I am known for my working with Neapolitan, writing articles, even newspaper articles, translating stories ... something I would have never expected when I came to the region where I live approximately 20 years ago (actually in April 1988). I then was somewhat forced to learn to talk in Neapolitan, because I lived up in the mountains in a very, very small place – so small that there was not even a shop and the next bus station was quite some walk. I learnt that language and at a certain point it happened to me that I got translations from "Italian to German" where the text turned out to be Neapolitan (Pulcinella and various songs and theatre plays). From that moment on Neapolitan became part of my job and I found it fun that I was one of the very few to be able to translate from Neapolitan to German being a German mother tongue. During the last four years I started to write, from articles about Maiori, music groups to actual news like Batman who was on holiday in Ravello and about the Italian parliament complaining that they could not get any ice cream after lunch to news about computer games which were localised into less resourced languages. Neapolitan is a language, it has no real standard, because there is no law that defines it, but there is somewhat a standard with some variations and once you know that, in most part of Southern Italy you will be able to write what you say using exactly these words.
Growing up (no, I am still not grown up even if I should be :-) several quite strong changes happened to my life and I started to become interested in my own language around the beginning of this year, just having had some look at it. I found a writer in Sonneberg, Karl-Heinz Großman who writes Itzgründisch, the variation of Sonneberg and when I read it, it is very familiar to me, because my grandparents were from Sonneberg, so that is what I heard from then when I was at home. After some time I found other texts written by people from Coburg and surroundings and Neustadt, one text from Rodach. All of them, except Neustadt which has stronger vowel differences, are familiar and all of them are written in a different spelling ... uhmmmmm ...
When I was a little girl I was not allowed to speak my mother tongue and my grandparents and parents only spoke German with me, but among themselves they spoke their language. This means that Itzgründisch is well present in my head, but I am not able to express me in that language, that is that door is still closed. It is starting to open a bit, but still not enough, I feel.
In June I was in Bamberg and came back home with quite some literature in regional languages – from Itzgründisch (Coburg) to the Mainfränkisch of Bamberg to some Bavarian. So I started to read and create terminology lists ... and hell ... I found that the same words are written in a different way by writes which are even of the same town.
That made me come into mind my first talk with Karl-Heinz Grossman, who then told me that the writers in their association decided to write everybody as he/she likes, just like they perceive the language. No spelling rules. Well the same seems to be true for the region around Coburg.
Now: how can one learn to write if there is no real standard? My father sent me a dictionary which includes terminology from Rodach – and yes, you imagine correctly ... comparing it with the books I bought in Bamberg: it is different again.
I asked Anneliese Hübner, one of the writers I seem to read easily, because it is a kind of the language that is near to what I heard when I was a little girl. She told me about a dictionary by Eduard Hermann which strictly deals with the version of Coburg. I ordered it through a shop which sells old books and it should arrive during the next days. But anyway ... just these are so many variations ...
The next thought of mine was: hell, I need some means to learn the language and something that can correct my grammar and spelling, and so I contacted Kevin Scannell, passed him all the texts I have in an electronic format and gave him some links. After some days he sent me his files with word lists which now need cleaning. All these texts refer to the centres of Itzgründisch only, so no border regions, no small villages ... only the bigger ones. When I received these files it was like Christmas and birthday in one for me ... I could start to work on my own language and get things done and hopefully help to have the whole culture of that region survive. I mean: language is only part of the culture and culture cannot be kept alive without language.
During the last days I was also working each day a bit on my own word list, extracting terminology from the books I bought in Bamberg ... then I opened the file and then ... there was one word "bloß" it had 4 variations
I looked at my list and there I had further variations:
Uhmmmmm 7 ... that was a real shock, I mean 7 variations out of 4 places which are all along a line of 40 kms. (btw. this is just one example of many)
Then I went and looked at the texts ... when I see all these variations in their position in the sentence, I don't note the difference, but I note it when I have that list there ... so why don't they try to use one way of writing one word at least in that restricted area so that at least one who wants to learn the language can REALLY learn how to read and maybe write?
Even if young people wanted to create for example some fun theatre play for the party you normally have around Christmas or at the end of the school year, how can they ever try to write a text, even just a few lines?
I spoke to some linguists ... the funny situation with Itzgründisch is that it seems nobody has studied the whole region of it "as one", because after World War II it was split – one part went to East Germany and one to West Germany. I remember one remark by Karl-Heinz Großmann, who, after the opening of East Germany in 1989 went to Neustadt with his pupils which were really astonished to find that people in that city in West Germany talked "like them". So the part speaking Itzgründisch in Turinga was studied in Turinga and the part speaking Itzgründisch in Bavaria was studied in Bavaria ... now you have different studies, but nobody is connecting them (as it seems, well I will go ahead searching, maybe someone did it or is doing it right now). Why do political borders have to influence on a language? In such a strong way? I mean: all want to maintain the culture, the beauty of the region, the way to do things like once upon a time: well that is ONLY possible when you also care about the language.
When you talk to authors (various) some work with universities, others completely refuse them, each one writes like he/she finds best ... but if they want to maintain their culture and by writing in their language, they show me that they want to do exactly that, why don't they put all misunderstandings apart, sit at a table and start to find a way on how to unify the way of writing? That is standardise it as much as possible? Not all will be possible, some specific expressions are of some very specific places, but 95% of what is written could be standardised.
You believe not? Well whatever language you speak: look at it and the various places where people speak it. Have them read the same text and then compare: the big languages do that all the time.
Now the next question is: but how to do it without giving too much weight to one variation, well we have examples about that: one of it is Occitan – they use an old way of writing which is pronounced in each part of the region a bit different. But now anyone, even a foreigner, can learn that language, can learn how to read it and the culture which is connected to it can survive. Piedmontese underwent a similar process in the 1920s already: today it is alive and people use it every day. Even I am able to learn it (yes, some sentences I can write).
Now when I compare this to my culture and mother tongue it makes me really sad. The more you cut a language down in pieces the easier you can delete it from the landscape of cultures and languages ... and that is happening with Itzgründisch.
When I started to work with Neapolitan and there were all those stupid political fights among people from the actual regions of the South of Italy if they wanted to belong to Neapolitan or not (sic) I thought I was standing in front of some of the highest mountains of the Alps and I knew that in one or the other way I could get up there.
But this ... Itzgründisch ... takes me to a very different place ... in the deepest valley, just before you can start to go up the Kilimanjaro ... and if I look at myself I understand in so many ways that MANY things have to change to make it possible to reach the top.
Like I so often say: it is only a matter of time to reach things if you really want ... and this here will take loads of time and patience.
If you are from the region where Itzgründisch is spoken, if you love your culture and want to maintain it for the future, please consider very much every pace you make ... and then choose the one that goes into the right direction: doing things together, finding ways together ... not everybody as he/she wishes ...
If you are a linguist and you are interested in this very particular language which has been divided by a war and still remained the same, even if people could not talk to each other, then you can help by doing the "inventory" from where we all together can help to get it done.
I am really sad about this situation ... no, more than sad, but as long as there are people left who write and speak the language, as long as the recipes and the food remains the same, as long as you want the beauty of the landscape to survive: there is a chance ... because having all that is closely connected to "language".
Let me close with a quote by David Crystal, Florence Devouard used in her speech for our conference in Cherasco:
"The world is a mosaic of visions and each vision is encapsulated by a language. Every time a language is lost one vision of the world disappears."
p.s I will translate this into Itzgründisch just in the way I perceive my language, Itzgründisch ... just to show that it will be different again and anyway: who cares, right? It's just another version ... it will take some time ...