A small diversion before getting back to Gertrude Belle-Oudry.
As I’ve mentioned before, I am reading one of the BarLume mysteries, in Italian. I actually haven’t made much progress, since I’ve been spending a lot of time researching and writing about Gertrude, but I intend to get back to the mystery, Il telefono senza fili (= The mobile phone = The Telephone [See the correction]) because it’s fun to read, both as a mystery, but for me, also for the aspects of Italian language and culture.
One of the fascinating aspects of language and culture is the author’s use of the regional language of Tuscany. In addition to regional dialects, Italy has lots of regional languages. These regional languages mostly evolved from Latin, in parallel with standard Italian, which is based, roughly, on the Tuscan language spoken around Florence in the mid-late 19th century. In the intervening 150 years or so, Tuscan has itself evolved, and within Tuscany there is also some variation, depending on the region. In particular, the version of Tuscan spoken on the coast (which is where the BarLume novels are set) is slightly different from the Tuscan spoken in Florence, which is inland.
The use of regional languages varies widely in Italy. Sometimes they are widespread (especially in southern Italy), whereas in other areas their use is more limited. When their use is limited, it is typically older people who use the regional language, while younger people use standard Italian. Also when the use is limited, the regional language tends to spoken more in villages and small towns than in larger towns and cities.
These aspects of the use of regional languages is reflected in the speech of the characters in the book. So far as I can tell so far, 3 of the 4 older men main characters use the Tuscan language, while the other older man and the 2 younger main characters (one man, one woman) only use Italian.
Here’s a particularly nice example adapted from the beginning of the book (p. 14) showing the difference between Tuscan and standard Italian. Pilade and Aldo are two of the older men.
Pilade [Tuscan]: ” ‘Un c’ero mìa io a arbitra’ ”
Aldo [Italian]: ” Non c’era mica lui ad arbitrare. “
= “I / he [Pilade] was never the one to referee.”
Here are the words in Pilade’s quote that are Tuscan and not Italian:
|‘Un||Non||=not. Tuscan uses a different word.|
|mìa||mica||=never. Tuscan omits c and g when they are between vowels.|
|a||ad||=to. Tuscan drops the final d.|
|arbitra’||arbitrare||=(to) referee. Tuscan drops the final -re of infinitives.|
I think the author, Marco Malvadi, does a nice job of contrasting Tuscan and Italian as part of the characterization of Pilade, Aldo, and the others. I haven’t read enough to understand why Aldo speaks Italian and not Tuscan. While it’s possible that if I knew more about Italian, I would understand that already, I don’t think that would necessarily be the case. What matters is not knowledge of Italian, but exposure to the use of Tuscan. Since the use of the regional languages varies so much, even though I have a general idea about when, where, and by whom Tuscan might be spoken (the advantage of being a recidivist linguist, and you get it too from reading this post!), I don’t know the specific details (and I suspect many Italians wouldn’t either).
In fact, I’ve had a couple experiences in the U.S. (though with dialects/accents, not languages), which make it clear that you need exposure to the speech to understand the who, when, and where of it. One example was a couple years ago when we were visiting Norway, Maine to track down more information about another EWAP who was quite a character, Miss Minnie Libby. Our AirBnB hosts were wonderful, and we met them for lunch one day. During lunch, one of them told an anecdote and at one point started speaking with some kind of accent, to emphasize the joke. They knew of our linguistics background since the other one did some work for one of my former linguistics colleagues, so I apologized and said I didn’t quite get the joke, since I didn’t know what the accent was. He explained that it was a “Down East” accent. Even though I grew up in New England, I didn’t know what that accent was, since I had never heard it.
Another relevant experience was when I was taking a class at a summer school from a prominent linguist. On the first day, she played some recordings of people and asked the class to guess where they were from based on their accents. The recordings were all made in New York, and I, like most of the people in the class, had never heard those kinds of New York accents, so we had no idea about them, so we couldn’t make any reasonable guesses. That defeated the whole point of the exercise (which is that you can’t necessarily judge a person by their accent), but she really should have known better than to try that exercise with that class.
A third relevant experience, which was more critical, happened when my car broke down in Tennessee. I walked to a garage to get a tow, and riding back with the driver we tried to have a conversation. However, I failed because I had such a hard time understanding his accent, never having heard it before. I was shocked, actually, since I had travelled a fair bit in the U.S. But I did get the tow back to garage and got the car fixed.
Now I’m eager to get back to the book and see if I can solve the mystery of why Aldo doesn’t speak Tuscan.