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The new Frecciarossa "quiet carriages"
show that Italians are loud but charming

Italians are charming, funny and friendly, but they are also loud and rowdy. So, when Italy's train company Trenitalia introduced "le carrozze silenziose", that is to say "quiet carriages" on high speed Frecciarossa trains, tourists greeted the news with relief and irony. Then, they asked themselves: can Italians be persuaded to speak "sottovoce" while travelling?

The same question was at the core of a Tobias Jones's article published a while ago on The Guardian's website. According to it, a 2015 survey on global noise pollution placed Italy second. Indeed, "noise music" which aimed at replacing classical harmonies with modern clanking, was pioneered in Italy by the futurist composer Luigi Russolo at the beginning of the twentieth century already. Nowadays, music still plays a fundamental role in Italy's way of living. No self-respecting pizzeria is without a loud television in the corner. As Francesco De Gregori once sang: «I'm scared of the silence, but can't stand the noise».

Italian language is perceived to be loud too. It is vowel-based and requires the vibration of local chords - hence it is apt for opera because of its melodious quality. Unlike English, Italian has no reduced vowels, so nothing is diminished and nobody "eats words", by clustering consonants. A recent research has also suggested that Italian is a high-speed, low-density language and that the amount of information communicated per syllable is lower than in English, meaning that it is spoken faster and louder.

There are also historical reasons why speaking in Italian gives the impression of talking in a voluminous way. From Dante to Alessandro Manzoni, words are used artificially and artfully and this makes them them viable for the purpose of beauty. As a consequence, Italian language is cunningly and cleverly constructed to an extent that once the Sicilian writer Luigi Pirandello called it «the wardrobe of eloquence where naked ideas get dressed».

This performative element means that the language's acoustic is important when talking in Italian. Sometimes a non-native tongue can even get the impression that Italian is spoken for the sounds and not for the meaning. That centrality of sound, however, is fundamental to rhyme - much outmoded elsewhere - to endure in Italian poetry, advertising and football banners. This kind of aestheticism even won over the famous English poet Lord Byron: «Italian - he said - sounds as if it should be writ(ten) on satin».

Since the Italian language has never been spoken through the streets, but rather inside elegant society's salons, many people - according to the writer Italo Calvino - feel a "semantic terror". So, the peninsula's high volume perhaps is a revenge of those who were unable to speak using a refined and erudite language, because they never went to school. Italian noise, however, can also be perceived as convivial and inviting, because it may lend a sense of sharing and participation in other people's everyday life. In Italy nothing is more worrisome than quietness. In Southern Italy especially, a quiet pizzeria full of people would be very suspicious. This is because people relish exuberance. In Italian language, indeed, Frecciarossa trains' new carriages are called "silenziose" not "quiete". This is probably because the use of the adjective quiet would make Italians think of the carriages as a dead place, a wasteland, a desert, an inhospitable land.

Finally, conversation in Italy is also very different compared to Great Britain. Voices overlap because there is no social disapproval of interruption and the only way to take the word is to raise your voice. Etiquette about phone use does not exist too and Italians on a train are often oblivious that whoever sits near them will listen to everything. Maybe they are so committed to their conversation that they forget everything else and, perhaps, their refusal to change their register just to suit their surroundings is what makes them so charming. At least, this is what Tobias Jones suggests at the end of his article.

Michela Curcio

[18.4.2020 - 18:06]

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