Saturday, October 28, 2017

Lo Stampatello: How Italians Write

The word stampatello in Italian translates as block letters, but is better interpreted as writing that looks like it was typed. There are two types: stampatello minuscolo (lowercase block letters) and stampatello maiuscolo (uppercase block letters). Stampatello's showy brother is corsivo or cursive lettering.

When I write, I tend to use a combination of lowercase block letters and cursive, as I believe many Americans do. What I find fascinating in Italy is the preference for stampatello maiuscolo or uppercase block letters when writing. I often ask people to write in my little black notebook and almost always they do so using uppercase block lettering. (Yeah, I'm that kind of person who shoves a notebook in front of you to write something down.)

Here are six examples from the last few months.

Sample 1
Who: Middle-aged man
Where: Udine
Context: We ate at an enoteca called Fred in Udine, and one of the staff wrote the name of a particular garlic we tasted called Aglio di Resia from Tarvisio.
A sample of Italian writing, stampatello.

Sample 2 
Who: Older woman
Where: Bergamo
Context: One morning, in our café Bar Papavero, I was talking with a friend whose family is from Basilicata and she was listing places to see there include: Craco, Tricarico, Venosa, and La Certosa di Padula.
A sample of Italian writing, stampatello.

Sample 3
Who: Middle-aged woman
Where: Outskirts of Bergamo
Context: After lunch one day at Trattoria all'Alpino (great walk from Bergamo, see here), we got to talking to the owners and told them that we would be going to Friuli-Venezia Giulia in a few days. They wrote down a few suggestions that might be of interest to us. They were: Maniago – a city known for its production of steel blades, Vajont – location of the disaster that killed over 1,900 people in 1963, and the Sequals, the home town of the Italian boxer Primo Carnera.
A sample of Italian writing, stampatello.

Sample 4 (two samples)
Who: Middle-aged woman and a female teenager
Where: Bergamo
Context: In our café Bar Papavero, I first asked Eleonora for her telephone number, which she wrote down. Next, I asked the granddaughter of one of the café regulars to write down a saying we were talking about. That saying is: prendi l'arte e mettila da parte – basically meaning, learn what you can, because you'll never know when you'll need it.
A sample of Italian writing, stampatello.

Sample 5
Who: Middle-aged man
Where: Cuneo
Context: Talking with one of our "cousins" we got a suggestion on something to visit while staying in Piedmont. He wrote: Ormea / Alto / Caprauna / [undecipherable] / Cantarana / Upega / Ponte di Nava – all towns in the Cuneo Province of Piedmont, close to the French border.
A sample of Italian writing, stampatello.

Sample 6 (two samples)
Who: Two different middle-aged women
Where: Bergamo
Context: One sample is during a discussion at Café Bar Papavero when I was talking with a woman about the Italian writer, translator, and journalist Fernanda Pivano. The second sample is from a woman who was on a guided tour of Bergamo's iconic Roccolo di Castagneta (Tavernella). (A roccolo is basically a big bird trap. For more information on roccoli, see A Walk from Albino to Bergamo via Monte Misma.) During the visit, the guide described wooden instruments that were thrown to simulate a bird of prey so that smaller birds would be frightened and hopefully fly into a waiting net. The device is called a spauracchio in Italian. The woman I asked thoughtfully wrote it in Bergamasco dialect as well – sboradur – always in capital letters.
A sample of Italian writing, stampatello.

Besides these samples, we have watch countless times as someone filled out a form (for themselves or for us) and used stampatello maiuscolo. Now, instinctively, when asked to write something official, we write in uppercase block letters, even if we can't get it out of my mind that the only people we knew who used all caps were crazy family members sending the latest conspiracy email.

This Italian expert in the study of handwriting and criminology discusses some ideas about why Italians use stampatello. The author suggests wide-ranging reasons including hiding one's tender side (cursive being more vulnerable?), avoiding being judged by other (bad writing?), looking for independence and asserting oneself (by adopting what everyone else does?), or just wanting to be legible (and sort of a conformist?). Maybe all valid reasons, I don't know, but I thought one obvious reason – at least to me – the author overlooked is that Italy, a country with many dialects and languages, still struggles to achieve unification in the sense that other European countries have at least in terms of language. Maybe, stampatello is one small step in that direction?

Thursday, October 26, 2017

A Hike from Clanezzo to Monte Ubione and Back

GPS tracks for round-trip hike from Clanezzo to Monte Ubione and backView from Monte Ubione, northwest into Valle Imagna on a hazy day.
Left: GPS tracks for round-trip hike from Clanezzo to Monte Ubione and back. Right: View from Monte Ubione looking northwest into Valle Imagna on a hazy day.


Length: 11 km (6.8 mi)
Duration: 3.3 hours, includes 10-minute break on Monte Ubione
Elevation: 258 m (846 ft) @ suspended bridge over the Brembo River , 895 m (2,936 ft) @ Monte Ubione. Total elevation gain of 772 m (2,533 ft).
Location: Italy, Province of Bergamo, Clanezzo

The Hike

To reach the starting and ending point of this hike, take any bus heading to Valle Brembana (B lines, usually signed as San Pellegrino Terme, Zogno, or Piazza Brembana) and get off at the last stop before the bus enters the valley. The stop is here. Warning: it's a bus stop on a busy, ugly road. Fortunately, you only have to walk about 100 m on said road.

Overall, I wouldn't call this the prettiest hike we done or the most serene. First, the woods you pass through are very "disturbed" and not all that pretty. Disturbed here means lots of ivy and weed trees. Second, the sound from the traffic in the valleys (both Brembana and Imagna at one point) is always present. These valleys are like that, limited access and busy roads during the day.

Negative aspects aside, it's a nice little hike for a number of reasons. First, you'll work up a sweat getting up to Monte Ubione. A chance for exercise is always welcome, right? As well, once on top of Ubione, it's a pretty view on a clear day. We had lots of haze (foschia) today so it was a little surreal looking.

The most interesting aspect of this hike though is that it passes by three different historic bridges. Below Clanezzo you find two of them. One is a suspended bridge across the Brembo River dating from 1878. Its called La Passarella or Ponte sospeso, is 74 m long, and dances about as you walk over it. The second bridge, nearby, is an old stone dating from the 10th century that crosses over the Imagna River. This bridge is called the Ponte di Attone and is about 25 meters.

At one time, these two bridges were the only convenient means to get to Bergamo from the Val Brembilla situated north of Clanezzo. Where there is a need, there is someone there to profit from it. At one end of the stone bridge there was a customs point for the Republic of Venice as these bridges were once the border between the Republic of Venice and their rivals the Visconti (Milan).

The Imagna River merges with the Brembo River below Clanezzo, both rivers draining their respective valleys. In fact, Monte Ubione and this hike (Sentiero 571) follows the watershed divide (spartiacque) between the two valleys. Before reaching Monte Ubione, you'll wander on a huge empty reservoir (serbatoio) half-carved in the mountain that was at one time used to store water for hydro-electricity.

After visiting the two bridges, we start climbing toward Monte Ubione, always following indications for Sentiero 571. At Monte Ubione, we rested for a bit and then continued more or less north until we hit the intersection with Sentiero 584, which took us down toward Strozza.

It's at Strozza, that you find the third interesting bridge of this hike, the Ponte del Chitò, built in 1897 and named after the engineer who designed. It's a bridge-canale that at one time brought water from the Imagna River to Clanezzo. Today, there is a modern steel passageway on top of the aqueduct that allows passage across.

From the Ponte del Chitò back to Clanezzo, there is an old canal running more or less level. On top of the canale is a walking-cycling path that we took back to the start of this hike.

Ponte del Chito - Entrance from Strozza side of Imagna River.Ponte del Chito - Cutout for taking photos from the midpoint of the bridge.Ponte del Chito - Modern walkway atop 1897 stone structure.
Views of and from Ponte del Chitò, a bridge-canal near Strozza, Italy. Left: Entrance from Strozza side of Imagna River. Center: Cutout for taking photos from the midpoint of the bridge. Right: Modern walkway atop 1897 stone structure.

View of Ponte del Chitò with flanks of Monte Ubione in the background.Sign describing walking and biking routes of Valle Imagna.
Left: View of Ponte del Chitò with flanks of Monte Ubione in the background. Right: Sign describing walking and biking routes of Valle Imagna. Today's hike is described on the sign.

Suspended bridge over the Brembo River, below Clanezzo. The bridge is just over 74 meters long.Suspended bridge over the Brembo River, below Clanezzo. The bridge is just over 74 meters long.
Suspended bridge over the Brembo River, below Clanezzo. The bridge is just over 74 meters long.

The stone bridge of Clanezzo (Ponte di Attone), at one time a point for collecting customs. The bridge allows passage over the Imagna River. In the background, the Brembo River.The stone bridge of Clanezzo (Ponte di Attone), at one time a point for collecting customs. The bridge allows passage over the Imagna River. In the background, the Brembo River.
The stone bridge of Clanezzo (Ponte di Attone), at one time a point for collecting customs. The bridge allows passage over the Imagna River. In the background, the Brembo River.

The old canal turned walkway near Clanezzo.A roccolo that Sentiero 584 passes through.
Left: The old canal turned walkway near Clanezzo. Right: A roccolo that Sentiero 584 passes through.

Start and end of the hike near state route 470.View of the Brembo River looking toward Bergamo. A sign describing another route on Monte Ubione called the Sentiero della Libertà.
Left: Start and end of the hike near state route 470.  Center: View of the Brembo River looking toward Bergamo. Right: A sign describing another route on Monte Ubione called the Sentiero della Libertà.

Monday, October 16, 2017

A Hike in Valle Pesio: Rifugio Pian delle Gorre to Rifugio Garelli

Route from Pian delle Gorre to Rifugio Garelli.View from Rifugio Garelli looking north into a winter haze.

Left: Route from Pian delle Gorre to Rifugio Garelli. Right: View from Rifugio Garelli looking north into a winter haze.


Length: 10 km (6.2 mi)
Duration: 3:50 hh:mm, includes 20 minute break for lunch, round-trip
Elevation: 1032 m (3,386 ft) @ Pian del Gorre, 1970 m (6,463 ft) @ Rifugio Garelli. Total elevation gain of 938m (3,077 ft).
Location: Italy, Piemonte, Province of Cuneo, Valle Pesio

The Hike

We seem to keep coming back to these mountains in southern part of the Cuneo Province, like we have some unfinished business. This time around we were in the area to attend the Fiera Nazionale del Marrone in Cuneo, a several-day celebration of the chestnut as well as other Piemontese and Ligurian foods and crafts. A marrone is a chestnut (castagna) that is highly prized for its taste particularly when cooked.

Last time we were in these hills, it was December 2015 and we did a hike in the nearby Valle Ellero (see Valle Ellero, Rastello to Cima Pigna Hike) and one hike with the same starting point as today's hike (see Valle Pesio, Pian Gorre to Cascata del Pis del Pesio). Today, we started from Rifugio Pian dell Gorre as before, but head to Rifugio Garelli instead of the waterfall Pis del Pesio.

Like last time, it's also unseasonably warm. We are hiking in short sleeves. An unusual high-pressure system and little rain has led to dry, warm hazy conditions. The haze is due to particulate matter in the air that normally would be removed by precipitation which has been lacking. On this hike, we reach 1970 m (6,463 ft) and it feels like we are above the layer of ick.

We drove up to Rifugio Pian delle Gorre and parked our car to start this hike. We followed the same route to and from Garelli. What would be nicer is to continue beyond Garelli to the Laghetto del Marguareis and make a loop following a different trail back to Gias Sottano and then on down to the starting point. (This is shown in a picture attached to this post.) For more info (in Italian) for hikes in the Valle Pesio, see Alpi Cuneesi Escursioni e Sentieri.

Today's hike is in the what is called the Parco Marguareis, the southwest part of the Maritime Alps, which includes the Valle Pesio and part of the Alta Valle Tanaro. The park comprises five different natural areas spread out in the province of Cuneo.

We have visited all parts of the park except the first (Belbo). If you are into off-the-beaten-track things to do in nature, this would be a good starting list.

On the way to and from Rifugio Pian delle Gorre, you will pass by the Certosa di Pesio. It's worth a stop for at least a few minutes to visit the peculiar spaces. You have to really follow the signs and your nose to discover all the hidden parts of the Certosa.

Unfortunately, there wasn't too much botanical-wise to look at on today's hike, but we did see a botanical research station near Rifugio Garelli that was very much closed for the season. Though the botanical research station as well as Rifugio Garelli were closed, the upside was complete solitude.

The suggested loop hike from Pian delle Gorre to Rifugio Garelli and back.Sign at the start of the hike near Pian delle Gorre marking the time to reach Garelli.Signs at Gias soprano di Sestrera, just below Garelli.
Left: The suggested loop hike from Pian delle Gorre to Rifugio Garelli and back. Center: Sign at the start of the hike near Pian delle Gorre marking the time to reach Garelli. Right: Signs at Gias soprano di Sestrera, just below Garelli.

Gias sottano di Sestrera and fountain with potabile water.The striking outline of Rifugio Garelli.Sign at the Botanical Station near Rifugio Garelli.
Left: Gias sottano di Sestrera and fountain with potabile water. Center: The striking outline of Rifugio Garelli. Right: Sign at the Botanical Station near Rifugio Garelli.

Only us and the grasshoppers making love at Rifugio Garelli.Rifugio Garelli from Gias sottano di Sestrera.
Left: Only us and the grasshoppers making love at Rifugio Garelli. Right: Rifugio Garelli from Gias sottano di Sestrera.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

People and Place Names in Italian: Correct Pronunciation

RAI DOP: Dizionario Italiano multimediale e multilingue d'ortografia e di pronuncia. Parole e nomi dell'italiano.RAI DOP: Dizionario Italiano multimediale e multilingue d'ortografia e di pronuncia. Parole e nomi dell'italiano.Grande Dizionario Hoepli di Aldo Gabrielli, edizione speciale 150th anniversarioTulio de Maruo grande dizionario Italiano dell'uso
Italian dictionaries consulted for this post: DOP, Hoepli, de Mauro.



I'm obsessed with tonic accents. I admit it. I think it stems from having so much trouble with pronouncing Italian words and, in particular, knowing what accent to stress. I've discussed tonic accents in several other posts, including Italian Words with Tonic Stress on Third-From-Last Syllable: Le Parole Sdrucciole and Conjugating Italian Verbs and Knowing Where to Put the Tonic Stress. Basically, the bane of my existence are sdrucciole words, that is, words with an accent on the third-from-last syllable.

In this post, I'll talk about people and place names, which, in my opinion, are not well-documented, at least from the point of view of someone trying to learn the language. It may seem like I'm making a big deal out of this, but after getting chuckled at recently for my pronunciation of Taranto and Cattaneo, I decided to investigate further. For the record, I pronounced Taranto (a city) as Tarànto instead of Tàranto. That got me a chuckle and a quick correction. Then, I pronounced Cattaneo (a surname) as Cattanèo instead of Cattàneo. For that mispronunciation I was laughed at a good bit and called a terrone, or southerner. I was among friends who didn't mean it, but I was still a little annoyed.

What I found interesting in my research for this post is that many of the sources I turned to have no information on how to pronounce people and places names. In the least, after reading this post, you'll walk away with a list of useful Italian dictionary references, with a few that can help you resolve pronunciation.

First, this post lists people and places names with the correct syllable to stress. Then, there is a quick overview of accents and vowels. Finally, the post finishes with a comparison of different references used to find pronunciation information (or not as the case may be). From the analysis of references, I recommend that the best overall site for quickly looking up pronunciation of people and places to be DOP: Dizionario Italiano multimediale e multilingue d'ortografia e di pronuncia.

People and Places List


Here is a list of just a few of the places names I've stumbled over and eventually looked up during my Italian language odyssey. The RAI: Dizionario italiano multimediale e multilingue d'Ortografia e di Pronunzia is the main reference source in terms of accents shown. Note that accents are almost always not used when you see these names written. They are included here only for clarity. See the next section for more information on accents and vowels.

Achìlle, Archimède, Aristòtele, (Alessandro) Barìcco, (Giacomo) Bresàdola, (Michelangelo) Buonarròti, (Primo) Carnèra, (Giacomo) Casanòva, (Andrea) Camillèri, (Carlo) Cattàneo, (Gaio Guilio) Césare, (Marco Tullio) Ciceróne, (Cristoforo) Cólombo, (Niccolò) Copèrnico, (Francesco) Cossìga, Demòcrito, (Luigi) Einàudi, Empèdocle, Epicùro, Èrcole, Èttore, Eurìpide, (Ugo) Fóscolo, (Alcide) de Gàsperi, Artemìsia Gentiléschi, Ippòcrate, (Éttore) Majoràna, (Dacia) Maraìni, Mèdici, (Alberto) Moràvia, (Pietro) Paleòcapa, Pitàgora, Platóne, (Leonardo) Sciàscia, Sòcrate, Zenóne

Abrùzzo, Adamèllo, Alberobèllo, Ancóna, Àquila, Àsolo, Bèrgamo, Bréscia, Brìndisi. Càgliari, Campània, Cervère, Cividàle del Friùli, Cremóna, Cùneo, Dàlmine, Èboli, Edimbùrgo, Éllero (fiume), Èrice, Firènze, Fossàno, Gallìpoli, Gènova, Ìmola, Itàlia. Lombardìa, Lònguelo, Livórno, Màntova, Matèra, Milàno, Milàzzo, Mòdena, Molìse, Mònaco dei Bavièra, Nàpoli, Nèive, Ostùni, Pàdova, Padùla, Paèstum, Pavìa, Perùgia, Pescàra, Piacènza, Piemónte, Ragùsa, Róma, Rovìgo, Sardégna, Sàssari, Selinùnte, Sicìlia, Siracùsa, Sirmióne, Spoléto, Stupinìgi, Tànaro (fiume), Tàranto, Tèramo, Tévere, Tolomèo, Torìno, Tortóna, Tràpani, Ùdine, Vèneto, Venèzia, Vitèrbo, Voghèra

You might have noticed that many of the people listed are scientists or "ancient" Greeks. The selection indicates what catches my eye. Sorry, no movie stars or soccer players here.

Not included in the lists are people or places that are normally written with an accent, which is easy because it indicates where to put the emphasis. Examples include (Fabrizio) De André, the Italian singer and songwriter, and Carrù, a town in Piedmont. Some other town names with accent marks are: Gambolò, Mondovì, Ortisé, and Santhià.

On the subject of names, one first name that always trips me up is Niccolò and Nicola. Niccolò is written with the accent mark. Nicola is pronounced with tonic stress on O as Nicòla.

Vowels and Accent Marks


This is slight digression, but may be of interest if you are wondering why E and O in the people and place names can have two different accents marks, while A, I, and U have just one mark.
  • There are five written vowels (graphemes) in Italian: A, E, I, O, U. In English, we have the same five and sometimes Y.
  • There are seven pronounced vowels (phonemes) in Italian, because E and O can be open or closed. The seven sounds are represented as /a/, /ɛ/, /e/, /i/, /ɔ/, /o/, and /u/. /ɛ/ and /e/ are E open and closed, respectively. /ɔ/ and /o/ are O open and closed, respectively.
  • Each vocal sound has a location in the mouth where it originates as demonstrated in this vocal diagram for Italian. The vocal diagram for Italian is a triangle, while that for English is shaped like trapezoid
  • The five written vowels have the task of representing the seven pronounced vowels. Most of the time there isn't a problem. When there is, graphic symbols are used to clarify. This is particularly important when distinguishing between two words spelled the same (homographs) but with different pronunciations. A good example is the classic confusion between fruit and fish. Pèsca is fruit and pésca is fishing, where è represents the open sound /ɛ/ and é represents the closed sound /e/. Similarly, you might encounter vòlto, the past participle of volgere, and vólto, face, where ó represents the open sound /ɔ/ and ó represents the closed sound /o/.
Okay, after that quick intro to vowels, you need to keep in mind how accents on vowels are used in designating the accented syllable in a word.
  • In the lists above of people and place names, it worth restating again that accent marks would not normally be used to show where the stress goes. They were added to make the discussion here easier.
  • When an A, I, or U are in the stressed syllable of a word, they appear as à, ì, and ù and they are pronounced as they usually are. It doesn't mean they are "closed" like E or O can be.  Rather, it means the accent mark is just shows stress of the syllable.
  • When and E or O are in the stressed syllable of a word, they can appear as è, é, ò, or ó. In this case, the accent mark shows both the stressed syllable and how the vowel is pronounced, i.e., as open or closed according the mark specified.
  • When E or O are not part of the stressed syllable of a word, they are closed, i.e., /e/ and /o/. So the open sound is only possible when E and O are in the stressed syllable.
If you are a little confused and even stressed out by open and closed vocals, my advice is not to worry about them too much. In my experience, most Italians don't grasp them fully. In fact, one of my favorite language references Grammatica italiana di base, says as much noting that much of the rules of the open and closed E and O originate for the most part from Tuscany. Outside of that region the spoken language diverges quite a bit. What I find more important than open and closed vowel sounds are getting the tonic accent correct.

il Ragazzini, dizionario inglese italiano, italiano inglese di Giuseppe Ragazzini, ZanichelliLo Zingarelli 2008, vocabolario della lingua italiana di Nicola Zingarelli, ZanichelliVocabolario della lingua italiana, Treccani l'enciclopediaVocabolario della lingua italiana, Treccani l'enciclopedia
Italian dictionaries consulted for this post: il Ragazzini, lo Zingarelli, Treccani.

Comparison of References


To test how different dictionary sources might be used to help figure out pronunciation of people and place names, let's use two test words: Taranto, a city in Puglia, and Democrito (Democritus in English), a Greek philosopher. Both words have accent on the third from last syllable, Tàranto and Demòcrito, and were words I looked up to confirm pronunciation. The results of my research reveal that:
  • The RAI DOP reference is the winner by far in terms of being a good source to resolve pronunciation; it's good online and offline (paper copy) for resolving people and place names.
  • An encyclopedia app or web site such as Treccani or Wikipedia, are always a handy backup for resolving people and place names.
  • Pronunciation sites like Forvo are helpful as well.
Key for tables below

listed - Word is listed with pronunciation and accent shown.
listed* - Word is listed but with no indicated pronunciation; there is a sound clip.
not listed - Word doesn't appear at all in the reference.
not listed* - Word doesn't appear, but a derivative or related word is present that could be useful.

Online resources

References I consult most frequently.

Word Word Reference Dizionario Olivetti Corriere della Sera RAI DOP Wiktionary Wikipedia Forvo
Tàranto not listed not listed not listed listed listed* listed* listed*
not listed not listed listed not listed listed* listed*

Physical books

These are references I found in Biblioteca Civica Angelo Mai, in Bergamo. I had expected paper sources would give better coverage of people and place names, but that wasn't the case.

TreccaniEnc5de Mauro6Il Ragazzini7
Tàrantolistednot listednot listednot listednot listednot listedlisted
Demòcritolistednot listednot listednot listedlistednot listed
not listed

RAI DOP: Dizionario Italiano multimediale e multilingue d'ortografia e di pronuncia. Parole e nomi dell'italiano.
Grande Dizionario Hoepli di Aldo Gabrielli, edizione speciale 150o anniversario
Lo Zingarelli 2008, vocabolario della lingua italiana di Nicola Zingarelli, Zanichelli
Il Vocabolario della lingua italiana, Treccani
Vocabolario della lingua italiana, Treccani l'enciclopedia
Tulio de Maruo grande dizionario Italiano dell'uso
il Ragazzini, dizionario inglese italiano, italiano inglese di Giuseppe Ragazzini, Zanichelli


Here are four apps that I use frequently on my phone.

WordCollins Italiano IngleseDizionario di ItalianoTreccani VocabolarioTreccani l'Enciclopedia
Tàrantonot listednot listednot listedlisted*
Demòcritolistednot listednot listedlisted

Related web pages
  • Accademia della Crusca's list of geographical names and stressed syllable. Not a complete list.
  • Tangentially related, Italian cities whose names come from Latin and etymology of capital cities of provinces.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Observations on Learning the Italian Language

What follows are a few observations on learning - or shall I say trying to learn - the Italian language for years now. Perhaps reading this you may find something to take comfort in if you are struggling with learning a new language.

Sure, I'm slowly improving with my Italian, but to me there will always be a frustrating lack of progress, naturalness, and ease in speaking. Yes, learning a language is more than speaking. There is listening comprehension, reading, writing and gestures, and they are all related to speaking. However, in my experience and especially in Italy, speaking is the most important to master, especially if you are learning the language as an adult. If you can speak reasonably well in Italy, you can get yourself understood.  Therefore, the following observations focus on speaking.

Talkers and Story-Tellers 


He who talks a lot in his native language, talks a lot in the new language, and therefore, masters speaking quickly. It's not really all that surprising. I've seen many cases that prove this, including two friends, one Persian and one German, who I'd say are talkative types and have picked up Italian easily. In Italian, these two friends would be said to be portati per le lingue.

I've also noticed that people who often tell stories (gossip, what they had for dinner, etc.) to relate points or just do it naturally as part of conversation, also easily pick up speaking a new language.

So, what to do if you are more of a listener and not a natural story-teller in your native language? Answer: nothing. You'll be the same way in the new language. Changing the language doesn't change who you are fundamentally.

Ears vs. Eyes 


How to categorize learning styles and whether instruction should be tailored to these styles are not widely agreed upon subjects. The Wikipedia page for Learning Styles gives a taste of the differing categorizations of learning and critiques of them. Notwithstanding, I can't help but notice that there are those who learn more aurally, and those that learn more visually. I fall in the latter category. For example, when meeting someone in Italy, I often ask the person to spell their name so I can process it or write it down. It might be because I'm unfamiliar with Italian names and have no existing points of reference, but I think it's because I process information better visually. While the person is spelling their name, I'm writing it in my mind. I don't hear it by sound only. In my opinion, people who learn aurally, can usually get the name right hearing it just once.

As well, when learning a new word someone tells me orally, I can rarely repeat it perfectly the first, second or even third time. The only time I can repeat the word on the first try is if it is a word I already have seen or know. In fact, if someone tells me a new word like a name, I often write it down or at least "see" and "spell" the word in my mind. Whether it's laziness on my part or a mode of learning I've fallen into, but could possibly change, I don't know. My visual style also applies beyond just single words. My little black notebook, on my person at all times, is littered with phraseology and idioms heard during the day. Italian friends who are telling me a new word or phrase in Italian know me well enough by now to prompt me to pull out my notebook and write it down.

I relate these anecdotes to point out that it helps to think about how you learn and at least start by maximizing that mode for learning a language.

I've often wondered about the connection between people who can carry a tune well and their related ability with language. Again, not to disparage myself, but I'm a bit oblivious to melody. In Italian, I'm said to be stonato or tone-deaf. Is that connected to my penchant for tending to process information visually? Would taking singing lessons help me speak Italian better?

Accept Your Accent 


Of course, I can't hear my own accent, but I'm often told that I have an obvious American accent (accento) when I speak Italian. To think that my "Italian" voice in my mind - when I'm speaking without really speaking so to speak - always sounds perfect and without accent! What's up with that discrepancy between the inner voice and my actual voice?

The other day, I was part of a conversation and we were talking about a foreigner who spoke Italian like mother tongue (madre lingua), with no accent. What struck me about the conversation was how the Italians kept praising her ability and how she had essentially no accent. I cringed just a little inside wondering what they really thought about my accent.

What's wrong with having an accent? Answer: nothing is wrong with having an accent. It's more important to get your ideas across. Remember that successfully communicating simple or profound ideas doesn't require complicated language or a perfect accent. Feel better?

Reading vs. Speaking 


Reading doesn't always lead to better speaking, at least immediately for me. In fact, reading for a few hours takes a short term toll on my speaking. After reading for a good two to three hours, I'm almost paralyzed when it comes to speaking. I've wondered about this phenomenon. Is it just me? Is it imagined? Does reading temporarily make part of my brain for speaking less accessible? Eventually, my speaking returns. In fact, I think that reading really does help long term.

The book I'm currently reading in Italian is Carlo Rovelli's, La realità non è come ci appare or "reality is not what it seems." It's an wonderful book about physics. I've noticed that after several hours of reading it (sometimes quietly, sometimes out loud), I can barely manage a ciao and buongiorno. So read you must, but before you head to your local café for a chat, warm up with some common phrases*. I've learned not to walk in and expect to rattle off a interesting tidbit from Rovelli's book like this bit about quantum field theory, "sono oggetti strani: ciascuna delle particelle di cui sono composti appare solo quando interagisce con qualcos'altro." (p. 127).

* Common phrasing. I've been enjoying the interesting video content on the site, in particular, the Italiano in practica series. I wish had seen these videos years ago.

Relax Parrot Smile 


Like skiing, I'm stiff when it comes to talking. And, unfortunately, this is the case in both English and Italian. (Can you notice it in the writing?) I know the key is to relax. I'm not on a stage, it's not a do or die situation, there are no obligations, but still there are times that I have to remind myself to relax. It also helps to remind myself that I'm speaking with Italians in their language and not in English, i.e., I'm making the effort.

Besides relaxing, being a parrot helps, in Italian that would be pappagallo. Repeating back phrases and asking questions will at least keep the conversation going. You don't have to have original ideas for every conversation. Repeating and paraphrasing what you heard is fine at least as you warm up to the conversation.

And, always smile. A smile is understood in most languages without needing a translation.

Dosey Doe Language Partners 


In my language-learning world, people fall into these categories:

  • Scrunchies: People who scrunch up their face and are prone to saying "whaaaat?" They make little effort to cross the bridge of communication.
  • Sweaties: People I feel nervous talking to. They make me sweat. I feel like I'm on trial. It may have nothing to do with speaking a different language.
  • Sweeties: People I could talk with for hours. They make learning a language a joy. 
If you are the non-confrontational type like me, you'll search out the Sweeties, put yourself in front of the Sweaties every now and then, and avoid the Scrunchies. If you are a talker, story-teller, or even mildly confrontational, you'll likely get bored with the Sweeties, and enjoy the Sweaties and the Scrunchies. To each his own: a ciascuno il suo. The point is to understand what types you like to talk with in your new language.

I will take this moment to rant a bit. I actually get annoyed at Scrunchies. I know I can't master one consonant versus two consonants* (nono - 9th, nonno - grandfather) or put the accent in the right place (pappa - food, papà - dad, papa - pope) but please Scrunchies, just try to pay an iota of attention to the context of the conversation and work with me!

* Last year around New Year's we wished many people a Buon Ano (or Good Anus) instead of Buon Anno (Happy New Year). New Year's resolution: I will pronounce my double consonants!

Let There Be English 


I used to get mad when people spoke English with me in Italy. It felt like I had failed in my ability to speak Italian, that my Italian wasn't good enough. Then I realized that there are a couple of good reasons why this happens. First, someone's English may be better than my Italian and in the interest of efficient communication, we communicate in the strongest common language. Second, I find that people are eager to speak English, even if they just know a few words. Many Italians want to learn, and want the opportunity to speak English. Italians learn English in school starting pretty young but don't really have a chance to practice it.

Finally, there is what I would call the over-eager, tourist-friendly service provider phenomenon. Typically, it's a waiter who wants to make you feel as comfortable as possible and speaks in English no matter what. He has sized me up as English speaker and that's what I'm served. What the waiter doesn't know is that while Debbie from Dubuque or Takashi from Tokyo may feel at home with that approach, he loses points with us. This tends to happen in the most popular Italian tourist destinations. So the solution is obvious, go where there are less tourists. For example, when I want to escape English for sure, I head to the hills. In small towns in the hills in Italy, I can tip the balance back so that our Italian is the best mode to communicate. Travelmarx has been known to talk for hours to a sweet old grandmother in the middle of nowhere.

Aside: Don't expect that when talking to an Italian and using an English word, in particular, a city name, that you'll be understood right away. It's not because the word isn't known, but rather how you pronounce it. For example, to this day when we say we are from Seattle, pronounced /siˈætəl/ with the sound of one "t" like a "d", it almost always elicits a hesitation and then a restatement of Seattle as /siˈæt təl/, with two "t" sounds distinctly pronounced. That's because in Italian, two of the same consonant sound very different than just the single consonant. Beyond places, there are many English words commonly used in Italy that are - as you'd expect - pronounced according to the Italian alphabet and pronunciation rules, including top (pronounced "taupe"), stop ("stow-p"), hamburger ("amburger" ), ok ("oh kay"), and mix ("mee ix") to name just a few. I find myself starting to use these Italianized pronunciations. When in Rome, do as the Romans do….or in Italian: paese che vai, usanza che trovi.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

History in the Streets - Comparison Between Italian and American Street Names

Walking through a typical Italian city you can't help but get a lesson in Italian history: it's all encoded in street names. It wouldn't be uncommon to receive directions such as "Follow Viale Vittorio Emanuele II, turn left on Giuseppe Verdi and follow it until you come to Via Cesare Battisti." In the course of your journey you would be honoring, respectively, Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of a united Italy in the late 1800s, Giuseppe Verdi, the famous Italian opera composer of the second half of the 1800s, and Cesare Battisti, the Italian patriot and socialist politician of the late 1800s and early 1900s.

It turns out that street names in Italy fall into a couple of broad categories dealing with important people and events in Italian history.  By contrast, street names in the United States tend to be based on numbers (e.g., First, Second) or names of trees (e.g., Oak, Elm). 

In this post, we'll compare and contrast street names between the US and Italy. Specifically, we'll talk about the top names used for Italian streets. Then, we'll use Bergamo as a specific Italian city example and list some street names found there. Finally, we'll close out by talking about American street names.

Italian Street Names

The data discussed here is from Laboratorio internazionale di onomastica (LIOn), but unfortunately doesn't seem to be easily accessible anymore. (Long live data on the internet!) So, we have to rely on others who analyzed the data, in particular these two references:

These two references (circa 2013) give the following top 20 Italian street names:

  1. Roma 
  2. Giuseppe Garibaldi 
  3. Guglielmo Marconi 
  4. Giuseppe Mazzini 
  5. Dante Alighieri 
  6. Camillo Benso conte di Cavour 
  7. Giacomo Matteotti 
  8. Giuseppe Verdi 
  9. IV Novembre 
  10. Castello 
  11. Papa Giovanni XXIII 
  12. Cesare Battisti 
  13. Alessandro Manzoni 
  14. Aldo Moro 
  15. Antonio Gramsci 
  16. Chiesa 
  17. Vittorio Veneto 
  18. Piave 
  19. Alcide de Gasperi 
  20. Umberto I

Some information and observations about this list of street names:
  • The list of top street names came from over 8,100 Italian cities. 
  • Reference 1 states that streets named for John Fitzgerald Kennedy comes in at number 66. 
  • The names of important Risorgimento (Italian unification) / Irredentism and political figures provide 50% of the top 20 names. 
  • A full 75% of the top 20 are the names of people, specifically men. 
  • Reference 2 reports that names of women make up 2.4 % of the total list of names and the first woman to appear is "Santa Maria" at 57th place. 
  • The three "place" street names in the list (Roma, castello, chiesa) are all you would ever need in a town: how to get to Rome for business, how to get to church for absolution, and how to get to your nearby castle for protection. And rest assured, these streets take you there, if not quickly, at least eventually. (If you are wondering, there isn't a via Roma in Rome, but there is a Via Roma Libera. For more information, see the Italian Wikipedia page on Via Roma. There it is stated that many of the Via Roma street names come from Fascist times in Italy.) 
  • Score one for science! Guglielmo Marconi comes in high on the list, only behind Garibaldi, but before all others. 
  • Other, older top street name lists are from 2011: Il Risorgimento scende in strada and 2005: I dieci nomi delle vie più diffusi in Italia. Their data is slightly different.

Categorizing the top 20 names gives us a handy list for a possible crash-course in Italian history.

Risorgimento / Irredentism: Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807 - 1882), Giuseppe Mazzini (1805 - 1872), Camillo Benso Conte di Cavour (1810 - 1861), Cesare Battisti (1875 - 1916)

Statesman: Giacomo Matteotti (1885 - 1924), Aldo Moro (1916 - 1978), Antonio Gramsci (1891 - 1931) , Alcide di Gasperi (1881 - 1954), Umberto I (1855 - 1900)

Artist / Scientist: Guglielmo Marconi (1874 - 1937), Dante Alighieri (1265 - 1321), Giuseppe Verdi (1813 - 1901), Alessandro Manzoni (1785 - 1873)

Place: Rome, Castello, Chiesa

WWI: IV Novembre (Armistice of Villa Giusti ending war between Italy and Austria, 1918), Piave (river and site of Italian victory over Austria in 1918), Vittorio Veneto (battle 1918)

Religion: Papa Giovanni XIII - pope (1958 - 1963)

I remember my first few times in Italy and the feeling of heaviness the names conveyed. I didn't know Battisti from Gramsci. After a year, they seemed less opque as I've began to slowly imbibe Italian history from friends and reading. Heavy, yes, but interesting I must say. Compare the top Italian street names with the bland, functional names of the top American street names (listed in full below) like First, Second, Third, and so on. The streets of Italy are rich history lessons. Italians live their history daily.

The categories we give above, in particular, Risorgimento, Statesman, and Artist/Scientist, are our inventions, used for convenience. People or events in a category don't always neatly fit. Take for example Antonio Gramsci. Yes, in general, he was a statesman, but he was also a journalist, a linguist, and a philosopher - to name just a few other hats he wore. In the Risorgimento cateogry, conte di Cavor's was a businessman and politician as well as a key protagonist of the Risorgimento.

And sadly, there are not shortage of tragic stories in these street names, including Matteotti - murdered during a kidnap attempt by Fascist secret police, Moro - kidnapped and murdered, Gramsci - imprisoned the by Fascist government, which led to a serious decline in health and his death, and Umberto I - assassinated.

Bergamo Street Names

The following list of streets in Bergamo is not an official list. The names were not rigorously selected nor are they selected based on popularity or relevancy. Rather, they are simply streets in Bergamo Città Alta and Città Bassa that we've noted. Still, the list is interesting for two reasons. First, it confirms a similar pattern seen in the list of street names across Italy, that is, names honoring the Risorgimento, national statesman, and artists. Second, many Bergamo street names honor a local prominent citizens of the past, so that in these cases, there is a local history lesson. For example, streets in Bergamo honoring "locals" like Locatelli, Camozzi, or Colleoni are not found in the top 20 street names for all of Italy.

Bergamo street names honoring prominent local people and places:

  • Antonio Locatelli (1895 - 1936) 
  • Gabriele Camozzi (1823 - 1869) 
  • Francesco Cucchi (1834 - 1913) 
  • Bartolomeo Colleoni (1395 - 1475) 
  • Giacomo Costantino Beltrami (1779 - 1855) - patriot/explorer 
  • More info about personaggi illustri or promiment citizens of Bergamo. 
Artists / Scientists 
  • Girolamo Tiraboschi (1731 - 1794) - historian 
  • Mario Lupo (1720 - 1789) - historian 
  • Torquato Tasso (1544 - 1595) - poet 
  • Giacomo Quarenghi (1744 - 1817) - architect 
  • Andrea Fantoni (1659 - 1734) - sculptor 
  • Giacomo Manzù (1908 - 1991) - sculptor 
  • Evaristo Baschenis (1617 - 1677) - painter 
  • Gianandrea Gavazzeni (1909 - 1996) - composer 
  • Gaetano Donizetti (1797 - 1848) - composer 
  • Simone Mayr (1763 - 1845) - composer 
  • Antonio Stoppani (1824 - 1891) - scientist 
  • Clara Maffei (1814 - 1886) - a woman of letters and important backer of the Risorgimiento 
  • Viale delle Mura - runs along the top of the Venetian walls or "mura" of Città Alta, the wall of which are now officially a UNESCO site. 
  • Via alla Rocca - takes you to the fortification called La Rocca
  • Via della Fara - runs alongside the green space in Città Alta called the Fara. 
  • Papa Giovanni XXIII (1881 - 1963) - beloved pope from the Bergamo area; Bergamo's main hospital is named after him as well as many other buildings and organizations in Bergamo and around Italy. 
  • Angelo Mai (1782 - 1854) - religious scholar; today the beautiful Biblioteca Angelo Mai carries his name as well. 
  • Street Saints: Via Sant'Alessandro, Via S. Giovanni, Via S. Giacomo, Via San Salvatore, Via San Lorenzo, Via San Pancrazio, Largo di Porta S. Alessandro, Vicolo Sant'Andrea

American Street Names

In 1993, the U.S. Census released a tally of common street names (a scan someone made of the data; the original data is hard to find). In 2014, a new set of data was released. Both the 1993 and 2014 dat are discussed in two references we'll use here:

From Reference 1, we have the following top 20 street names (1993 data):

  1. Second, 2nd 
  2. Third, 3rd 
  3. First, 1st 
  4. Fourth, 4th 
  5. Park 
  6. Fifth, 5th 
  7. Main 
  8. Sixth, 6th 
  9. Oak 
  10. Seventh, 7th 
  11. Pine 
  12. Maple 
  13. Cedar 
  14. Eighth, 8th 
  15. Elm 
  16. View 
  17. Washington 
  18. Ninth, 9th 
  19. Lake 
  20. Hill

Categorizing the names as we did for Italian street names leads to:

Numbers: Second/2nd, Third/3rd, First/1st, Fourth/4th, Fifth/5th, Sixth/6th, Seventh/7th, Eight/8th, Ninth/9th

Trees: Oak, Pine, Maple, Cedar, Elm

Places: Park, Main, View, Lake, Hill

Statesmen: George Washington

Almost 50% (9/20) of the top 20 across all of America are numbered streets. Just one surname, Washington, appears in the top 20. If you look at the top 50 names, the numbers start to become less common, the tree and place names stay about the same, and more surnames start to creep in: Lincoln (#26), Jackson (#33), Johnson (#40), Jefferson (#42), and Wilson (#44).

For me, the numbers, trees, and place names used for American streets are a far cry from weighty Italian street names. Why that's the case I'm not sure and won't hazard any guesses.

Finally, Reference 2 for American street names gives information about variations in the top 10 names by state. While there are variations between states, the top 10 lists are consistent in their use of numbers, trees, and places. What variations there are speak a little to history and surroundings. For example, Arizona has "Apache" and "Mesquite" while Hawaii has "Aloha" and "Lehua". Connecticut has neither, or at least in the top 10.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Hike: Passo Porcile and Rifugio Dordona from Foppolo

The route from Foppolo to Rifugio Dordona and back.View of Laghi di Porcile from Passo Porcile.
Left: The route from Foppolo to Rifugio Dordona and back. Right: View of Laghi di Porcile from Passo Porcile.


Length: 12 km (7.5 mi)
Duration: ~ 5.5 hours walking time, 4 hours before lunch, 1.5 hours after lunch
Elevation: 1625 m (5,330 ft) @ Foppolo, 2316 m (7,598 ft) @ Passo dei Lupi. Total elevation gain of 1310m (4,298 ft).
Location: Italy, Lombardy, Alta Valle Brembana

The Hike

This was day two of two days of hiking in Foppolo. The first day we hiked to Lago Moro above Foppolo. See that post for details on how to get to Foppolo by bus. One of the reasons why we planned two days here – besides getting in more hiking – is that the bus schedule between Bergamo and Foppolo didn't allow enough time in one day to get in a good hike.

After a day of hiking about 11 km, we stayed the night in Foppolo at Hotel Adler. It was nice because we seemed to be the only guests and had it to ourselves. We had a good dinner there too.

Day two’s hike was built around a lunch stop at Rifugio Dordona. We took Sentiero 201 toward Passo Tartano and then switched to Sentiero 201a toward Passo di Dordona. Just before reaching Passo di Dordona, you take a slight detour to reach Rifugio Dordona. From Passo Dordona it’s Sentiero 202 back to Foppolo.

Flora and Fungi

Flora: [Asteraceae] Hieracium intybaceum – Whitish Hawkweed (Italiao: Sparviere cicoriaceo)

Flora: [Campanulaceae] Phyteuma sp.

Flora: [Ranunculaceae] Aconitum napellus – Monk’s-Hood (Italian: Aconito napello)

Fungi: [Boletaceae] Boletus sp. Given that it was found under a pine tree, we are guessing it is Boletus pinophilus. It was found by local man we met on the trail.

Aconitum napellus – Monk’s-Hood (Italian: Aconito napello).[Asteraceae] Hieracium intybaceum – Whitish Hawkweed (Italiao: Sparviere cicoriaceo).[Asteraceae] Hieracium intybaceum – Whitish Hawkweed (Italiao: Sparviere cicoriaceo).
Left: Aconitum napellus – Monk’s-Hood (Italian: Aconito napello). Center and right: [Asteraceae] Hieracium intybaceum – Whitish Hawkweed (Italiao: Sparviere cicoriaceo).

[Campanulaceae] Phyteuma sp. Boletus sp. Given that it was found under a pine tree, perhaps Boletus pinophilus. A rock-piece of iron ore under Monte Capelle.Trail signs at Passo (or Bocchetta) dei Lupi (2316 m).
Left: [Campanulaceae] Phyteuma sp. Center left: Boletus sp. Given that it was found under a pine tree, perhaps Boletus pinophilus. Center right: A rock-piece of iron ore under Monte Capelle. Right: Trail signs at Passo (or Bocchetta) dei Lupi (2316 m).

Lunch at Rifugio Dordona - polenta with stinco da maile and risotto with sausage and red wine. Grappa Nostrana al Larice - "Our grappa made from larch" pine cones at Rifugio Dordona.Tunnel in the WWI trenches at Passo di Dordona.WWI trench at Passo di Dordona.Mules watching us on Sentiero 201 up to Passo di Porcile.
Left: Lunch at Rifugio Dordona - polenta with stinco da maile and risotto with sausage and red wine. Center left: Grappa Nostrana al Larice - "Our grappa made from larch" pine cones at Rifugio Dordona. Very good! Center: Tunnel in the WWI trenches at Passo di Dordona. Center right: WWI trench at Passo di Dordona. Right: Mules watching us on Sentiero 201 up to Passo di Porcile.

Sentiero 201 above Foppolo and mules.Coming down from Passo dei Lupi toward Rifugio Dordona.Sentiero 201 just above Foppolo, close to where porcino was found.
Left: Sentiero 201 above Foppolo and mules. Center: Coming down from Passo dei Lupi toward Rifugio Dordona. Right: Sentiero 201 just above Foppolo, close to where porcino was found.

The finish of the hike on Sentiero 202 heading down toward Foppolo.
The finish of the hike on Sentiero 202 heading down toward Foppolo.