Empty-nest syndrome – a linguistic side-effect
I became an “empty-nester” when my daughter moved away in September to attend Leeds College of Music. Harry, our son, had left two years earlier. So lots of changes — emotional changes and practical ones too (for example, loading up the washing machine far less often and struggling to get to 30 items to qualify for the cheap rate with the ironing people).
But wasn’t until a telephone conversation with my Italian sister-in-law, Ada, that a much more profound change hit home to me. Ada had called from Rome for a chat and, in passing, asked me what language I speak with Vito. “Why, Italian of course”, I told her, “we’ve always spoken Italian to each other”.
When Harry and Olivia were born we were still living in Italy. From day one, I spoke English to them and Vito alternated between English and Italian. Vito and I spoke Italian to each other when the kids weren’t around. But English was definitely our main household language. That continued when we moved to Scotland. The kids would speak Italian when it was just them and Vito, but as a family, at meal-times, say, we’d all sit chatting (bickering?) in English. If Vito didn’t catch something, or — overwhelmed by teen-speak — went off into a dwam, then we’d switch to Italian to bring him back into the loop.
But now that it’s just the two of us, we’re once again, after 20 years, a fully Italian-speaking household (except for phone calls, of course, or when we have visitors). At home, here in the very Scottish Bearsden, I speak only Italian. I’m finding this really weird. Disorienting, in fact. It’s such a radical shift.
Has anyone else experienced this?
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