Those aren't real tortellini!

Published on 10th March, 2010 in Global Bloggers by Leah Kaplan

tortelliniItalians will readily admit that the only glue holding the myriad of Italian peoples together is a strong cup of espresso. Not even the ubiquitous pasta is the same from one city to the next: ask a Bolognese his opinion about the tortellini made in Modena (20 kilometers away) and he will promptly tell you that those aren’t real tortellini, there’s too much prosciutto, they’re too big, they’re just all wrong.

Remember those little old ladies making tortellini I mentioned in the last post? They weren’t speaking Italiano, but a form of Bulgnàis, the local dialect which—like all Italian dialects–changes by the kilometer, just like the tortellini. Although Italian is the national language, in many parts of the country, dialect is still what you’ll hear at the market or around the kitchen table. Yet even if Italian is replacing dialect in many places, such as in Bologna, Italians are still fierce defenders of their local identities, varieties of wine or types of tortellini: an Italian is first and foremost from his town, then from his region and finally an Italian.

Contrast this fervid defense of local Italian identities with the primary representations of English found in many EFL textbooks on the European market: British (read: southeast of England) or American (read: CNN American). Just 2 “Englishes” representing an estimated 350 million native English speakers: a drop in the bucket both culturally and linguistically, and this doesn’t even consider the non-native speakers that commonly use it for communication, like in India.

Barbara’s English is representative of her years of globetrotting: she is an Italian speaker of English that has spent time in Australia, Wales, The US, Scotland, and England. Her accent is unidentifiable, but her English is perfect. Even my English, after years spent abroad is being “internationalized” by my colleagues, my sister’s San Francisco slang and yes, even by Barbara’s Italian-Commonwealth English. This is the English of our future: an international, multicultural language of communication.

I guess you can imagine my glee when Global proved to be more than just the name of the book: the emphasis is on representing English as it is spoken around the world and presenting the study of English in a way that allows students to expand their cultural horizons. My jaw dropped when, during a listening exercise, the Texan clients were actually Texan, drawl and all. Moreover, there are speakers from England but also Canadians, Aussies, and Russians among many others. Finally, English as my students hear it from their Chinese suppliers and their German buyers!

I’m happy to finally hear the world speaking English, in all of its Chicken Tikka Masala, Tortellini and Vegemite variations!

Next week: The results of my Grandma’s Bolognese Sauce competition. Real bolognese sauce (Ragù alla Bolognese), like Bolognese dialect, changes from neighborhood to neighborhood and kitchen to kitchen. Which one of our students’ recipes will be chosen?