i have a secret................

a secret language that is. i don't speak quenya or elven or even klingon...........i speak italian. actually i speak a dialect - and in fact, i've lost most of it.

i don't know when i first learned english. my guess is that it was when i started playing with the neighborhood kids. i'm not exactly sure how or when my mother learned to speak english. my guess is that it was also when i started playing with neighborhood kids. my father worked in countries other than italy starting at age 16 so he picked it up from there. it was difficult for all of us becoming bilingual. being the oldest child - i was now the teacher of english in our home...and that was difficult when i was learning myself! my mother often tells me the story about how i needed a notebook for school and she had no idea what that was. so every day i'd come home upset b/c once again i'd gotten in trouble by the nuns b/c i didn't have a notebook. finally my mother had to go to a neighbor's house and ask what exactly was a notebook!

i remember one particular day in school where my teacher asked me to say something in italian to the class........and i did.............and i got teased about it later. it was that moment that i stopped speaking italian.

over the years i've tried to get it back. i can make myself understood if need be. i went to visit my family in italy alone and had no problem communicating with them (and honestly - there is nothing like making people who speak another language laugh - in their own language!) i took italian in college (thinking it would be an easy A) and found that the proper italian language was much different and too confusing compared to the small town dialect that i spoke. i'm sure that if i really put my mind to it it would come back to me - but for now i know what i know.

but.........and here is where the secret comes in - i can UNDERSTAND it perfectly.

my cousins and i are all first generation americans....and we are all in the same boat - we speak little italian but understand it completely. our parents - while they can speak english - prefer speaking italian. our conversations drift in and out of both languages. english words mix with italian ones. a sentence can start in italian and end in english. a question will be asked in italian and answered in english.......i remember the day i realized that in my head i was hearing it all in english but in fact it was being spoken in italian and i marveled at the lightening quick translation skills of my mind.

none of this was a big deal until we started having friends and boyfriends and husbands over. since all of our gatherings center around a table - there are lots of conversations going on at once. the italians are good at including the americans by speaking english and if there is a heated discussion that slips into italian - it is quickly translated by someone......no harm, no foul. the italians even slip into and out of italian with each other - the men more so speak english (a product of being in the work world perhaps?) while the women tend to stay in all italian.

what i love about my secret is that it is our FAMILY secret - a secret language between my generation and our parents generation. we have used it a variety of ways - sometimes to secretly tell our moms to shut up or lay off when they are going too far in a conversation - other times to slip a comment (ok usually a jab) into a conversation - a private aside that you don't want to share with everyone....just the women present ;-)

this past weekend we were down the shore. we were all sitting around the table - my husband and i, my brother and his wife, my parents and my father's cousins. the conversation was flowing in and out of italian and english. we were all having a great time talking and laughing. at one point i sat back and realized - sadly - that once my parents generation was gone - so our secret language will disappear. my cousins and i will still be able to understand italian - but for how long? we won't speak it to each other - except for the occasional word or two that we use for comedic purposes. we won't speak it to our children b/c even though they have learned a word or two over the years - they don't speak it. i do however wonder how much they have absorbed while sitting at the table listening to us...but that's another post.

the italian language is a huge part of my life. my mother only speaks to me in italian. i like that that is something we have between us. (for whatever reason my father only speaks to me in english!) it is what separates our family from those of my friends. it gives us identity in a society where not many families have one.

i will really miss our secret language when its gone. i can't even really explain it to my children b/c how do you adequately express a feeling? an identity? a longing?

oh well - luckily i have many years before my secret is lost forever. i am so thankful that i seen the beauty of it now before its too late. who knows - maybe i will try and develop a secret language for my boys......

besides, whats the point of a secret if you can't share it...................


  1. Wow, how special. To be able to have something like this to connect you in a special way to your family, and to your roots. That must be an amazing feeling.

  2. this was very interesting to me. I can't imagine being in a conversation that slips back and forth between two languages. this is a very special secret language indeed.

  3. oh, cool!

    i have a dear friend who can understand the spanish that she grew up with completely, but can hardly speak a word of it - the same sort of thing you have going on!

    i'm so glad you realized how special this is - you can document it once in a while and have lots of good memories. :)

    (and, yes, if the dog story continues, i will post about it!)

  4. Sounds familiar!!! I learned the Proper Italian in high school and college. Although, my story is different because, although I understand our dialect...I am more comfortable speaking the Italian I learned @ school. My sister lives in Italy...so she is fluent. My brothers are like you because they understand it completely, but, refuse to speak it! I love ALL things Italian and I am extremely proud of my heritage! I listen to modern Italian music to keep up with the language. Maybe you can do that too?! Bella Italia!!! Rosanne

  5. Hey Lorena,

    I will always be here to share the secret language with. It's a great thing, isn't it? I think it adds to a child's success later in life, too. It's fun to go back and forth and then to "Americanize" italian words and vice versa! I remember always being embarrassed at having "mortadella" for lunch when all the other kids and PB & J. Ha! Now I LOVE mortadella... Sisa