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Writing in English is my job, so it goes without saying I love this language. I like the way it alliterates easily and its pragmatic nature, which is so different from the Baroque concatenation of subordinates that usually makes up writing and speaking in Italian.
However, I like to keep my English and my Italian separated, finding it slightly annoying when people choose an English word over a perfectly usable and common Italian one and, apparently, I am not the only one to have such a pet peeve.
Linguists, of course, are far from happy about the uncontrolled use we Italians make of English words in our everyday conversations: “riunioni” became meetings, “centri benessere” wellness centres, “fard” turned into blush and when you are after a “posto” where to do something specific, you are seeking a location. Mind, English words have been part of our communicative ways for decades, but were once limited to specific sectors and items for which we did not have an Italian translation. This is why computers are “computers,” marketing is “marketing” and, alas, rock and roll and punk are “rock and roll” and “punk” in Italy, too. Yet, things have gone awry in the past few years, with more and more English terms entering the average vocabulary in substitution of common Italian words, still perfectly usable.
Last year Federlingue, the Italian association for linguistic services, found out that the use of English words increased of 773% in 8 years: crucially, such an increase is not mirrored by a better knowledge of English, as we Italians, let us face it, are bad at languages. Linguists’ dislike for the trend has been made popular by the #dilloinitaliano (say it in Italian) hashtag created by Bocconi University lecturer and publicist Annamaria Testa, champion of the Italian language and of the appropriate use of English in the Bel Paese.
Testa started her more recent project two years ago, when she asked direct support for her campaign from the Accademia della Crusca, the institutional cradle of the Italian language, which took her plea seriously and offered to begin monitoring the rise of anglicismi incipienti (incipient anglicisms), that is, of all those unnecessary English words introduced in our daily language.
According to Testa, the increased – and often inappropriate – use of English is not caused by a sudden improvement of the average Italian’s linguistic knowledge, but simply by laziness and bad habits. Interviewed by La Nazione’s Letizia Cini about a year ago, she declared that the abuse of English originates in “provincialism, conformism and an overall poor knowledge of foreign languages, often used by many as a sort of ‘abracadabra’ solution to appear different from what they are.” And in the horrible knowledge of our own language, too, I dare add myself.
Is there a solution to such an ongoing issue? According to Testa there is, and it is simple: Italy must start appreciating its language more. Italian has an incredibly rich lexicon and it is really down to speakers to make the conscious effort to pick a native word over a foreign.
Academics and linguists can help by, Testa says, “finding realistic alternatives to the superfluous use of foreign lexicon” and proposing them to the wider public. Some suggestions? Well, we should start using again “pubblico” instead of audience, “austerità” instead of austerity, “rete” instead of web and “assistenza sociale” instead of welfare: in the end, if they have been good enough for all these centuries, why should they be discarded today? In fact, Testa has made a list with more than 300 abused English terms which should be substituted with Italians’.
The ultimate issue with using too many foreign loans in Italian, or in any language for that matter, is that it can cause its irreversible impoverishment, as well as create the illusion among people to master a foreign language, when they actually do not: linguists are right, it is detrimental to the borrowed and the borrower.
Far from thinking any foreign inflection and influence upon a language is negative, it should be however controlled and limited to when it is truly necessary: in the end, language is a people’s first sign of unity and if it is true we are becoming more and more international, keeping our feet well rooted into our own culture is essential to maintain our own identity and, crucially, to understand and appreciate that of others.
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