Linguistic seductions: 1. “Italian is for lovers”

cuoriThe series entitled “Linguistic seductions” deals with those areas of language that linguistics (the scientific study of language) has not focused on. “Seduction” created by language and “seduction” leading to the workings of language are both the focus of the posts.

Some of the topics planned include the languages of science fiction, the language of transhumanism, the origins of language.

Linguistic seductions: 1. “Italian is for lovers”

Learning languages for specific purposes is not a new endeavour. To be multilingual meant for Charles V (1500-1558) to be able to give different languages different functions (according to an oft-repeated, although contradictorily worded anecdote). It is said that he proclaimed: “I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, German to threaten and French to friends.”

Speakers have always been judging foreign languages they may or may not know. Harro Stammerjohann has devoted  a whole book to documenting foreigners’ judgements, perceptions, impressions of Italian (La lingua degli angeli. Italianismo, italianismi e giudizi sulla lingua. Firenze: Accademia della Crusca 2013). As may be expected, both language Italomania and Italofobia is expressed by authors belonging to the same nation: specifically, some French observers like the relatively freer word order in Italian, other French writers loath it (for other examples of this, see Stammerjohann 190-191).

            Although language perception (in the sense of measuring differences in perception of sounds etc.)is a burgeoning field, and linguistic esthetics (stylistics) flourishes, linguists have not devoted any research to the combination of esthetics (value judgements), pragmatics (purposeful communicative action) and linguistics (the study of language).  Perhaps a new discipline could be founded, called esthetic pragmalinguistics, or pragmalinguistic esthetics,  which would combine research in these three fields. Its foundation is a formula of this type: “language x is … and therefore it is good for …”. Although the statement itself is not scientific, its underpinnings must be studied scientifically. This discipline may answer questions such as the following:

A.    Native speakers and their native tongue

  1. Do native speakers always love their mother tongue? If not why not? How does this judgement affect how they speak?

2.    Are poets/novelists the only deeper esthetic judges of their own language?

3.     Is language judgement (positive or negative) towards one’s native language a reflection of (positive or negative) perceptions of one’s co-nationals?  How exactly are linguistic judgements and people judgements related?

B.     Non-natives and foreign language(s)

1.     What are the criteria on which non-natives judge other languages (they may or may not know)?

2.     Is language judgement (positive or negative) towards a foreign language a reflection of (positive or negative) perceptions of the people who speak that language?  How exactly are linguistic judgements and people/nation judgements related?

3.     Does having a certain pragmatic judgement about a foreign language affect knowledge of that language?

In lieu of the lack of a scientific study on the topic, here are some questions you may wish to answer in your comments to this post:

a.     If you are a native speaker of English, what do you think of English?

b.     If you are not a native speaker of English, how do you judge English?

c.      If you are a native speaker of Italian, what do you think of Italian?

d.     If you are not a native speaker of Italian, what do you think of Italian?

e.     You may wish to replace English/Italian with any other languages.

A conclusion based on the answers to this short questionnaire will be discussed as soon as we get about 50 answers, so get your friends

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