Okay, confession time. I actually learned Italian before I learned English, and even though as I grew up I lost the ability to speak Italian fluently, I still speak it pretty much every day. As a result, I sometimes slip in Italian words when I'm speaking English. And if I'm not with my family, close friends, or even in my neighbourhood? This can lead to a lot of accidental confusion. But it's okay. I know I'm not alone in this. Montreal Italians have a lot of colloquial expressions that integrate English, Italian, and sometimes French, all in the same word or sentence. Some people get what we're saying. Some people don't. If you're part of the latter group of people, don't sweat it. Here's a list of the 10 most common things that Montreal Italians say.
Which is only rarely used to mean "brother." What is it used as, you ask? An adjective. A verb. A noun. A pronoun. Anything, really. I once had a whole conversation just using the word "bro." Protip: the word "fra" holds pretty much the same connotation. So if you hear any one of these two things, you know how to respond.
2. "What a scem!"
If your Italian friend is calling you a scemo, scema, or just plain scem, then you know you dungoofed.Scemo, pronounced sh-em-oh, is basically the Italian equivalent of the word "idiot." Except worse. Trust me when I say you want to avoid being called a scem whenever possible.
3. "Che ne saccio."
AKA, che ne satch. Straight up, this is just a polite way of saying "How the hell should I know?" Also interchangeable with the word "Boh."
4. "He came in looking pure shpack that night."
Before there was "on point", there was shpack.
5. "Hard, bro. Hard."
In this context, the word "hard" doesn't mean difficult. Instead, it's used to express just how much someone agrees with something you've said. For example, if I say it's a nice day, and you respond, "Yeah, hard," then I know that my comment on the weather really resonated with you.
6. "Me, I don’t know."
The number of times I've heard this said - or said this myself - is literally immeasurable. A lot of people say "Me, I," but for some reason, Montreal Italians end up saying it the most. I'm not sure why this is - but me, I've just learned to accept it.
7. "I'm all worried."
Said sarcastically 100% of the time, "I'm all worried" basically means that you couldn't care less. Bonus points if you say it while waving your hands in the air (like you just don't care.)
8. "I’m all rovinat today. Let’s go for an espresso."
Rovinat is a bastardization of the Italian word rovinato, which means ruined. It's used to describe how you feel after a long day at work. Or a long night out. No judgements.
9. "Can’t come out tonight, I have to help my Nonna make sauce."
Nonna is "grandmother" in Italian, and if your Italian friend is telling you that they can't come out because they're helping their grandmother - then don't push it. They mean business. They might be making enough tomato sauce to last a year straight. They might be picking grapes from the driveway vineyard. They might be planting tomatoes in the giardino. No matter what weird thing they're doing... just accept they won't be coming out any time soon.
10. "I got this wine from my cantine… Don’t worry, it’s for sure good."
A cantine is a cold room used to make and store food, wine, cheese, cold cuts - you name it, it's probably in the cantine. It's also a room of insurmountable treasures if you know when to go looking. If your Italian friend has brought you a homemade treat from the cantine (like wine), then you know it's real.
"We live in a francophone province in a francophone city from a legislative perspective, but the reality of Montreal is far different," the leader of Mouvement Montréal said in an interview with MTL Blog.
"So, for us, it was important to re-establish the identity of Montreal, which is one that is inclusive."
"We want to make clear that we want companies on the Island of Montreal to be able to operate in both languages without interference from the provincial government," Holness said.
And it calls for a review of the city's hiring processes to allow anglophones with "functional-level, but not high-level, French" to land municipal jobs.
He would also amend article 13 of the city charter to change Montreal from "a French-speaking city that, according to the law, also provides services to its citizens in English," to a bilingual one.
A lot of people agree, Holness says
"This is not a contested question," Holness said, citing a survey showing most Montrealers believe the city is bilingual. "We all know Montreal is bilingual and multicultural and it is something that we should embrace and recognize."
"Moreover, Montreal beyond that is even trilingual," he continued. "There are people from all over the world who speak Mandarin, Cantonese, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian. And all of these languages make up the diversity of Montreal, and it enriches us all."
Rather than contributing to the decline of French in Montreal, Holness said his language policies would help preserve it by offering non-francophones incentives to learn.
"The fact that we are going to incentivize and ameliorate the chances of anglophones to work in the City of Montreal means they'll be able to learn French through their employment activity," he said. "We're going to be increasing la francisation des anglophones."
"Right now, what's happening is that we're excluding anglophones," he continued. "They're moving to demerged cities such as Westmount, such as Côte Saint-Luc, such as Kirkland. They're not being incorporated into the reality and to the economic life of Montreal, and we're just pushing them all away."
Holness wants more jobs for people with spotty French
If elected, Mouvement Montréal would work to create a more inclusive municipal workforce because it's currently falling short in terms of ethnic and linguistic diversity, he said.
Of the city's roughly 25,000 municipal employees, "only about 2% of those in management positions are visible minorities and even less of those are anglophone," Holness claimed.
To change that he plans to lower the French language requirements for municipal jobs.
"Right now, when you go in for a [municipal] job, there is an evaluation based on your capacity to speak French," he said.
"So, we want to create assessments and evaluations of language that are less severe to allow individuals to get into the workforce. And then they can learn French, once they are on the job, through their interactions with their coworkers and with the public."
"The idea is that anglophones, especially those that are visible minorities, should have an easier time getting into the workforce," he continued.
'They don't want to be inclusive'
On November 7 people will vote to elect a mayor as well as 46 members of Montreal's City Council.
The current mayor, Projet Montréal's Valérie Plante, is seeking re-election and her main challenger is the previous mayor, Ensemble Montréal's Denis Coderre.
As Plante recently introduced an "action plan" to promote the French language in Montreal and Coderre is reportedly open to provincial government-led language reform, Holness accused his opponents of trying to impose provincial ideas on the metropolis.
"Valérie Plante is from Rouyn-Noranda, Denis Coderre is from Joliette," he continued. "And there's this whole idea that the regions are imposing on Montreal their vision for Montreal. And the question is, what do Montrealers want for their city?"
"Many people across the region say Montreal is the only francophone city in North America, and they're right, but Montreal also has a bilingual multicultural reality," he said. "So you have Quebec City trying to impose an identity on Montreal does not meet reality, which is multilingual and multicultural."
"We need a multilingual and multicultural policy and beyond that, a political party that reflects that diversity through and through," he added.
Projet Montréal does not reflect that diversity, he concluded, explaining how he helped organize a grassroots anti-racism movement, which he says prompted the city's public consultation agency to hold a series of hearings on systemic discrimination in 2019.
As a result, Plante created a commissioner on systemic discrimination and promised to hire more minorities for municipal jobs. But Holness had sharp words for the mayor, saying she only took those steps out of "obligation."
"The reason why there was a public consultation on systemic racism and discrimination is because the administration had an all-white French executive committee when they were elected in 2017. Period. That's their vision of Montreal," he said.
"They don't want to be inclusive," he said. "Mouvement Montréal, my political party, is by its very nature, authentically diverse. We've done in two months what it took them nearly two decades to do, which is have a diverse team."
The 28th edition of Montreal's Italian festival runs from August 6 to August 22 and features concerts, comedy, culinary capsules, an opera evening and a drive-in event.
What's on at ItalfestMTL?
Most of the events will take place virtually, but there will be a two-night drive-in theatre event in Kirkland and guided tours of Montreal's Little Italy.
The first day of the virtual events, on August 7, will broadcast a recurring children's event called Storytime in Italian. Read by Sara Ottoboni in Italian and interpreted by Tina Mancini, the first story, Ti Ricordi La Pioggia, is a tale about a girl who's sad that she can't see her friends and family, but uses her imagination to feel better about being socially distant.
On August 14 and 21, the festival will host guided tours of Little Italy, which begin in front of Casa d'Italia on Rue Jean-Talon. The tour, over two hours long, consists of a "historical introduction about the Italian community in Montreal," a tour of Little Italy's attractions, with a stop for Italian pastries.
The tour will also consist of stops on Rue Dante and Boul. Saint-Laurent, La Madonna della Difesa church and Dante Park.
The recurring drive-in theatre event will take place on August 14 and 15 in Kirkland. On August 14, the festival will host a viewing of The Chain,an English-language play by Vitorio Rossi, and August 15's showing will play Ma cosa ci dice il cervello by Riccardo Milani, an Italian-language film with English subtitles.
Reservations are required for many of the events. You can consult the full festival event schedule here.
The Official Languages Act, which last got a major update in 1988, comes months after Joly introduced the Liberal government's vision for language reform in Canada in February.
In a press release, the government said amending the act "is necessary to allow the law to keep pace with the social, demographic and technological realities in today's society."
In a news conference on June 15, Joly added that the goal is to "bring the official languages Act into the 21st century."
She said that "the new law recognizes that the official language of Quebec is French."
"[It] also recognizes that Quebec and Manitoba have specific protections when it comes to the use of both official languages in the courts and provincial legislatures."
What could the revisions look like?
The bill, if passed, will guarantee the right to be served and to work in French in businesses under Canadian jurisdiction in Quebec — as well as in other Canadian regions with a "strong francophone presence."
The amendment to the Act will also "explicitly state" that it would "not undermine the status, maintenance or enhancement of Indigenous languages while including the important concepts of reappropriation, revitalization and strengthening that are specific to Indigenous languages."
Joly said the bill would also oblige the federal immigration ministry to develop a support program to enhance francophone immigration outside of Quebec.
It would further amend the Act to oblige Supreme Court of Canada judges to be bilingual.
The bill lays out that it would grant Canada's official languages commissioner more power to fully enforce French-language requirements in federally-regulated workplaces across Canada.
The commissioner would also have new powers to receive complaints about "language of service and language of work" from employees of private companies under federal jurisdiction in Quebec — such as banks, airports, railways, telephone companies, broadcasting and Crown corporations.
The CAQ government recently introduced the controversial Bill 96, "An Act respecting French, the official and common language of Quebec," in order to reaffirm the status of the language and reform the current language.