Source: An Italian Canadian Life
I’ve been itching to see something new. Get away and plan a vacation. While we’ve been planning, we’ve been joking around and it brought up a word my grandmother used to use: vacationa. I’m sure you won’t find that in a dictionary anywhere, but let’s use it in a sentence as Nanna would have (I never called her Nonna): “Where you go on vacationa?” Neither Italian nor Canadian, it was her word from vacation and it stood in the middle of two languages and two cultures. It was, and is, Italiese.
I love these altered words used by older Italians…ones that have found their way into my own Italian language knowledge as well. Beyond them being adored by Italian-Canadians, the creation of new words is also worthy of academic study. From the inner workings of the Internet, I found a paper from 1984 documenting the development and use of Italiese: “Canadian Italian: a Case in Point of How Language Adapts to Environment.” Here’s their definition of the new words Italian immigrants created as they settled in Canada:
The Canadian version of Italian (and its dialects) constitutes a case of what linguists commonly refer to as an “ethnic dialect” or ethnolect, of the mother tongue….Known vicariously as italiese (a blend of italiano and inglese “English”) or Italo-Canadian.
You can check out the full paper, but here’s my sum up with some words and how they have changed:
The alteration of English and Italian words functioned both as a way to settle into a new environment but also a way to maintain a connection with Italian heritage. By making English words “Italianized”, they become familiar and easy to integrate into the function of the language they grew up with.
As the immigrant gradually settles into the new society and begins to understand the new language, the mother tongue starts to take on a new meaning: it becomes a verbal link, so to speak, to one’s ethnic roots. At the same time, in its ethnolectal form, it allows the immigrants to verbalize their new experiences and perceptions.
The new words created are used for new objects or ideas that make up the immigrant’s new world. So for example, most new words refer to house features, cars, places for shopping and work that were all new. I know my grandfather never used Italian words for fence or garage, but made the English word Italian sounding. There were no words in Italian to describe these new things…a Canadian storo is something quite different than an Italian negozio: a checca is certainly not an Italian torta; and so on.
I love that someone took the time to research this and even write down some of the differences in words…
Standard Borrowed Word; Nativized Form; Italian Equivalent
store; storo; negozio
sink; sinco; avandino/acquaio
cake; checca; torta
mortgage; morgheggio; ipoteca/mutuo
fence; fenza; recinto
ticket; ticchetta; biglietto
to push; pusciare; spingere
to paint; pintare; verniciare
to freeze; frisare; congelare
smart; smarto; intelligente
cheap; cippe; economico
The grammatical breakdown of how the changes occurred is interesting as well (particularly for a writer like me). Generally, I’ve smiled when hearing my grandparent’s new words, even made up some of my own, by simply adding a vowel on the end. But the sounds themselves, the new ones formed, echo familiar Italian words and formations. Here’s the technical explanation:
… consider the common Italo Canadian words carro “car” (Standard Italian automobile or macchina)….In the case of carro the following processes have occurred: the English vowel represented by a is replaced by the Italian vowel closest to it in articulation; a final vowel is added to the word which gives it a grammatical gender (in this case masculine); and the r between vowels is doubled in conformity with a predictable phonological feature of Italian.
While close to my heart and my upbringing, Italiese is a matter of concern for all Italian-Canadians. It’s rapidly disappearing as younger Italian-Canadians learn purer Italian forms. Also, Italy struggles to stop the infiltration of English, their own Italiese, into the country’s language.
This is just a small taste of Italiese, for more you can visit the University of Toronto G.P. Clivio Online Dictionary of Italiese, edited by Domenico Pietropaolo and Salvatore Bancheri, online. Try out the book Inglese-italiano 1 a 1. Tradurre o non tradurre le parole inglesi? Even this year, Italiese was used in a play in Sudbury, modernizing an old Italian story.