After 33 years teaching in Italy I decided it was time for a move. Time to resurrect. Time to dust off the years of Italian scuola media course books telling me that it was ‘raining cats and dogs’ and that ‘hello’ was a common form of greeting. Time to explore the English of the streets in the wake of Labour’s new Britain and the reaction to the return of the dreaded Tories and the reign of Boris the Bold. But the English I was returning to was not the Queen’s English, well… not in the eyes of half of the local population. I was moving home. Yes. To the home of Liam Neeson, Jamie Dornan, James Nesbitt, of Seamus Heaney, Northern Ireland or the North of Ireland… Norn Iron, as it’s colloquially known.
Reminiscing on happier times though, it is because of me through years of lecturing in Hiberno English at Bologna University at Forli that two generations of ESOL students from all over Italy now know the North of Ireland as well as Forli – haha!
In fact, many greeted me in the streets of Forli, usually near the Abbey Irish pub just off Piazza Saffi with “whaddaboutye, prof” or if I was with an Irish colleague, “how are youse doin’?” (It took the Irish to come up with a solution to the problem of pluralising ‘you’). My students loved me for it and as we were all told on our Dtefla course, ‘the native speaker is always right’. Hmm, I’m not so sure about that now.
The language has definitely mutated since I left the Emerald Isle. No longer does one hear “I’m very well, thank you”. That has been replaced by “I’m good”. I haven’t heard the opposite yet; everybody’s “good” and nobody seems to be “bad”. ‘Hello’, ‘hiya’ and ’boutye’, have given way to a grunted “hey” and despite the expansion of communication, global role models still haven’t worked out the difference between the simple past and the past participle. Am I wrong Mr Beckham?
Ah well, I’ll just have to get used to it. It is nice to be back although I do miss Italy. I don’t miss the petty bureaucracy or the constant bickering of politicians on chat shows or the slow motion football matches. I miss the sun. That’s still quite rare in winter here, although I place my faith in global warming and climate change. It didn’t rain for a whole month last July. Now that’s really something for Ireland.
Belfast is great for foodies and now you can find every type of cuisine under the sun. I still remember the days when you had to choose between chips or salad with your lasagne or your pizza. Since the ‘fish on Friday’ obligation seems to have been lifted by the Catholic Church or perhaps the people’s quiet revolution inspired a sea change in this direction; either way, seafood restaurants have popped up all over the city, as fish, which was always seen as a form of penance, has been embraced by the local population and tourists alike.
The future of our formerly war-torn province is now bright as visitors are pouring back in and not only to see the murals on the Falls and Shankill, but for the Titanic (built by Irishmen, sunk by an Englishman – according to the t-shirt) exhibition. Game of Thrones and Winterfell have kick-started the Northern Irish film industry and Jamie Dornan must have had something to do with the Northern Ireland accent being voted sexiest in the world. So it can’t all be bad.
Currently, I’m opening a language school to attract Spaniards, Russians and Japanese to teach them that ‘fought’ and ‘fort’ are not homophones (Headway Upper-intermediate match the words in column A to their homophones in column B. It took me ages!). So don’t be surprised next summer if you overhear an Arab telling a Turk to wind his neck in. He’s just telling him to mind his own business.
by Fiachra Stockman