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Local languages and the Salone del Gusto in Turin: Bambara, Piedmontese, Sicilia

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28 October 2008

Yesterday night I came back from Turin where I was with a local wine
producer at the “Salone del Gusto” which aims to promote regional
products from anywhere in the world trying to protect varieties which
eventually are endangered. Regional and endangered products are very
much connected to regional languages. The results I got from
discussions with various people are plenty and so I chose to just tell
you three of them.

One thing you have to be aware of is that I am German and speak
Italian and Neapolitan and with anyone from the Italian territory I
used deliberately a Neapolitan-Italian mix so that what I said was
understandable but made clear to people where I lived. 

The sadest answer I got from a stand from Mali (I had to speak
French, something I really do not do all too often and I am always
astonished that I seem to know more than I tought Smile
): when I asked these people about their mother tongue they told me
that it was French, then I said, well, it actually cannot be French,
because it is not an African language, so what is actually your mother
tongue, the one you speak at home, the one your mother speaks.  They
really looked a bit particular at me and then they told me it was
Bambara. We went on talking a bit and it was really strange for them
that someone actually was really interested in their local language. I
hope I made it to make clear that they must use their language, that is
Bambara, because otherwise not only their language would die, but also
many of the local products they still produce.

With Piedmontese there were of course various situations, because
being in Piedmont you can imagine that there were plenty of people
speaking that language. I went to the exhibitors one by one, looking at
their products, taking photos, talking with them about traditions and I
really learnt a lot. (I did the same for many different places). Then
when I looked at the brochures I found that they were in Italian,
English and sometimes also German or French. I always took some time
“reading” the brochure and looking at it as if I was searching for
something, but without saying nothing – when they tried to understand
what I was searching for I said, well, there is something missing on
this leaflet – so they asked: what is missing – and I: well, you have
the text in Italian and English, but not in your language. In many of
the faces then you saw that big question mark. So I said: I would
expect to have the description also in Piedmontese, but it is really
strange that I could not find any. For many of them it was some kind of
shock – they never expected a German speaking Italian with an obvious
Neapolitan accent to tell them that they need to write Piedmontese …
many of them said that most people would not understand, that is most
Italians and foreigners, only one of them immediately said: you gave me
a great idea, my next brochure will also be in Piedmontese (well it is
obvious that I will promote him 🙂 I then explained (not only to the
Piedmontese people of course, but all I had the chance to talk to) that
using the local language is like using local products: it underlines
the diversity and the being unique of the region and the products of
the region. If anybody did this it would be a very positive economical
signal, because people love the “really special products” and by
distinguishing not only the product with visual aspects but also using
the local language they make it even more local and special and
therefore more attractive to potential customers.

The only region I found which actually used a longer text in local
language was Sicily. In a brochure about oranges and lemons they had a
whole page of a poem about these fruits in Sicilian language. I had
conversations with various people about the language and actually using
it also in business, also for international business. And at this stage
the Sicilian producers and also official people I talked to were the
most open ones to using their language. They REALLY are considering it
their mother tongue and they are proud of it, like it should be
anywhere in the word. With “they” I refer to most of the people I
talked to during the last days. So thank you Sicily and Sicilians to
show how things should be and that it is really possible.

Generally considering we have the situation that most people seem to
avoid to show that they use their local language and many, when you
tell them not only to talk but also to write say: but that is far to
difficult. My reasoning then was: “do you speak English, French or any
other language and write it” and very often I got the answer: of course
we speak and write English (well actually that was what I expectedSmile
and so they opened me a door to say: well when you start to learn
English, you don’t know how to talk, but you learn it and then you
learn how to write and you are able to communicate by speaking and
writing. When it comes to your mother tongue you only have to learn how
to write it, so if you are able to learn English, you are also able to
learn your mother tongue … The strange thing is that this is
something people never consider: for them their language is something
strange, difficult to write, because this is what people tell them over
and over again when they grow up. 

When it comes to local culture and educations, the sector we as Vox
Humanitatis work in, we believe that it is relevant not only for people
to speak, write and use their own culture to maintain it for the future
generations, but it is also necessary to teach it and furthermore it is
to be used in business as a way to distinguish their products. Local
culture including products, food, music, language and so much more are
a mayor motor for economy which nowadays is not considered at all. Well
… considering the actual economical situation wouldn’t is be
something to think about?

Sabine Emmy Eller

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