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Speak like an Italian - with hands!

Italians speak aloud with voice and hands

When you think about Italy the first image that comes in mind is pizza, pastasciutta, art and culture in general.

And how Italians speak aloud with voice and hands.In fact you can’t talk about Italian language without mentioning the common hand gestures culture that goes with it.

The italic peninsula is like an open-air theatre where people dramatically use hands movements to explain and underline their point of view. The more the discussion is complex and become warm, more the people tend to gesticulate in an exaggerated way.

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Talking with hands is art

Sometimes foreigners to make fun of the excessive use of gestures start to wave hands without knowing what they are doing.
They don’t realize that each gesture has a precise movement, specific meaning, and it has to be used in the right contest.
Talking with hands is an art used by everyone, from lower to upper class people. Politicians use hand gestures during their speeches as well (sometimes not too carefully!).
According to one study conducted by Isabella Poggi, italian Professor of Psychology and Communication at Roma Tre University, italians use some like 250 gestures in everyday conversation (without being aware of it).

Non-verbal communication

For someone the use of hands could be rude and vulgar but for italians is a Non-verbal communication and comes naturally like breath, it’s in the blood itself. The hands move smoothly in the air, making an invisible choreography. It is not just folklore but the way of (italian) life since centuries and it confirm the words of the famous anthropologist and founder of “Gesture” Adam Kendon:

«humans were first able to communicate in a symbolic way by gesture».

From North to South

Like Sofia Maragna wrote in her article, «no Italian citizen actually communicates orally in “standard Italian” but the “dialect spoken in the area in which one is born and grows».

In fact in Italy there are thousands of dialects and the hands gesture is far more known and used than the “national Italian” itself from all the italic people. For this reason it also helps to communicate from North to South of the Peninsula, even in remote villages where actually you can’t understand a word of what locals are saying (even if you are Italian).
In place such Naples and Sicily, subject of centuries of invasions and colonisation, there is a more extreme use of the gestures, and people can communicate without say a word.

During an interview with BBC, Poggi said that “Hand gestures may be more important in Italian culture than in any other, we inherited the language of gestures from the Greeks. When the Greeks moved to southern Italy and colonized Naples, the Italians used gestures as a way to communicate without being overheard. The gestures continued to have a tradition as a way of communicating”.

Andrea de Jorio (1769-1851), Canon of the Cathedral of Naples, antiquarian and expert on greek antiquities, noticed that the gestures represented on ancient greek vases have a similarity with the ones acted by his neapolitans citizens. So he elevates by primitivism and vulgarity the gestures (showed also in classic antiquity) and analyzed in La mimica degli antichi investigata nel gestire napoletano, 1832 (“The mime of the Ancients investigated through Neapolitan gesture”), the first gestures collections ever made.

Bruno Munari (1907- 1998) a prolific italian artist, designer, inventor, member of the Milanese Futurism, contributor in all the visual and not visual arts, wrote the minimalist and illustrated Speak Italian : The Fine Art of the Gesture originally published in 1958 as a supplement to the Italian dictionary and inspired in fact by the aforementioned The mime of the Ancients investigated through Neapolitan gesture.

In the prefaction Brunari wrote:
«We have collected a good many gestures, leaving aside vulgar ones, in order to give an idea of their meaning to foreigners visiting Italy and as a supplement to an Italian dictionary»

The Italian Hands Experience

The Italian School of Singapore (ISS), created by the Italian Association of Singapore (IAS), every 2 weeks delivers Italian language courses run by qualified Italian mother tongue teachers. The venue of ISS courses is a stone's throw from Orchard Road, walk distance from Dhoby Ghaut and Somerset MRT stations, and each class includes 4-8 students.
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