After my vacation in the US which was fantastic in many ways, it’s time to get back to regular posting. Today I’m honored to present an interview I had with Salvatore from the Facebook page Nzignàmunni ‘u sicilianu, a site meant to teach and revitalize the Sicilian language and consider it as a language of its own, and not a mere Italian dialect. I’m really excited to feature a piece with him and of course, feel free to be in contact with his FB page to see if you can join his Sicilian classes through the Scola Siciliana.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself? What is your main occupation?
My name is Salvatore Matteo Baiamonte, I’m 20 years old and I was born in Palermo, Sicily, Italy, but I live in Northern Italy, in the area of Parma. I studied at the Liceo Linguistico Gabriele D’Annunzio in Fidenza, Italy (a liceo linguistico is a high school with a five-year course in which you focus on languages). At the moment, I study Modern Civilizations and Foreign Languages at the University of Parma, Italy (the languages I’m focusing on are English and German). So, I’m a student.
How did you become involved with languages? Did anyone motivate you?
Nobody did, to be quite honest. It’s something that has always been typical of me: in Italy public schools focus a lot on teaching grammar at a good level. When I was 7, I started studying English, and I remember I always liked it. I never found any difficulty in it. When I was 11, I started studying French, and I fell in love with that too. And when I was 14, I started studying German: one more language to love. When I was even younger, I started feeling interest in one of my two first languages: Sicilian, a language that is not recognized in Italy even though it was the first language in the area of Italy that developed a literature and is currently spoken by about 5-7 million people.
Have your family, loved ones and friends been supportive with your language interests?
I wouldn’t say supportive, I’d prefer to say that they simply agreed with my choice. When it was time for me to choose the high school I thought that could be good for me, I changed my mind. In the beginning I had the intention to attempt a liceo artistico, but thinking back on that particular historical moment: it was the worst part of the economic crisis in which we’re still going through. I thought that if the situation would worsen, I could always drop the card of foreign languages and go abroad. My parents were surprised at the beginning, but it was basically OK for them.
How have your life experiences shaped your relationship with languages?
I have always liked being connected with other cultures. The real, free and total access to a foreign culture is allowed only to a few chosen people. I have always been thirsty for knowledge, so I have always seen in language the key to open the door that leads to the understanding of a different culture. Languages have become like real friends for me, friends who have wonderful secrets and can lead me into something new and enriching.
Can you tell me more about the status of Sicilian in Italy and your personal opinion about it?
Well, as I said before, Sicilian is spoken by about 5-7 million people in Italy (but it’s also spoken all over the world, in places where huge Sicilian communities exist, i.e. in the USA). But it’s as though it doesn’t exist. In 2015 I started a petition to change one of the Italian laws: there’s an Italian law that recognizes certain minority languages, but those languages were not chosen according to linguistic criteria but according to political criteria. So Sicilian, the first language that developed a literature in the Italian area, does not officially exist. Historically speaking, Italy has always denigrated any languages other than “Standard Italian” (at least since 1861), and designated them “dialects” as a means of making one feel sub-standard for speaking them. They tried to convince people that they were wrong ways of speaking Italian, and made it very difficult for people to realize the importance of keeping ones own language alive. About two or three years ago, I created an educational Sicilian page on Facebook, with grammar rules and so on. I began making contacts in America with Sicilian-American communities. For these communities, keeping the language alive is sometimes very difficult. Last year I started the Scola Siciliana project, the first school that teaches Sicilian. This is my effort to help them reclaim the language of their ancestors who left Italy in route to America about a century ago.
Did you ever face a hard moment while learning languages? How did you overcome it?
When you want to study a language in a serious way, you generally go through a lot of hard moments, me too. You just have to try to do your best, and try to build some kind of relationship with it.
What languages are you currently interested in right now? How do you practice them? What are your tricks for that language?
At the moment, I’m not interested in any particular language because I am preparing for an exam I’ll have to take at the university in the coming days – the sad life of university students haha!
Are you interested in a certain language that you know, more or less, you will not be able to learn it properly?
There isn’t any language I can’t learn properly – I’m always positive about languages!
Can you tell me a short, positive anecdote about your language learning history?
I could tell you about a funny thing that happened to me and a friend of mine. We were studying German together, in particular we were reading some exercises, and in one sentence there was the word Bedeutung (that means ‘meaning’). While he was reading I stopped him to check whether he knew the meaning of that word (so to check if he had studied) and told him: “What does Bedeutung mean?”. He answered: “I don’t know”, and I told him “Meaning”. He replied again, “I told you I don’t know”. “No! Haha! Bedeutung means meaning”, was my answer. That was fun haha!
Thank you for your time!