There are more than 60 million inhabitants in Italy and there are more than another 60 million people of Italian descent all over the world. Hence, Italian is a language of vital cultural, commercial and political importance.
Approximately 20,000 people in Manitoba trace their origins to various regions of Italy. About 90 per cent of them live in Winnipeg. Italian immigration to Manitoba started in 1890, reached its peak in the early 1960s and tapered off through the 1980s.
Over the years, a significant number of students have enrolled in Italian language classes at various levels and in a variety of settings, including public and private schools through the commendable endeavours of local organizations, most notably the Dante Alighieri Cultural Society, which has been very active since its founding in 1966.
Until then, Italian language classes were offered in the basement of Holy Rosary Church located at the corner of Sherbrook Street and Bannatyne Avenue.
Italian language credit courses have been offered at the University of Manitoba since 1977, when Cristina Povoledo began to teach a course at the introductory level. Subsequently, the number of courses increased to two in 1983 and to three in 1985.
A few years later, in 1992, it became possible for students to pursue a minor in Italian studies at that university.
At the University of Winnipeg, within the division of continuing education, Italian language classes have been offered for several years. But it wasn't until 2002 that full credit courses at the introductory level were launched and co-ordinated by Prof. Sante A. Viselli in the department of modern languages and literatures.
In the 2006-2007 academic year, two courses were offered: one at the introductory level, the other at the intermediate level, with respective enrollments of 35 and 13.
I taught both courses after taking over from instructor Marisa Panagia when she decided to return to Italy at the end of the 2004-2005 academic year.
Enrollment at the University of Winnipeg has consistently been on the rise in recent years; so has the enrollment in the Italian language credit courses. Collaborative linkages have been established with the University of Camerino in the Marche region of central Italy. Since the fall of 2005, more than a dozen of our students have taken summer courses there at various levels and they received equivalent credits by the University of Winnipeg.
In recent years, though Italian immigration has been almost non-existent, the number of second-generation Italians has been steadily growing and they will eventually outnumber those who were born in the homeland. Over the last 25 years, there has been an upsurge of interest in Italian language and culture in this province.
The Dante Alighieri Cultural Society continues to offer Italian language classes at the K-12 and adult levels at the Caboto Centre.
There are many non-Italians studying the language.
In fact, in my classes at the University of Winnipeg, two-thirds of the students are not of Italian origin.
The reasons people in general study Italian are as diverse as the people themselves. Students may take courses to communicate more effectively with parents and grandparents; satisfy the humanities requirement for a degree; add one more language to a languages degree; travel to Italy and have a better appreciation of its historical, cultural and culinary attractions; have a better understanding of Italian fine arts, architecture, fashions and music (especially opera); or simply study the language for its intrinsic beauty.
After all, Italian is the most romantic of the Romance languages (French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, Italian).
Mario Audino is a retired civil servant and a former executive director of the Caboto Centre. He still teaches Italian Language courses at the University of Winnipeg and is the public relations officer for the Italian Canadian League of Manitoba.