‘Tis the season to be punchy…

When I was in graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh, I had quite a few classes in the building that we called Forbes Quad (it was renamed to Posvar Hall in 1999). It was built alongside of the former Forbes Field, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates – among other teams – from 1909 to 1971. Parts of the original ballpark are preserved in various spots, either on their original spots, or close by. Home plate is preserved in the floor of Forbes Quad, and I walked by it – or over it – many times over the course of four years.

Another part of Forbes Field that was preserved was a daily ritual of a group of friends who used to enjoy baseball games at the ballpark. Each day around lunchtime, anyone going through Forbes Quad would hear the sound of Italian being spoken from a group of men sitting on some benches near the entrance.

Forbes Field (Image courtesy of Wikipedia.com)

They were adorable. One of my favorite things in the world is a little old European man, and here were anywhere from three to eight of them, all on the better side of 65. Whenever I was in the building during their chat sessions, I would slow my step to be able to hear them longer. I didn’t understand what they were saying apart from a word here or there, but I loved listening to the cadences and beautiful sounds of their words.

The funny thing about them is that sometimes they would speak English, but it sounded almost the same as when they were speaking in Italian. Theirs was not the vague Foreign Accent of Indeterminate Origin often employed in random films noirs of the 40s to add an international air of mystery. Their heritage was loud and clear.

There’s really no mistaking an Italian accent in English.

Don’t believe me? Give it a try. You too can speak with an Italian accent. Just read the following out loud:

Uans appona taim uase disse boi. Neimmese Giacche. Naise boi. Live uite ise mamma. Mainde da cao. Uane dei, di spaghetti ise olle ronne aute. Dei goine feinte fromme no fudde. Mamma soi orais, “Oreie Giacche, teicche da cao enne traide erra forre bocchese spaghetti enne somme uaine.” Bai enne bai commese omme Giacche. I garra no fudde, I garra no uaine. Meichese misteicche, enne traidese da cao forre bonce binnese. Giacchasse!

This was written by Bob Belviso, about whom little seems to be known. I originally saw this story in Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct (on page 169 of this scanned copy). I was looking through my files to find some fun exercises to do on the last day of classes next week, and I came across a copy I’d made of this years ago and thought it was fun enough to share.

You can see more of Belviso’s fairy tale versions here.

Who can tell me the name of this story?

18 thoughts on “‘Tis the season to be punchy…

  1. Well, Jack and the Beanstalk I imagine, but this is so much more fun. A great piece of writing, because transcribing English ‘as she is spoke’ is so hard. I’ve had a go at doing a French version, but it’s quite easy to come unstuck, I find.

    • Correct! Bonus points for you!
      One thing that makes the transcription so tricky is that it’s very difficult to ‘hear’ ourselves and to catch so many nuances of pronunciation. I can do a fair approximation of different accents, but I’ll never be able to imitate a Portuguese accent in English. It’s too close, it feels too ‘normal’ to me because it wasn’t an accent; it’s just the way my parents talked. I can tease my mother about her pronunciation of a few words, but I can’t actually put a string of words together and make it sound like her, so I’m not even going to try transcribing ;)

    • Oh no! You shouldn’t feel bad because we adore the Italian accent! It’s so warm and passionate, and it evokes such lovely images of art and food and stunning vistas. I know my heart melts just a little bit whenever I hear it. The Americans would take to you like bees to honey :)

  2. Oh my gosh, this totally plays to my simpleton soul. I could read the excerpt you included over and over again, Leonore. What fun. Makes me giggle. It’s okay – you can laugh at me. I embrace my simpleton nature. (smile)

  3. Here’s my take on French. The Choir I belong to here in France is doing Amazing Grace as part of its Christmas repertoire this year. It goes something like this. ‘Amezzing gress, ‘ow sweat zuh soond, zet sevved a raitch laik mih. Ai wence was lawst, but nauw ahm fooond, wus blinned, but nauw ah sih’. But then my French probably sounds much like that, in its own way, to their ears….

    • Brilliant! Thanks for sharing that! I saw a ‘transcription’ of Hickory Dickory Dock into French, but instead of writing it phonetically (so that it looks like a different language but reads like accented English), it actually employs actual French words. Let me try to find that…

  4. The proper name of the story is Giacche Enne Binnestaucche, which is accompanied by my father’s other works, Sinnedarelle, Redde Raidinghehudde, Di Tre Pigghese, and the non-fairytale one, Da Naite Bifore Christemasse. He died in 1999, but would have been so delighted in the interest in his work via the medium of the Internet.

    • Your father’s stories are brilliant. For all the drawbacks of the Internet, I love how so many wonderful things that might otherwise have been lost can be revived.

      Thanks so much for commenting!

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