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Sudburians are keeping 'Italiese' alive through living theatre (video)

Language professor Diana Iuele-Colilli co-wrote 12 stage plays around patois language created by Italian immigrants

A student theatre group from Laurentian University is keeping the language of Italiese alive with their latest stage production.

"Chi trova una nonna trova un tesoro" (Every Grandmother is a Treasure), which will run for three days only beginning this weekend, is a play written in English, Italian and something called "Italiese."

Italiese is a hybrid of Italiana and English ("Inglese" in Italian). First created by immigrants who came to Canada after the Second World War, the language incorporates a mix of English words that have an Italian phonology, which basically means making an English word "sound" Italian by alteration the pronunciation and adding a vowel or two. 

Laurentian University language and literature professor Diana Iuele-Colilli has spent the past 20 years creating an Italiese dictionary. Her goal: to preserve a language that will be lost once her parent's generation has passed away.

"I use it because I'm the bridge for my mom when she has to go out into the community because her English is very broken," Iuele-Colilli said. "But my kids don't use it ... so if we don't document it, it's almost like as if the Italians weren't here."

Aside from writing a dictionary, Iuele-Colilli thought the best way to bring the language to the community was through living theatre. Together with her late husband Paul Colilli and Christine Sansalone, they have written 12 plays since 2008, all with a goal of keeping Italiese alive. 

"We've created all these plays that we staged and then published in order to have a place, to have a home," Iuele-Colilli said. "Our main goal is to document as much as we can in a natural environment because we want to see the language actually being used."

You can learn a little Italiese for yourself. Check out the video below to learn how to pronounce several Italiese words most commonly used in Sudbury.

Le Maschere Laurenziane – the student theatre group housed in Laurentian University’s Italian Studies Program in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures – will present their 28th annual Italian theatre production Feb. 28-March 1. 

"Chi trova una nonna trova un tesoro" (Every Grandmother is a Treasure) deals with the comical situations surrounding the disappearance of Nonna Daniela, who is furious with her grandchildren, Matteo and Jessica, who requested money to pay for their university tuition, but instead used the money to go on a trip to Mexico. To complicate the situation, a letter arrives from Italy requiring Nonna’s signature immediately or she will lose her Italian pension, but Nonna is nowhere to be found. The grandchildren devise a plan to have the document signed in order to bide time until Nonna’s return. Will the grandchildren succeed in pulling the wool over the pension representative’s eyes? What happens when Nonna’s boyfriend, Alberto, comes looking for her and calls the police?

Iuele-Colilli said audiences can expect a ton of laughs. 

"We deal with a lot of delicate issues, but with a little bit of laughter behind it," Iuele-Colilli said. "We want the audience to enjoy themselves and see themselves in what we do."

"Chi trova una nonna trova un tesoro" will be performed at the Alphonse Raymond Theatre at Laurentian University on Feb. 28 at 8 p.m., Feb. 29 at 8 p.m. and March 1 at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $10 and $5 for students and children. Tickets are available at the Caruso Club, D & A Fine Meats, and Laurentian University (Department of Modern Languages and Literatures office). For more information phone 705-523-0988.


Heather Green-Oliver

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