ulteriormente” in a text for school. Imagine trying to explain that in English those two words can be used interchangeably…sometimes…according to some style guides, and then trying to come up with examples and grammatical explanations of when they can vs when they cannot in terms of parts of speech like adjectives and adverbs, all while saying, "But I'm not sure if this is the case in Italian."  I tried, even in the bustle of the school morning routine. I'm afraid I failed. Of course.

We ended with her telling me not to worry and that she understands that you just learn that stuff by speaking and reading the language.  

Wow. Just look at my little whole language proponent. Who knew? It was quite unexpected coming from my girl who absolutely hates encountering new words (both languages) in texts and is convinced that she is the only person in the world (or the classe 4B) who doesn't know the meaning of every single word in existence. You know, because her parents don't speak Italian. 

BUT...both of her monolingual parents love language and linguistics and learning, and today I learned the word "moirologist," I just might use it in a sentence later.

Disclaimer: I hate generalizations as much as you do, probably more. This is my limited experience at my fourth grader's tiny primary school lost in Northern Italy. If you have a different experience with this, please share!

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