Not A Solitary Voice Crying In The Wilderness
I write a lot about the topic of mangling the Italian language. A whole lot. But that's largely because there is much to be said on the subject, especially when it comes to Italian food words. Up until now I was afraid I was alone in my Sisyphean struggle, but it turns out I am not a solitary voice crying in the wilderness. Enter Kaylin Pound, writing for Elite Daily, and her article, “25 Of Your Favorite Italian FoodsYou’ve Been Saying Completely Wrong.”
Now, what set Ms. Pound's epistle apart from many of the others I've seen online – and there are many others – is her perspective: she was once a clueless teenage waitress, one of the prime offenders. She writes, “Normally, waitresses are supposed to be pretty knowledgeable about the food they’re serving. But somehow, I managed to finagle my way through two rounds of interviews and get the job without ever having to say the name of a single dish — and thank goodness because I basically had no idea how to say anything on the damn menu.”
Well, at least now I know why there are legions of clueless teenage waitresses out there.
But Ms. Pound has reformed, now opining, “If you ask me, it’s about time we actually learn how to pronounce the things we eat.” This is a point I have been hammering on and yammering about for years. So it's refreshing to see someone who agrees with me in print – even if she does inexplicably close her treatise on Italian food with the words, “Bon appétit!” instead of “Buon appetito.”
Seriously, I have friends and dinner companions who brace themselves in anticipation when a server asks me about “mare-uh-NARE-uh” or “broo-SHET-uh.” It has the old “nails-on-a-blackboard” effect on me. It is said that Italians are generally too polite to correct people who mispronounce their language, but in my case, my Italian heritage is overshadowed by my French and I'll damn sure straighten somebody out. Politely, of course. Oddly, although Ms. Pound included “bruschetta” in her pronunciation guide, she neglected to mention “marinara.” Either she forgot that one or perhaps it doesn't make her skin crawl like it does mine. Otherwise, I agree with her choices. She even thought of of few that I hadn't. Kudos.
I'll drag out the old soapbox and the dead horse here, mounting the one while vigorously flagellating the other. And just in case the thought was running through your mind, no, I don't often confuse the two. Spanish is Spanish, French is French, German is German and Italian is Italian. There is no such thing as “the American way” to pronounce a foreign word. Oh, you can say “mare-uh-NARE-uh” instead of “mah-ree-NAH-rah” all day and call it “the American way” of saying it.......but it's still ineffably wrong! Anglicizing Spanish, French, German, Italian, or Chinese words does not make them “right”; it just makes them badly pronounced and reflects poorly on the one mispronouncing them, as if said speaker was simply too lazy or too stupid to learn and employ the proper pronunciation, opting, instead, to say it any old way and calling it “close enough.” Anatole France once said, “If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.” Repetition or “common usage” does not equal correctness.
And the linguistic double standard that comes into play is particularly galling. When someone with a foreign accent mispronounces an English word, what happens? People laugh at and deride him and automatically assume a lesser intelligence is behind his inability to correctly pronounce common English words. There's no room for an “Italian way” to say an English word, now is there?
Call me judgmental or curmudgeonly – I'll answer to both – but if you are my server in an Italian restaurant and you come at me with some godawful anglicized rendering of an Italian food word, you've lowered your IQ by ten points. Just like you would do to me if I said “HOM-boog-ehr” in a thick accent. “Jeez, that guy's too stupid to know how to say 'hamburger'”. The shoe's a little tight when it's on the other foot, isn't it?
Look, I don't expect perfect conversational Italian out of English-speakers who often struggle with speaking proper English. Heck, my own Italian isn't all that good. What I do expect, however, is enough respect for a culture to not butcher its language.
And why is it that Italian always gets the rap? Everybody seems to know that “que” in Spanish is pronounced “kay” and that a double “l” makes a “y” sound, hence when you order a “quesadilla” you don't ask for a “kwes-ah-DILL-ah.” So why is it so hard to fathom that a “ch” in Italian is a hard “k” sound and that “bruschetta” is pronounced “broo-SKET-tah,” not “broo-SHET-uh”? Why is it incomprehensible that the “a” in almost every language other than English has an “ah” sound, correctly rendering “marinara” as “mah-ree-NAH-rah” rather than “mare-uh-NARE-uh”? What's so hard about that?
And even if proper pronunciation is inexplicably beyond the linguistic capabilities of the common Italian restaurant patron, it most certainly shouldn't be beyond the abilities of the people cooking and serving the food. Talk about a lack of respect! How long do you think you'd last serving at a Mexican restaurant if you said “TACK-oh”, “NATCH-oh”, “jal-uh-PEE-noh”, and “buh-RIT-oh”? Yet you can slaughter Italian food words in an Italian restaurant and nobody says a thing because “that's the way Americans say it”? I don't think so.
Okay. The soapbox is sagging under the strain and the horse is still just as dead, so I'll quit stumping and flailing.......for now. Besides, I'm getting callouses on my fingertips from pounding the keys. But just give the idea a little thought, huh? Try to see the logic. Stop making Italian into Rodney Dangerfield. Give it a little respect.