During my research on Piedmontese, I came across an online course in the language, La lingua piemontese. You have to sign up to the site, but that’s so it can keep track of the lessons you’ve completed. There are twenty-five lessons altogether and at the end of it, you get a virtual certificate. I’ve reached the fifth lesson, but my background in linguistics and five and a half years of teaching English to non-native speakers have given me a pretty good idea of what’s effective in the world of language learning and what isn’t. Although the course is, I think, a good idea, it’s flawed.
The course is limited to reading and writing. Sound files would be a bonus, but there may be technical reasons why it’s not feasible to include them. In other words, this is like using Teach Yourself Piedmontese or Colloquial Piedmontese (if there were such books). Even without audio input, it’d still be possible to have a series of functional lessons which would prepare learners for instances when they might have to speak the language. Or such things could be couched in a functional story-based approach in which Nisin-a, Francësca and co. meet each other (introductions and personal information) and do things together (shopping; likes and dislikes; opinions; stating preferences; etc.). Each lesson would continue the story from the previous lesson and in each one there’d be clear goals.
That’s part of the problem with this course. I’ve now reached the fifth lesson, but I have no idea what the goal of each lesson is. Obviously, but implicitly, it’s the acquisition of some element of Piedmontese grammar, but have a look at the grammar notes from the first lesson (paraphrased).
- Words for "hello" and "goodbye".
- Lòn che "what".
- Pronominal subject proclitics.
- The imperative.
- Vàire "how much".
- The treatment of sC-clusters.
As well as these points, we also get the present indicative of esse "to be", avej "to have" and savej "to know".
The first point is useful cultural information because adiù is used for both "hello" and "goodbye". We’re also told that ciàu is used much more "in the modern language", which means there’s something I’m not being told. The statement implies that the word is probably displacing adiù in contemporary Piedmontese.
Apart from being told that lòn che means "what", I’m not given any further information. The example sentence, Lòn ch’it die? "What do you say?", tells me it’s a pronoun, but I know that as a linguist.
The third point concludes by saying "For the moment being, just notice that they exist" where it’d seem to be better to give us the list and note that they’re always used with the verb. It’d be a bit like me saying that the subject pronouns in English are sg 1 I; 2 you; 3 he, she, it; pl 1 we; 2 you; 3 they, and then concluding, "But don’t worry about them". These elements are a core part of the grammar and obviously deserve to be drawn to the learner’s attention from the start.
The imperative is a distraction at this point and shouldn’t really be mentioned except as a footnote so that learners might be aware that i andoma means "we’re going" and andoma means "let’s go", but it’s not something they have to register.
The use of vàire "how much" isn’t discussed and, like the subject proclitics, is dismissed to a later lesson. In the second lesson we have
E vàire ‘t pense d’ësteje al mar? "How long do you think you’ll stay at the seaside?"
Vàire ch’it ëstas an montagna? "How long are you staying in the mountains?"
Vàire ch’it n’has ëd fior? "How many flowers do you have?"
From lesson five we have
Vàire a venta ch’i speta ancora?
which I can’t translate with any certainty because I can’t find a gloss for venta. It seems to mean something like "How long have you been waiting again?" or "How long have you had to wait again?" The sense of vàire seems to be "how much/many/long", although this has had no particular mention so far.
There are two constructions – vàire without che and vàire with che. At this time, I can only guess whether there’s a genuine distinction between the two constructions or not. For example, in E vàire ‘t pense d’ësteje al mar?, vàire has emerged from the non-finite clause. Whether this affects the presence of che in the surface form, I can’t say.
In the other two sentences, vàire is part of the main clause. It’s possible that che is optional.
Vàire ch’it n’has ëd fior? is interesting in two ways. One is that vàire has left its complement ëd fior behind; the other is the presence of the proclitic n’ which, I’ll guess, is identical to Italian ne. This stuff might be covered in later lessons.
The sixth point is immediately useful grammatical information, as is the seventh.
If you don’t have a background in the Romance languages or linguistics, it seems that much of this course will frequently baffle beginners. I’m not sure that I’m that much better off because I know too much and am therefore inclined to have too many questions or make too many observations that require a more advanced knowledge of the grammar of Piedmontese.
I don’t know whether I’ll get as far as the twenty-fifth lesson. I should work through the fifth and then revise the first five.
1. Among other things which I haven’t mentioned, the typesetting of the online pages is peculiar with hyphens at the end of each line, which are more usually a source of confusion and nearly always unnecessary. There are errors in the Piedmontese, some of which are easy to spot, while others may escape the reader’s notice through ignorance of the language. There’s a difference between the language of this course and the type on the other site, which may be the language of an older generation or a different dialect.
venté (vb) 1. bisognare. 2. dovere. 3. occorrere.
3. Underlyingly, …d’ësteje vàire…