This topic popped up on the Discord and Ross suggested someone who is not anglo-monolingual post about it. Here I am, I’m bilingual in English and Italian. @Ron: If I’m too vague with framing the discussion here, feel free to steer it in the direction you feel is useful.
I consider myself bilingual in Italian and English, and fluent in both languages. I think bilingually, which really is not that impressive, as it just means I’m crap at both and end up coming up with an expression in one language when I’m speaking the other one.
It’s been a few years since I’ve been living far from home, and English is my primary work and social language here. I end up playing in Italian from time to time (mostly over Discord). At this point I don’t notice much difference between playing in one language or the other, at least not internally – I tend to express myself in a way that I can map my thoughts to both languages, most of the time. When playing an English game in Italian, I’m careful to create glossaries to avoid mixing in loanwords during play.
I’ve noticed that the play habits of people, and in general the play culture, are quite different, and whether the root cause is language or culture is irrelevant, as these are inextricably linked. I honestly can’t say I enjoy Italian play culture very much: even at its most functional, it seems that it reflects how our culture is oriented around status and rooted around clientelism and patronage. The spine-chilling habit of calling the player with the GM-role “Master” instead of their given name will make the anglophones here apprehensive. Even in non-traditional gaming circles, the ongoing status game tends to make at-the-table interactions phony and performative.
On the other hand I’ve felt that the times that I’ve had good gaming experiences in Italian they have felt almost more poetic and at the same time rich in some sort of existential groundedness. English is a language rich in vocabulary and poor in grammar, when it comes to ability to express oneself, while Italian is the opposite, and sometimes English can brutally express in a few words what it takes Italian a long sentence to say.
I’ve heard Lorenzo describe this as “compact” but I think it goes a bit deeper than that – it’s much more difficult to build mental and linguistic shortcuts in Italian, as it is explaining new concepts that the language doesn’t map yet. But when you say complex things using existing concepts, it feels as if you’ve mapped it to things you already know. Learning a new word in English often involves reflexively picking it up from other people’s usage, internalizing its meaning, and only after prolonged usage one ends up being able to describe the meaning. This process is the same in every language, but it’s doubly prevalent in such a vocabulary and idiom heavy language as English.
One example: what in English I can describe as “agency” I need a few sentences to explain in Italian. There is a word which we can borrow from sociology (“agentività”), but its meaning is not commonly understood.
Regarding anglophone play culture, it has its problems, but it’s a much tougher beast to approach, and I don’t dare poke it with my tiny sword.