The Foreign-looking Words in Touch Are Not Italian

Aside from Sr. Mary’s occasional Irish and Karl and Birgit’s occasional Danish, everybody else in the book speaks Italian-American. Technically, it’s what scholars call a “pidgin” language, created in the United States. Uneducated immigrants who spoke no formal Italian used it to communicate across the many ancient languages of southern Italy. It’s greatest influence was the language of Naples, the source of so many immigrants. The word for “go to hell” in Italian-American is vafanabola. (Go to Naples.).

 Italian nouns generally end in a vowel. Many Italian-American nouns don’t bother with the last syllable: guaglion’ (young man) or pizz’ (pizza) or Marron (Madonna). When dropping the last syllable leaves a short one-syllable word, a (the) is often put on the front: azit (ziti, a pasta shape), atripp (tripe), and apizz, (pizza). When I was young, pizza meant something you bought from Dominos or Pizza Hut; apizz meant the real thing.