Written at the end of the third week:
I’ve reached the halfway point of my time in Sorrento–it feels like I’ll never have to leave, but just writing this reminds me to take advantage of every day here.
The individual class was extremely clarifying. I was able to stop at any point and ask a question, direct where the lessons went, and hone in on my weaknesses. On top of that, the instructor this week was a latinist like myself (well, student of Latin) so he was able to relate some of the trickiest parts of the grammar to Latin rather than English, which turned out to be immensely helpful. I was pleasantly surprised to be able to almost never ask for repetition even when discussing some complex words and topics.
Outside the classroom, I was able to get to know my host family much better this week because I was not always running around with my actual family. The three of them are incredibly sweet; the mom and daughter are actually both Russians who are, of course, fluent in Italian, while the father is full-blown Napoletano. Because of this, it is incredibly difficult to understand him at times, but I can still manage. I immediately recognized a ranking of ease of understanding with the daughter being the clearest, followed by the mother, and then the father. So, when the father speaks and I can’t understand, I’ll usually look to the mother then to the daughter for rescue. It can be frustrating at times when I can’t fully express myself or easily jump into a conversation when we’re all gathered, but the exposure alone to the language (and the vocabulary of the home) has been a huge help.
Speaking of Napoletano and some misunderstandings, I’ll fill you all in in some colloquialisms and some slang. First, there is a phrase said often by the youth, which is Napoletano (from the language of the Naples area). I don’t know how to write it, and neither do they as Napoletano is usually only spoken, not written, by locals anymore, nor have I found a sufficient way to translate it into English. It’s along the lines of “who is dead to you,” which does no justice to the phrase, but it carries the weight of: “____ you and your ancestors!” Intense! Although, it is used frequently among the youth (much like curse words in English)…I haven’t dared to use it in a real context, but I know it when I hear it! I asked my host parents about it (in a gentle manner) and they both said that it’s a heavy insult if meant with full force, but they recognize that it is most commonly used among friends. Some of the younger people in town have told me that they’ll use it when a scooter cuts them off while driving or jokingly when with friends–I think I’ll stay away from cursing people’s ancestors for now.
A few other colloquialisms that I’ve adopted, for better or worse are uè, mo, ragà, and the use of “voi”. Uè is a Napoletano greeting word, essentially a substitute for ciao. Mo means “now”, and takes the place of ora or adesso. Ragà is an abbreviation for ragazzi or ragazze, so it translates to “guys” (masculine or feminine) in English. Here in southern Italy, the use of “voi”, the informal plural you in standard Italian, encompasses the formal singular you, informal plural you, and formal plural you. While this is an error in “Standard Italian,” I have become fond of it because 1) it is a living trace of history in southern Italy and 2) it’s much easier than separating everything into Lei, voi and Loro…but mainly because of it’s historical significance.
Thursday of this week was a holiday here in Italy, so there was no class, and I decided to trek the Sentiero degli Dei, the Path of the Gods, along the Amalfi coast with some friends from the school. The scenery and panoramas were incredible. Here’s a peek: