The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Why Is Italian Treated Like A Second-Class Language?

I'm a little miffed today. That's hardly an unusual state of affairs anymore. As I get older I find I spend a lot of time being miffed. Guess it's all part of being a curmudgeon.

I'm miffed today because of a recent incident of “Giada Bashing,” the practice of saying unfounded ugly things about Giada de Laurentiis. I've watched Giada for years, I've cooked her recipes, I've met her and spoken with her and I find her to be completely charming and utterly genuine. But the particular bash I'm referring to is one that really pushes my buttons because it is one that is not directed solely at Giada, but at Italians in general. Specifically at the Italian language.

The comment was one I've heard many times; “She talks normal until she says something about some Italian ingredient. Then she has to say it with some fancy Italian accent.”

Okay......I'm counting to dieci.....that's ten in Italian. What part of this don't you understand? English is not her native language. She's freakin' ITALIAN! She is not putting on fancy airs, she is speaking her native language correctly!

But I run into this kind of linguistic racism all the time. Never mind the way things are pronounced in their mother tongue. The only “normal” way to speak is the American way. I'm constantly harping on “marinara” and “bruschetta,” for instance. The right pronunciation, the proper pronunciation, the correct pronunciation of these words is “mah-ree-NAH-rah” and “broo-SKAY-tah” – or, at least, “broo-SKET-ah.” It is not, never has been, and never will be “mare-uh-NARE-uh” and “broo-SHET-uh.” But when I say this, I am frequently looked at like an idiot child and told in no uncertain terms, “Well, I ain't from Italy. I'm from [pick a state] and that's just the way we say it there.” Implying, of course, that that automatically makes the blatant mispronunciation right.

And yet we Americans arrogantly laugh at people who come here from other places and mispronounce common English words. People who have thick accents or who place the emphasis on the wrong syllable or who can't wrap their tongues around certain letter combinations are all stupid, right? They “talk funny.” But not us. We can pronounce words in their language any old way we want, because, after all, we talk “normal.”

And the thing that grinds my gears the hardest is the fact that this proclivity seems to be directed at the Italian language more than any other. For reasons I just can't fathom, Italian seems to be a second-class language. Americans liberally flatten vowels, truncate words, and generally butcher a beautiful, lyrical tongue with verisimilitude and without recrimination. They don't do it with Spanish and they most certainly don't do it with French, but Italian seems to be fair game.

Take, for instance, the taco. Everybody says “TAHK-oh,” right? I know somebody who pronounces it “TACK-oh” and he sounds funnier than hell to most people. Have you ever heard anybody order a “BURRIT-oh?” Or a “kwes-uh-DILL-uh?” Of course not. Everybody knows how to pronounce “burrito” and “quesadilla.”

Or take French. When it comes time to confit something, I don't know of a single chef who says “KAHN-fit” instead of “cone-FEE.” The demi glace is always a “dem-ee GLAHS” and never a “dem-eye GLAYCE.” And even if you can't speak through your nose and swallow final consonants like the French do, most Americans at least give “kwra-SAHNT” (croissant) a legitimate try.

Even Asian cultures get their due. Most folks ordering a bahn mi sandwich these days know better than to ask for a “BAN-my.”

And yet, you're somehow “abnormal” if you ask people to properly pronounce marinara and bruschetta. I just don't get it.

There are elements in our society that consider it a laughable affectation for one to correctly pronounce “foreign” words. You're just being “uppity.” I disagree. It's a matter of etiquette, intelligence, and respect. We expect – nay, we demand – that people from other countries learn to “talk normal” when they come here lest we laugh them off the streets. And yet, that same expectation, that same demand, is seldom made of us. Americans, it seems, are allowed to be culturally ignorant with impunity. “Well, I ain't from any of them other countries, so I ain't gotta talk like they do.” How sad!

I'm not saying you have to take a crash course in Italian, but you can go a great distance by remembering a few simple rules. For instance, in any Italian word where there's an “A” – any Italian word – the “A” will be pronounced as “ah.” All Romance or Neo-Latin languages – of which Italian is one – share the same sound for the letter “A.” There are no “long” or “short” sounds – no “ā” as in “sale” or “ă” as in “cat.” Everything is an “ah” sound. Conversely, the Italian “E” is frequently pronounced like a long “A.” Which leads to another point: in proper, non-dialectical Italian, you always pronounce the final vowel. There are no silent “e”s. Thus, words like mascarpone and provolone are not correctly rendered as “MASS-car-pone” and “PRO-vuh-lone,” but as “mahs-cahr-POHN-ay” and “proh-voh-LOHN-ay.” And if that sounds too affected, I'll just start using the Italian “u” sound when I talk about your “pickoop trook” and I'll sound as silly to you as you sound to an Italian.

Maybe it's because Italians are too laid back to gripe. Or maybe just too polite. Mispronounce something in French and the French will come after you with pitchforks. With Italians, non è niente! Come on, Italians! Demand some respect for your language!

Okay. I'm dragging the soapbox back under the porch now and I'm going to go in and take my medicine. I'm going to turn on the TV and find a station where everybody “talks normal.” And as long as you don't come and tell me we're having spaghetti mare-uh-nare-uh with broo-shetta for supper, I'll be fine.

1 comment:

  1. I, 100% approve this message.
    My grandma is from Italy and she taught us the correct pronunciations. I've gotten weird looks at Olive Garden for pronouncing things on the menu the correct way. Let's be fair expecting Olive Garden to be authentic Italian is like expecting Taco Bell to be authentic Mexican food. I live in California and everyone,even if they don't know Spanish can pronounce correctly Mexican food names. I pronounce how it should be from the people, who gave the food it's name. I went to England last year and found I was pronouncing basil wrong. Now I pronounce it correctly. I try not to butcher languages. So I will pronounce it the correct way no matter how I'm looked at.
    On a side note: I did go to a real Italian restaurant(where as soon as you walk in you could hear people arguing and joking around in Italian) and was given praise and extra servings for pronouncing the words correctly. :)