Friday, May 16, 2008

it's not what you say but how...part I

I'm currently reading The Girl of His Dreams by Donna Leon. This is the most recent of the Commissario Guido Brunetti series, all of which take place in Venice. Brunetti is a member of the native Venetian minority. He was born and raised in Venice, and is one of the few who can speak true Veneziano, complete with the Veneto cadence, and is able to recognize others who are of this dwindling group. Their knowledge and use of this language provides a shared intimacy and connection on one level, even if they do not interact with other members of this group on a daily basis. This issue of language within the stories plays out not only between the characters (who can and can't speak the language, or who may attempt it but their cadence or misuse of a word gives them away as an outsider), but also between reader and writer.

Later I want to talk about my perceptions of how the reader is participant in the intimacy of Veneziano and some specific language features of the writing. What I first was thinking of was use of language as a cultural identifier to show membership of a group or affiliation with a particular subculture of a group.

Thinking about this led me to think how an association by language also occurs within the Deaf community, which can include interpreters and other non-family hearing people who sign. This was not news - but I did gain a new perspective on Commissario Brunetti when I made the connection, and, conversely, on the function of true American Sign Language (ASL) as an identifier within the larger Deaf culture. I remembered two incidents where my signing style was commented on by people who are deaf, which placed me in a context for them.

In one situation, the person who is Deaf asked me if I knew DL, because my signing was very much like hers. DL is Deaf and was one of my early ASL instructors, and my ASL linguistic instructor when I was in the interpreter training program. This person knew DL and respected her, and when I told him she was one of my teachers when I was first learning, I had an "in" by association. The other example was after interpreting a concert. A few days later, I ran into one of the audience members who was deaf. He asked me if I knew TB, who was very well known in this area for music inerpretation. And, again, the person was right on target! TB was my first ASL instructor and had a strong influence on me going on the become an interpreter. He was also an influence and mentor for me on music interpreting. The audience member liked TB so, again, I was "in" due to a connection by language which went beyond me using ASL.

Once again the old saying is true: It's not what you say but how you say it!
Venice photo by Kevin Ashbrook
- - - - - - - - - NOTE - - - - - - - - -
When I wrote the beginnings of this post, I was on a plane to Alaska and hadn't yet looked up "Veneziano" to find out the facts beyond what I'd read in the Brunetti books, despite having read
most of the books of the series over several years. When I returned home, I did look it up and found the following on a
Venetian language resources website:

"Venetian or Venetan is a Romance language spoken by over two million people, mostly in the Veneto region of Italy. The language is called vèneto in Venetian, veneto in Italian; the variant spoken in Venice is called venesiàn/venessiàn or veneziano, respectively. Although commonly referred to as an Italian dialect (dialeto, dialetto), even by its speakers, it does not descend from the Italian language but has its own morphology, syntax and lexicon."