Fragole, Ciliege e Miele

Have I told you that Italian is the most beautiful language in the world?

Really, I don’t know how I ever lived without it. The sound of it is intoxicating, like feeling smooth, dark chocolate melting slowly on your tongue. I’ve experienced this before. Something about the sound of what in Arabic they call the “dark consonants” makes little pleasurable shivers run up and down my spine. Especially that deep breathy “H” that comes from way down your throat, as if the very soul were speaking. All the sounds that are most difficult for me to pronounce, of course, are the ones that enchant me most. Perhaps it’s partially the feeling of utter unattainability that I find alluring.

But Italian. In Italian, it’s every syllable that comes over me like falling endlessly into deep, deep water. I expected it to sound mostly like Spanish, because that’s pretty much how it’s explained in pronunciation guides. But it’s not like Spanish at all, even if most of the vocabulary can be easily converted over. Nearly all of the hissing S’s are gone, because the Italian plural is just a vowel. And there’s an extra vowel on the end of every infinitive, and only vowels to end all the conjugations. Even the soft C is pronounced as ch instead of sss, and all the D’s are turned to T’s, or disappear altogether.

And if my rhapsodic linguistic descriptions only succeed in making your eyes glass over, just know that what all this adds up to is a glorious abundance of melodic vowels punctuated by deliciously sharp staccato consonants.

It’s not just the sounds, though. It’s the cadence that catches your breath, a cadence that I believe stems partially from those elegant doubled consonants that in Italian mean just what they say, to linger over it just a little longer. How can you say bello (“beautiful,” the most important word in Italian, and I’m not just saying that because I’m sentimental about Italy. It’s the adjective of choice here to describe everything from moral goodness to athletic achievement to personal style) elongating like they do that delightful doubled L, and not really feel all through you how beautiful it is?

Of course, this may all be just a confirmation of Charles V’s famous remark, “I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men and German to my horse” (And I swear that when I read it twenty years ago in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations he also spoke English — to geese). Well, if it is, I don’t mind being shamelessly stereotyped. Just this once.

One thought on “Fragole, Ciliege e Miele

  • September 30, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    Hi there, I'm glad I came across your blog. I like your writing and totally agree with you about the beauty of Italian. I'm an American living in New Zealand after having spent 10 years in Napoli. But I speak Italian every day with our son, so that he can learn it too. You might be interested in my blog post called "How to Think in Italian":


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