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In The Godfather I, when Michael Corleone took refuge in Sicilly, he met Apollonia and then met the inn owner who happened to be Apollonia's father. Michael wanted Apollonia to be his wife and he talked to her father about it. But before he started talking, he asked one of his bodyguards to translate what he was going to say in English into Italian (at about 1h 41min). I just don't understand why. I'm sure that Michael was able to speak Italian-- when he met Sollozzo and that cop he was surely able to talk with Sollozzo in Italian. So why would he speak English and need a translator rather than speak Italian this time?

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    Maybe because as the youngest son, he's just not fluent in Italian, and certainly not in Sicilian – Walt Jul 10 '15 at 16:41
  • @Walt Sounds a reasonable explanation – Vim Jul 10 '15 at 16:56
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    Grew up around a lot of second-generation Italians. Quite often, the conversations would be their parents talking to them in Italian, them replying in English. I think it's much easier to recognize and understand a language being spoken by a competent speaker than it is to translate one's own thoughts into another language if it's not your naturally strongest language. – PoloHoleSet Jan 6 '17 at 18:12
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Michael Corleone was born in America. Since his early age he stayed away from family business, so he didn't have that typical Italian family essence, so it was obvious that he didn't have fluent dialect when it comes to speaking in Italian Language. On top of that talking in Sicilian dialect is even tougher.

Another thing is that he was an outsider for them, he wanted to show Apollonia's father that he comes from a family with power so that he would consider him for his daughter. If he would have spoken himself, chances are that Apollonia's father would not have believed him, plus not talking to her father directly gave an indication that he's not too desperate (though he was) for her and not talking directly gave an indication that he belongs to a family of means.

Another thing is that he wanted to show respect and do it the Sicilian way. This gave another indication to his father that though he is not from Sicily he has not forgotten his Sicilian roots.

  • Also, the words and phrases he has translated for the father are not ones that would have been used around the household... – CGCampbell Jul 11 '15 at 13:29
  • It is also interesting, but Vito Andolini (Michael's father) didn't speak as a child, he didn't pronounce a word when depicted as a child in Corleone. – DanielV Jul 24 '15 at 9:51
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When he met Sollozzo, it was Sollozzo who said, Mike and I are going to speak Italian (and I believe they might have been speaking Sicilian). Two points:

  1. If they were speaking Italian and not Sicilian, then Mike would have maybe not even understood Sicilian although since his dad was Sicilian, why not?

  2. But the big thing was, The Turk wanted to speak Italian and while Mike understood it (if he did; he really could not have cared too much what was being said) he at one point felt the need to express himself in English -- his Italian and/or Sicilian was not fluent.

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I agree it seemed like Michael could understand fluent Italian but couldn't speak it as well though that said he was able to speak it better in "The Godfather 2" and 3.

Also, I agree with Jeff's answer but I feel to a degree, he wanted to say what he wanted in English as to get the point across to not only Sollozo but also to Captain McCluskey as well. He wanted them both to know that he wanted his father left alone from that point onwards.

  • That point about Mike wanting McK. to understand is interesting. But given that Mike intended to kill them both, not sure what Mike had in mind other than playing along. Also, the entire conversation did not make much sense to me -- Sollozo saying, "what guarantees can I give -- I'm the hunted one" -- what was the point of the meeting at all if the Turk could not "guarantee" anything? Just thinking: maybe they were considering killing Mike also? – releseabe Nov 13 at 19:55
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To the excellent answers already here, I would add this one additional point:

It is very important to Michael, at that moment, that he not give Apollonia's father offense. If he spoke for himself, he might make a grammatical or pronunciation error that made the conversation go awry. If you note what he has his bodyguard say, he takes great care to be as respectful, courteous, and formal as possible.

Given what we know of his level of Italian fluency, he could probably have managed it himself. He just didn't want to risk it.

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    just to emphasize: not Italian, Sicilian which I understand is quite different than Italian. Many cognates but also many Arabic-based words. What I figure Michael's backstory is, as the youngest he probably picked up the least Sicilian if indeed his parents spoke that at home and the street lingo would have been Italian/English. – releseabe Nov 14 at 13:38
  • @releseabe That's a good point. It's also likely that the Italian-American neighborhood of NY where Vito Corleone lived had Italians from many different regions living in it, so Michael would have even more reason to doubt that he'd be fluent enough for this particular occasion in this particular location. – tbrookside Nov 14 at 14:25

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