Vive la différence

By Osvaldo Zappa

When I came to Canada soon after graduation, except for my Italian mother tongue, I did not speak a word of English. The smattering of French that I attained in high school had helped me do well in the language class later on, but only because I was one of the few taking the course. Meanwhile, all my classmates had studied English, a language that would prove more useful in a man’s life, with better opportunities in their search for work. Nevertheless, the prospect of coming to a country that listed both French and English as official languages gave me a good feeling. Yes, a good feeling realizing that what I was I studying in school would prepare me for the future. I even managed to make uncalled-for remarks about being a smart fellow who had attained a diploma for his efforts. One other language I was required to take back home was Latin. I passed Latin barely enough to sing religious songs at church and to pray on my knees, in penance for my misdeeds, when I misbehaved. – In all honesty though, Latin formed the base of learning languages for me. Learning English, a Germanic language that has borrowed heavily from Latin roots, has made this easier for me. And this Latinate that is part of everyday life in an English world, is here to stay despite suggest efforts by guardians of pure English dissent, offering radically different solutions, as happened to the Icelandic language in the past, where Latin was purged from its vocabulary in the sixteen century.
Early in my life, as an immigrant working in factories, I remained a minion. But, attending English classes for immigrants at night school, I made the grade achieving fluency in the language of my host country. After some years, English had become my work language and French that I had studied would continue to be spoken at home after wedding A French national. Before long, though, I also enrolled in civil engineering courses- my training back home- and creative writing. And it is while attending these courses as an older student that I became aware of the grasp of the English language some of my Canadian classmates had on grammar and syntax, was as bad as awful as my Canadian accent was. Mostly were older Canadian-born office workers and men returning to school to further their education. However, before long, I would plug ahead among them, and graduate with honors, despite the accent and, a DP (Deported Person) label that I had to bear for much too long. By now, to assume responsibilities required in my new line of work .I soon began taking courses in appraisal and valuation. Before long, I would be put in charge of the company’s property lands assessment and taxes assets.
Coming from a small village in Abruzzo where the local dialect was a way of life, and by my own assessment, I did not even speak proper Italian until I left Italy. My Abruzzese would inject itself in every day of my life.
Even in school, at exam time, Dante’s pure language more than often proved to be challenges for me. Until I immigrated to Canada. And that’s when I learned to improve my own Italian. Living abroad and attending banquets and dancing to the tune of thirty different regional clubs, speaking their own dialects. I had no choice but either learn one language properly- the language of Dante that everyone would understand or, learn thirty more.
However, for most Italians it has been to switching to English at these venues. So, my first mother tongue was the Abruzzese that is still entrenched in me, followed by Italian, then French, English, and Spanish that I learned later. And in closing, I can still read Latin when the need arises, singing hymns in my church, AMEN.

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