Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Bilingualism as unfinished architecture

With just a week left in Italy and in the midst of analyzing high school students' Italian/English bilingual writing for our research project, I continue to reflect on my own Italian language development. I have been here for almost four months, and have used Italian everyday in some capacity, from ordering food to sharing stories with friends to giving research talks. Yet still, it is not quite natural or easy for me to BE in the Italian language. I am still learning. As one of my most inspirational former students said, "Everyday is a new day and everyday I learn a new word".

As I think about the continuous, never-finished process of language acquisition, it reminds me of the many churches I have visited during this experience. These churches are ancient, but still standing, and in constant states of evolution. It has been interesting to realize that these historic landmarks often do not have exact dates of completion; instead, information provided usually lists a range of dates from when construction possibly started to when some historical document offered a clue to the beginning of its use. Of course, later dates are also relevant: When various interior frescoes were completed, stained glass added, statues or relics arrived, destruction due to WWII bombing or natural disaster, reconstruction, and restoration.  

Language is just like this. Although it may be in constant use and may even be on public display, it is never quite finished. There is always a new structure to (re)build, strengthen, fix, or embellish. Just like the apologetic signs I see in store windows in Padova (Questa vetrina √® in uno stato di cambiamento), I sometimes feel that my Italian needs a warning: Italian language under construction! Sorry for any inconvenience.

Of course, just like these beautiful churches, language in a state of construction does not mean it cannot be used to its fullest potential and enjoyed. Would tourists stop visiting San Pietro (the Vatican) or San Marco (Venice) just because there might be some scaffolding in view? Of course not! Thus, developing bilinguals can and will continue to build and adjust, renew and restore, just like these spectacular, ever-unfinished works of architecture and art.

Here are some examples of churches representing "unfinished architecture" in Padova:

San Nicol√≤, Padova, whose earliest documents date 1088, although it is suspected it was begun prior to 1087.  First restorations took place in 1305, with further construction occurring in 1571, as well as between 1660-1680. Interior art dates late 1500's, with restorations throughout the 1960's-1980's.

Inside the famous Basilica di Sant'Antonio (Saint Anthony of Padua), constructed from 1238-1310, with interiors completed over a period of centuries, from 1300's-1600's. Additions and restorations continue today, evidenced by scaffolding inside (often seen in many churches here).


Santa Sofia, Padova. The exterior is said to have begun construction sometime between 1106-1110, damaged by an earthquake in 1117, and completed in 1127. Art inside dates from the early 1400's, with restorations taking place in during the decade of the 1950's.















  



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