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O membranza, sì cara e fatal...

From:Leo Caesius <leo_caesius@...>
Date:Sunday, August 27, 2000, 19:04
Mike Adams wrote:
    "But, Italian would probably remain distinct for some time.  I see no
likelihood of Italian dying out any time soon, in a few centuries, who
knows?  But not any time soon."

to which Raymond Brown replied:
    "Indeed, why should it?  It is IMHO a very beautiful language; as a
Latinist, I can understand it, when spoken, far more readily than I can
understand Spanish."
    As a young man, I was often told by the older members of the
Italian-American Association (aka "the clubhouse"): "non smettere di parlare
italiano!"  Italians generally maintain their language abroad and, in most
major cities in the US and South America, there are enough Italians to
constitute a community.  Indeed, as I understand it, Italian is widely
spoken through all of Latin America (for the recent Mandaean conference, I
had to interpret for a Mexican scholar, despite the fact that he spoke no
English and I no Spanish - so we used Italian as our lingua franca).
    Several members of my family live in East Africa, doing photography and
missionary work.  My aunt and uncle were travelling through Ethiopia when
they passed through a small, isolated village which was different from the
other villages in Ethiopia.  The architecture was European, and the people
who lived there were all Sicilians!  They spoke "dialect," as my aunt called
it, and told her that they were settled there in the 30s by Mussolini.  Even
after Italy lost its colonies in Africa Orientale, these people remained
    I often practice my Italian with one woman who runs a sandwich shop in
Cambridge - she was born and raised in Tripolitania, and, interestingly
enough, has never been to Italy proper.  Also, when working in a local
cafeteria, I almost always used a mixture of Italian and English to
communicate with my co-workers (Cape Verdeans, many of whom had lived in
Italy before coming to the States).
    In my experience, it is relatively easy for Spaniard and Portuguese
students to pick up Italian - but, strangely enough, the reverse is not
true.  Finally, even though Italy has never been big on the world scene like
France, Spain, and Portugal, it has its influences.  My Levantine
(particularly Palestinian) friends tell me that, although their language is
fairly resistant to modern loans from English and French, there is an
earlier stratum of Italian imports that have been incorportated into the
Arabic of that area - I suspect that these words were borrowed into
Colloquial Levantine Arabic through the old Lingua Franca (see, for example,
Kahane, Henry & Renee, and Andreas Tietze (1958) _Lingua Franca in the
Levant_, which is kind of like the IED for Medieval Levantine Pirates).
     So, while Italian is by no means an international auxiliary language,
it has its uses and has left its imprint.  Even if we were not to judge
Italian on its many aesthetic and cultural qualities, there would be no
shortage of reasons for which Italian will continue to thrive (despite the
goals of Sr. Bossi and his cohort of thugs).

     "Languages do not die easily."
     And, even if they do die, what's to stop some nutcase from reviving
them and giving them a second life?  Even as we speak there is a substantial
revival of Syriac occuring in the Middle East.  Near Eastern Christians,
nearly all of whom speak Arabic as their first language, are using Syriac
more and more for elevated purposes.  There are, in fact, political parties
in Lebanon dedicated to establishing Syriac as one of the official languages
of that country (alongside Arabic, French, and English).
     I have been approached by some Lebanese-Americans, who wanted me to
teach them Phoenician, which they consider their "native tongue" (by some
strange definition of the term).
     Kenji Schwarz once told me that Manchu is being revived in China, and
the interlinguist Adrian Pilgrim is one of the leading lights of the Manx
revival, which is not without some success.
     My personal thought is that a movement to revive a language has a
better chance to succeed than a movement which promotes a language which was
never spoken (such as our constructed languages).  I may be wrong in saying
this; but I'm willing to bet that there are more speakers of Mr. Eliezer
ben-Yehuda's Hebrew than Mr. Zamenhof's Esperanto, Mr. von Wahl's
Occidental, the Ido of the Comite', the Interlingua of the IALA, and all of
the other constructed auxiliary languages combined.  This, however, is a
discussion for another list, so I'll cut my thoughts short here.

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