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2012-01-15 11:21


     The interesting thing about my Italian class is that nobody really needs to be there. There are twelve of us studying together, of all ages, from all over the world, and everybody has come to Rome for the same reason—to study Italian just because they feel like it. Not one of us can identify a single practical reason for being here. Nobody's boss has said to anyone, "It is vital that you learn to speak Italian in order for us to conduct our business overseas." Everybody, even

the uptight German engineer, shares what I thought was my own personal motive: we all want to speak Italian because we love the way it makes us feel. A sad-faced Russian woman tells us she's treating herself to Italian lessons because "I think I deserve something beautiful." The German engineer says, "I want Italian because I love the dolce vita"—the sweet life. (Only, in his stiff Germanic accent, it ends up sounding like he said he loved "the deutsche vita"—the German life—which I'm afraid he's already had plenty of.)

     我所上的这个意大利语班,其有趣的地方在于,没有人真的需要在这。我们共有十二人,来自世界各地的各种年龄层,而每个人来罗马的目的都一样——只因为想学意大利语。我们没有一个人能讲出来此地的务实面的理由。没有任何人的长官告诉他说:“你学会讲意大利语,对我们的海外事业经营至关重要。”大家,甚至连保守的德国工程师,都跟我有着相同的个人动机:我们每个人都想说意大利语,因为我们喜欢它给我们的感觉。一位面容哀伤的俄国妇女告诉我们,她让自己学意大利语是因为“我想我应该得到美好的事物”;德国工程师则说:“我要学意大利语,因为我喜爱‘dolce vita’——甜蜜生活。”(只不过,生硬的德国腔听起来就像他说他喜爱“deutsche vita”——德国生活——这恐怕他已拥有很多。)

     As I will find out over the next few months, there are actually some good reasons that Italian is the most seductively beautiful language in the world, and why I'm not the only person who thinks so. To understand why, you have to first understand that Europe was once apandemonium of numberless Latin-derived dialects that gradually, over the centuries, morphed into a few separate languages—French, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian. What happened in France, Portugal and Spain was an organic evolution: the dialect of the most prominent city gradually became the accepted language of the whole region. Therefore, what we today call French is really a version of medieval Parisian. Portuguese is really Lisboan. Spanish is essentially Madrileño. These were capitalist victories; the strongest city ultimately determined the language of the whole country.


     Italy was different. One critical difference was that, for the longest time, Italy wasn't even a country. It didn't get itself unified until quite late in life (1861) and until then was a peninsula of warring city-states dominated by proud local princes or other European powers. Parts of Italy belonged to France, parts to Spain, parts to the Church, parts to whoever could grab the local fortress or palace. The Italian people were alternatively humiliated and cavalier about all this domination. Most didn't much like being colonized by their fellow Europeans, but there was always that apathetic crowd that said, "Franza o Spagna, purchè se magna," which means, in dialect, "France or Spain, as long as I can eat."

     意大利则不同。其中一个关键性的差别在于,意大利有很长一段时间甚至不是一个国家。它在相当晚期才统一起来(1861年),而在此之前,一直都是由地方诸侯或其他欧洲势力所掌控的诸个敌对城邦所构成的一个半岛。意大利的部分地区隶属于法国,部分地区属于西班牙,部分地区属于教会,部分地区则属于地方要塞或城堡的占领者。意大利人民对这些统治时而感到屈辱,时而无所忧虑。多数人不太喜欢受他们的欧洲同胞殖民统治,却始终存在着漠不关心的群众,他们说“Franza o Spagna,purchèmagna.”以方言来说,意思是:“管他法国或西班牙,吃得饱就好。”

     All this internal division meant that Italy never properly coalesced, and Italian didn't either. So it's not surprising that, for centuries, Italians wrote and spoke in local dialects that were mutually unfathomable. A scientist in Florence could barely communicate with a poet in Sicily or a merchant in Venice (except in Latin, of course, which was hardly considered the national language). In the sixteenth century, some Italian intellectuals got together and decided that this was absurd. This Italian peninsula needed an Italian language, at least in the written form, which everyone could agree upon. So this gathering of intellectuals proceeded to do something unprecedented in the history of Europe; they handpicked the most beautiful of all the local dialects and crowned it Italian.

     这一切的内部分歧意味着,意大利未曾统合为一,意大利语亦然。因此有数世纪的时间,意大利人以彼此无法理解的地方方言说话与书写。一位佛罗伦萨科学家可能几乎无法和一位西西里诗人或一位威尼斯商人沟通(当然,除了使用不被认为是国语的拉丁文之外 )。16世纪期间,一些意大利知识分子聚集在一起,坚决认为这个情况荒谬可笑。这个意大利半岛需要一种意大利语言,至少必须有一种统一的书写形式;大家对此达成共识。于是这一群知识分子就着手进行一件欧洲史无前例的事情:他们亲自挑选出最美的方言,称之为“意大利语”。



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