By Isabelle Lazonde
I asked myself a question the other day: Am I quadralingual? I speak English, Italian and French, but what about the Sicilian, does it count?
Indeed, it is quite different from Standard Italian. The question is less about me, as I am a fluent speaker, but what about my children? Should I teach or expose my children to Sicilian?
I am Australian with Italian origins and my mother speaks to my children in Sicilian as do other relatives. In fact, when they speak English to my children it is with a strong accent and they tend to make English grammar mistakes.
My family says that the language is part of their origins and that their grandchildren should be able to speak Sicilian.
For practical reasons, I don’t see the need. It is only a dialect. My children won’t be able to use it at school or in university and there doesn’t seem to be a point in teaching them to read in it. So what’s the use?
What would you do? Should we teach our children a dialect as well as the standard form of the language?
I really had to search this out.
Lets look further into the issue…
As we have often read about and heard, dialects, and those who speak them, may be treated as inferior. Even within the English language a dilemma can arise. Some teachers and policy makers in the US view dialects as incorrect English rather than regional differences which can make things very difficult for these children. For example, teachers may develop low expectations for these students. Hence the importance of educating the teachers and making them more aware of dialect differences to accommodate these children. (see more information at Reading Rockets).
I can recall a funny experience speaking Sicilian to a gondolier in Venice. When I was done speaking, he looked at me and just laughed literally in my face. I was so naive back then, thinking my excellent grasp of Sicilian would impress him. Not only did he laugh, he said in his own Venetian language, that he didn’t understand a word that I was saying! Far from being the romantic scene I had hoped for! Yet it now a wonderful example of how regional a dialect really is (even when spoken well)!
Research indicates that a dialect should be treated as another language in itself. As we all know by now, multilingualism enhances our ability to communicate, can help us form better social interactions and can lead to enhanced educational and employment opportunities. Therefore, it would follow that my children learning my family’s dialect would not impede their grasp of standard Italian but rather compliment it.
I do believe that it is culturally important for my children to speak their dialect. (However, I strongly believe that standard Italian should come first, being that it would be the language of use if my children ever wanted to work or study in Italy.) The Sicilian dialect is part of their heritage and their grandparent’s heritage. We even have family living over there who still speak Sicilian. In terms of travel, my children would be able to use Sicilian with their younger cousins and extended family. This would be a wonderful experience for all of us.
Photo Credit: ImNotQuiteJack
It would be great fun if readers could include some expressions in the standard language and some equivalent dialect forms in the comments below. Here’s mine for Sicilian, Italian and English: bedduu (Sicilian) – bello (Italian Standard) – beautiful (English). Now your turn to share!