La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language

La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language

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by Dianne Hales

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“Italians say that someone who acquires a new language ‘possesses’ it. In my case, Italian possesses me. With Italian racing like blood through my veins, I do indeed see with different eyes, hear with different ears, and drink in the world with all my senses…”

A celebration of the language and culture of Italy, La BellaSee more details below


“Italians say that someone who acquires a new language ‘possesses’ it. In my case, Italian possesses me. With Italian racing like blood through my veins, I do indeed see with different eyes, hear with different ears, and drink in the world with all my senses…”

A celebration of the language and culture of Italy, La Bella Lingua is the story of how a language shaped a nation, told against the backdrop of one woman’s personal quest to speak fluent Italian.

For anyone who has been to Italy, the fantasy of living the Italian life is powerfully seductive. But to truly become Italian, one must learn the language. This is how Dianne Hales began her journey. In La Bella Lingua, she brings the story of her decades-long experience with the “the world’s most loved and lovable language” together with explorations of Italy’s history, literature, art, music, movies, lifestyle, and food in a true opera amorosa—a labor of her love of Italy.

Throughout her first excursion in Italy—with “non parlo Italiano” as her only Italian phrase—Dianne delighted in the beauty of what she saw but craved comprehension of what she heard. And so she chose to inhabit the language. Over more than twenty-five years she has studied Italian in every way possible: through Berlitz, books, CDs, podcasts, private tutorials and conversation groups, and, most importantly, large blocks of time in Italy. In the process she found that Italian became not just a passion and a pleasure, but a passport into Italy’s storia and its very soul. She offers charming insights into what makes Italian the most emotionally expressive of languages, from how the “pronto” (“Ready!”) Italians say when they answer the telephone conveys a sense of something coming alive, to how even ordinary things such as a towel (asciugamano) or handkerchief (fazzoletto) sound better in Italian.

She invites readers to join her as she traces the evolution of Italian in the zesty graffiti on the walls of Pompeii, in Dante’s incandescent cantos, and in Boccaccio’s bawdy Decameron. She portrays how social graces remain woven into the fabric of Italian: even the chipper “ciao,” which does double duty as “hi” and “bye,” reflects centuries of bella figura. And she exalts the glories of Italy’s food and its rich and often uproarious gastronomic language: Italians deftly describe someone uptight as a baccala (dried cod), a busybody who noses into everything as a prezzemolo (parsley), a worthless or banal movie as a polpettone (large meatball).

Like Dianne, readers of La Bella Lingua will find themselves innamorata, enchanted, by Italian, fascinated by its saga, tantalized by its adventures, addicted to its sound, and ever eager to spend more time in its company.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In this charming love letter to the language and culture of Italy, journalist Hales recounts her inebriation with Italian's sounds and her lovesickness over its phrases. Enamored of this lovely and lovable language, Hales immerses herself in Italian culture on numerous trips to Italy in her attempt to "live Italian." She comes to think of Italian as "a lovable rascal, a clever, twinkle-eyed scamp that you can't resist even when it plays you for a fool." Hales regales us with the mysteries of the language, such as when a color becomes more than hue. She tells us that yellow, for example, refers to a mystery "because thrillers traditionally had yellow covers." In her rapture over the language, she also swoons over Italian literature (from Dante to Manzoni), opera (Verdi and Puccini) and cinema (Marcello Mastroianni and Fellini) as she rehearses the many ways in which the language has seductively slipped into Western culture and consciousness. (May)

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Library Journal

By interspersing interviews and anecdotes from her life in Italy, Hales, an American journalist and health writer (An Invitation to Health), interweaves her story of learning to speak Italian with highlights of the language's development. Hales explores political history, biographies of powerful artistic contributors, the widespread and continued use of local dialects, and, of course, food. Likewise, readers are treated to interviews with the likes of the president of the revered L'Accademia della Crusca, where Hales touched the society's first dictionary, nearly 400 years old. She portrays riveting performances of Dante and Verdi in Rome and Milan, and she describes how she could consistently hear from the mouths of ordinary Italians Dante's or Verdi's beautiful lyrics specifically crafted to be read aloud or sung. A word lover yet not a linguist, Hales offers helpful but not in-depth or technical linguistic background, so the bibliography is valuable. An enthusiastic cultural tour guide and introduction to Italian, this is recommended for public libraries.
—Marianne Orme

Kirkus Reviews
An unabashed celebration of Italian language and culture. Health writer Hales (Think Thin, Be Thin, 2004, etc.) covers a lot of ground with snapshots of the pinnacles in Italy's rich cultural history, including literature, opera, sculpture, film and cuisine. The author begins by asserting that she became "madly, gladly, giddily besotted with the world's most luscious language," and she makes the dubious assertion flouting Italian as the most emotionally evocative language that best embodies "civilization itself." Hales is at her best when she describes quirky Italian phrases or words and their possible etymologies. She introduces rare words like colombeggiare ("to kiss one another like doves"), as well as numerous Italian vulgarities like cafone ripugnante ("disgusting boor"). The autobiographical aspect of the book is nearly an afterthought. Moments of description and dialogue with real people seem randomly inserted into chapters, and Hales's personal reflections re-emerge at the end of each chapter with a revelation that is often unsurprising, cliche and-to quote the author's description of Petrarch's more sentimental verses-"saccharine." The author provides the requisite chapter on Dante, the exalted glimpses of Michelangelo and da Vinci, the biographical adorations of Verdi, Puccini and Mastroianni, and the veneration of Italian love, romance and cuisine. However, Hales charms with a few well-told, sometimes bizarre anecdotes about poets, artists, filmmakers and actors: the terribilita (terrible temper) of Michelangelo, the actor Roberto Benigni's moving reading of Dante's Inferno, Fellini's first job in the circus caring for a sick zebra at ten years old. A somewhat entertaining butgushing and affected frolic through Italy's rich linguistic past and present.
From the Publisher
“A praiseworthy feature of La Bella Lingua is the way Hales peppers her narrative with hundreds of Italian words, idioms, and figures of speech—all chosen with gusto and brio and clearly translated into English—to introduce readers to the sonic and semantic seraglio that is the Italian language. A separate chapter on ‘Irreverent Italian’ highlights la parolaccia, the earthy lexicon of invective and jocular sensuality that contemporary Italians imbibe with their mother’s milk but foreign students of Italian rarely get to savor.” —Peter D’Epiro and Mary Desmond Pinkowish, authors of Sprezzatura: 50 Ways Italian Genius Shaped the World

“Dianne Hales is just about pitch perfect as she weaves the engaging story of her innamoramento with Italian, hitting the high notes of Italian culture...
a lovely, touching tribute to the many fine civilizing gifts that Italy has shared with the world. Any smart traveler to Italy would want to read La Bella Lingua.
It’s not only readable and engaging but informative about things not easily found in guidebooks and common tourist materials.” —Julia Conaway Bondanella & Peter Bondanella, authors and editors of The Italian Renaissance Reader, Italian Cinema, and the Cassell Dictionary of Italian Literature

“An impassioned student, Dianne Hales takes us along on her delightful pilgrimage to the speaking heart of Italy. The rhythmic beat she comes to feel and love teaches her how to live, in beautiful and idiomatic Italian, ‘a language as rich in flavors and varieties as Italian cooking.’ The reading pilgrim’s reward is this delicious feast of a book, a strong mix of cultural and spoken treasure.” —Susan Cahill, author of Desiring Italy and The Smiles of Rome

From the Hardcover edition.

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