|Photo taken by Wes Shealey at la Remiera Francescana|
I'm impressed with this not least of all because, in contrast, if I've been spending hours reading (or thinking) in English and am suddenly called upon to speak Italian the grinding of my mental gears as I try to make the shift is, I'm pretty sure, audible--at least to any poor dogs in the vicinity. To them, and to myself, it's like the gnashing of the motoscafo gears one hears when seated outside at the rear of, say, the 4.1 line as it pulls into its next stop.
But Sandro is not only happy to speak whatever is being spoken in any room he walks into, but is equally content to, for example, alternate between speaking English to the British mother of one of his friends and Italian to the friend himself (who speaks only Italian) at her side.
I suspect it's his sensitivity to linguistic context that explains an oddity in his speech I sometimes notice when he's with his Italian friends and he pronounces English words that he knows perfectly well how to pronounce in English as an Italian would pronounce them.
Of course there are a lot of English words commonly in use in Italian--perhaps too many. They're quite literally everywhere you look--on advertisements, packaging and T-shirts--and I'll admit that when I'm speaking Italian and find myself approaching one that has been fully adopted by Italians I rush to it as a barefooted man crossing the blazing hot sand of a beach rushes to a stray beach towel: with great relief and a momentary release of all effort. I don't, for example, pronounce "email" as an Italian would pronounce it. No, I happily slip back into my native pronunciation, as, after all, it is an American English word and isn't one generally supposed to pronounce foreign words as they're pronounced in their original tongue? (I don't after all pronounce "schnitzel" as "sknitzel".)
But when he's playing with his Italian friends, Sandro pronounces even the simplest English words--ones he's used with us almost since he began to speak--as an Italian.
Thus, that good old all-American word "Okay" becomes, when he is playing with Cosimo or Iacopo or Costanza or Alvise, something that sounds like: Oh-kah-eee.
"Crackers" takes on an Italian article and become "ee crah-kairs".
The simple exclamation "Wow!"suddenly takes on a couple of extra syllables and sounds like: "Oh-wah-oh!"
"Batman" is transformed into "baht-a-mahn," and "Spiderman" slips into the guise of "spee-dehr-mahn."
Then, once he's taken leave of Cosimo or Iacopo or Costanza or Alvise, and is back among just his parents, all the above words revert back to their normal American pronunciation.
Jen and I find this charming and amusing but, actually, I realize now, it's much more than just that. If the aim of speaking is effective communication, if the goal of socializing is to connect and be understood, then it makes sense to pronounce words--regardless of either their or your origin--in a way that your listener will understand. There's certainly a good deal of pressure for any child to fit in with his or her new classmates or surroundings, and part of that is to sound like one's new classmates. But even in adulthood, there's lot to be said for making an effort to be understood, to be willing to step forward onto someone else's terrain, foreign and awkward though it may feel. It's a big part of being a good traveler, but also of being a good neighbor--a citizen of the world, as they say, whether at home or abroad.
Sandro is picking this up at an early age. I'm still learning it.