Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Music of Language

In Italy a few weeks ago, as I listened to the musical cadence of spoken Italian, I imagined notes on a staff: three or four on the same line of each measure, then one longer note jumping to the top of the staff, followed by a final note on the same line as the initial three notes. Every sentence, even the most mundane, sounds like a melody in Italia....

"Ba-BA ba BAAAA ba," bleets the Italian sheep before supplying the milk for the creamy balls of wet mozzarella hiding beneath the freshest basil leaves and sugary tomato slices.

"Please, signOOOOra, allow me to HEEEELP you," insists the fawning sales clerk in the Limoncello store, pouring shots of lemony liqueur for anyone, regardless of age, who checks out the beautiful cello-shaped bottles filled with yellow syrup that warms the throat and stomach on the way down.

"One pomoDOOOORa pizza--si, signOOORA?" asks the waiter in Naples, who believes that his meter-long pizza outclasses all other pizzas simply because pizza was invented in Naples.

Yes, even I, asking the basest question, "Where is the toilet/restroom?", feel compelled to imitate the cadence of the Italian musical phrase: "Do-ve la toi-LEHEHEHEH-te?" My kids smirk. They say I imitate everyone with an accent when I talk to them. I argue that if I DO imitate a foreigner, I have shown a sincere form of flattery, to show respect for the foreigner, not a desire to poke fun at him/her.
When in Rome...