Scalzi in Italian
Posted on March 5, 2012 Posted by John Scalzi 21 Comments
Look! An interview with me in Italian! I should note that I did not actually read or answer questions in Italian because like most lazy Americans, I am tragically monolingual. The rest of the world does not appear to hold that against me. And if it does: Hey, sorry, guys. I know, I suck.
Molto buono! (or words to that effect)
…but do you swallow? Sorry, had to ask!
I use babelfish.com just to get a reaction out of a Sicilian friend of mine! LOL
Congratulatoins on the interview!
A nit, though: Americans aren’t monolingual because they’re lazy, they’re monolingual because they don’t need to be multilingual unless they’re spies, or particular types of academic, or something of that order.
Around a third of the human race can speak some English, and that third is concentrated among the urban, the educated, and the affluent. That percentage is increasing rapidly; on current trends it’ll hit 50% of the world population by the middle of this century. No other language has ever even come close to this figure, particularly when you factor in the wide distribution. A lot of people speak Mandarin, but they’re mostly in one spot. The “rise of China” has meant more Chinese learning English, not other people learning Chinese.
There are a hundred and twenty-five million (minimum) English-speakers in India, and eighty million in Nigeria — the United Kingdom is -fourth- in total numbers of English-speaking residents. (After the US, India, Nigeria and the Philippines.) There are fairly big chunks of other continents where Engish is not only widely known as a second language, but where “language shift” to English as a -first- language is well under way. Over a third of the inhabitants of Singapore speak it as their predominant home language, for example — and virtually none of their grandparents did.
There’s hardly a city on Earth where you can’t fairly easily find someone to speak our language, or where you can’t order a meal or ask directions in English.
Sure, speaking other languages is a plus — I can get by in French, enough to read a newspaper or carry on a basic conversation — but it’s rarely a necessity to know another language if you’re an English-speaker. It’s not even all that useful most of the time; it’s an indulgence, a luxury, for most people.
If your native language is (shall we say) Icelandic, it -is- a necessity to learn another language if you want to travel or deal with non-Icelanders, and extremely useful and profitable even if you never leave Iceland. And guess what language Icelanders learn? Increadingly Europeans talk to each other in English across their own internal language barriers, much to the annoyance of the French.
Human beings generally don’t expend more effort than they have to, for obvious evolutionary reasons, and learning another language once you’re adult is -hard work-, and becoming fully fluent is even harder. As I said, I can get by in French… but I tried to read Proust in the original a couple of years ago, and gave up after ten pages. Life is too short.
This is why the number of languages spoken on Earth is rapidly declining, a longstanding trend. People shift to bigger, more useful languages as their sphere of interaction increases whether the guardians of their “culture” approve or not; nearly a century of time and money spent teaching Gaelic to Irish schoolchildren has had a net effect somewhere between zip and bupkis, for example. Most people used to be able to get by with the village patois, but that’s obviously no longer the case. Even fairly major languages like German are becoming limiting to monoglot speakers.
Besides, Americans live in this huge mass of English-speaking people. The whole US andmost of Canada speak on language, and most Quebecers can get by in it as well. Even if you do take the trouble to learn another language, odds are you’ll never need to use it.
Congrats. Also, very cool that the publisher chose you as their first SF title (if my limited italian serves, they were mostly a horror / vampire shop before that…) …
On another note, about learning languages: because you don’t NEED to doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. There are multiple reasons to learn another language apart from conversing with other human beings. Personally, it’s a good way to exercise your brain and to broaden your cultural horizons. Us lucky bilinguals (French/English for me) even seem to be less subject to debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Professionally: you work better with international colleagues, even if your only shared language is english, because everybody knows what it’s like to *not* be fluent, so most people make the effort to double check for understanding and clarity. In some companies like Nestlé, staff even gets training on the subject.
And finally, by learning another language, you get to fight against the overall entropy described by S.M. Stirling. English as a lingua franca is not a cultural treasure. It’s a pidgin that allows communication of basic needs. People who are “Language Shifting” to english are either loosing cultural heritage or, more likely, building a new one, with common referents that are as foreign to a US native as if they were speaking Mandarin.
Learning other languages has measurable mental health benefits.
People from other countries do mock and resent Americans for their inability to speak other languages and their (usual) total lack of awareness when it comes to other cultures. I see this pretty regularly. The longer I live outside the US – the more sympathetic I am with the general dismay in regards to American behavior.
Though it is not just language – it’s an entire mindset. Most Americans seem totally unaware that they are the ‘odd’ ones in so many ways (they use the minority approach) and look at everyone else as if they are ‘odd’. This can be a bit mind boggling.
And kids in the US should start right off the bat learning Spanish at a minimum. Instead there are state governments working to keep the kids who already know it from using it and I’m sure making it harder for those that don’t to learn it.
Nyah nyah, I do my interviews in Italian, so there! Okay, there was only the one, and it was hilariously ungrammatical Italian…
From what I’m reading via google translate, the “inside cover” synopsis on the italian edition of the book basically spoils the first 2/3rds of the entire story. That seems… excessive?
I agree that a lot of the reason we are a mostly monolingual country is that most of the entire continent of North America is occupied by native English speakers. I did learn to speak two additional languages in school. I spoke German quite well, and was so fluent in Spanish that I had at least one teacher insist that I had to have been born in Argentina. But that was almost 40 years ago and I am once again monolingual.
John, so, now I know the REAL reason you are seeking a third term as SFWA President. It’s because you feared that once your tenure was over, I would hunt you down and force you to learn Klingon.
Such fears are not totally unfounded. But keep in mind, I’ve been pushing Klingon for 20 years now. I can wait one more.
You know, I do not hold it against any one if they are not able to speak my native language (German here). I tend to get by with English and my rather not so good Spanish.
When an American once asked me whether Hitler is still our president or whether you can walk to Germany I was annoyed. A lot.
However, that was the only such display of apparent ignorance I witnessed.
I did some work with a German company for a while (I speak very bad German; luckily the people who hired me were aware of that and were willing to compensate with their excellent English). One of the people I worked with was a German married to an Italian and their common language was English. He said he knew when he was really in trouble at home when his wife started gesturing and slipping into Italian…
Grazie for pointing me to something fun that I can practice my Italian with! I learned a little because I have cousins in Sardinia (the island that is not Sicily) and most of them speak no English. Plus, it’s a fun language!
I think if I were you, I’d require SFWA members to call me Il Presidente.
John Barefoot? Really? That’s fun.
“When an American once asked me whether Hitler is still our president or whether you can walk to Germany I was annoyed. A lot.”
The sad thing is that people who are ignorant about other cultures are usually equally ignorant of their own. Every so often they come up with a poll showing that some non-trivial percentage of Americans can’t name who the Vice-President is—and some of them can’t name the President, either.
I have a friend who was a geography major in college who pointed out that most Americans don’t know what “geography” actually is—the general impression is that it’s “this country goes there and that country goes here.” It’s actually a lot more, including the physical characteristics of the land and how that affects the population. For example, a typical American would view US geography as saying “These states make up the American West” while a geographer would start getting into climatological descriptions and why that makes water rights a Big Deal™ (aka why Los Angeles shouldn’t exist*.)
*I’m from Northern California. I’m biased.
Like S.M. Stirling, I know enough French to get by. I can understand most of the newspaper, or carry on a conversation, or read easy books with help from a dictionary. But I still struggle terribly with movies, impatient bureaucrats, and proper spelling.
And this is after 300 hours of study and practice. If I wanted to get by at a university level in French, I’d probably need another 700 hours. So yeah, most adults aren’t going to bother, unless being monolingual makes them look like an idiot in front of their friends, family or coworkers.
And sure, you can find educated people everywhere who know some English. But English is probably hard for them, too. Maybe they can read the newspaper, or carry on a conversation, or write a business email. But they may still feel awkward and stupid when using English.
That’s the downside to always using English: You make other people do all the work. It’s almost like being their house guest or asking them to pick up the check. They may be perfectly happy to do so, but you wish you could return the favor now and then.
As a first year Italian student, thank you for posting this so I can procrastinate my Italian homework–I mean PRACTICE MY FLUENCY–with this! The translation must be quite good; I can still pick up that distinctive Scalzi tone even in the Italian.
@ S.M. Stirling
Only if they regard it as work. Culture and memetic evolution have given rise to all sorts of activities that have zero or negative survival advantage.
Maybe. I learned Japanese and Spanish as a child. I’ve mostly lost my command of Japanese, but I use Spanish on a regular basis. Even when I lived and worked in D.C., the Mexican government was one of our big customers and I firmly believe my fluency helped in contract negotiations despite the customers’ excellent English. Since I’ve moved to Texas it’s been even more useful. Not only is it my partner’s first language, but there are people all over Texas that speak Spanish.
In the just for fun category, I’m trying to learn Korean. The difference between Korean and English on the one hand, and English and any Romance language on the other is substantial. I never understood the outlook that learning a foreign language is a burden. Time consuming, yes, but so is learning a new instrument or exploring a new branch of mathematics. It takes effort, but it’s hardly work in the show me the money first sense.
It seems that I am the only italian here (well, at least the only one willing to post a comment, who knows how many italian fans you may already have). I read the interview in spite of the really annoying pop up and I am really sorry you do not speak italian because the interview itself is… well I cannot phrase it otherwise than “flat” and this is not you. It is very clearly the translation from another language: the facts are correct (I guess), the grammar is ok, but it lacks personality.
My english is very far from being perfect, but I am capable of understanding what I read and hear (it is harder the part when I am supposed to write and speak, damn grammar) but at least I can enjoy books/songs/movies in english without relying on the work of other people that supposedly should transfer from a language to another more than the words itself. I understand that Italian is usually not perceived as useful (unless for the ones planning to become Pope someday I guess), but in my country, exactly as in anyone else’s, language is a vehicle for culture. English language is not same as Italian, there are many expressions, words, phrasing, that are peculiar of each country. Of course they can be translated, but only the external layer of the meaning can be transferred this way. This is the reason why I wish I had more time to learn other languages, it is not only to understand or being understood at a basic level (you are right, english is enough in most countries), but deep inside it is possible to understand each other only by understanding others’ culture, language included.