No Longer La Bella Lingua?
If you spend any time in Italy these days, and watch TV or read the newspapers, you’ll soon notice English words which are creeping into every aspect of Italian life. There are usually perfectly useful Italian words which serve the same purpose, but English words seem to have more status.
The trouble is, that in adopting certain words, they assume that they will be understood by English speakers, whereas often a word becomes a part of Italian vocabulary whilst having little or no relevance to its original meaning.
Take the word spread, for instance. As far as I’m concerned, a spread is something smoothed like butter on toast, or a table extravagantly full of food. Mysteriously, though, this word appears daily on the news whenever finance is discussed. It seems to have to do with differences in rates of exchange, and has probably been adopted from the word spreadsheet. No one in Italy has yet been able to explain to me what it means: they assume I already know.
A new act of parliament has recently been introduced in Italy which they call The Jobs Act. We would never use a word such as ‘job’ in official English, of course, preferring to use ‘employment’. They do have their own suitable word, naturally, but they seem to prefer our catchy little word ‘job’.
You get curious slogans in English on Italian TV adverts. Life is Now’ advertises a mobile phone company, but what on earth does it mean? Another similar company has the slogan Been Touch. I assume this is based on a misunderstanding and should say ‘Be in Touch’.
Odd bits of strange English constantly appear on tee shirts. It’s very frustrating when you want a souvenir or a gift and would prefer to buy something written in Italian. A cute small English girl who likes My Little Pony would not be happy to wear a slogan like
Sweet Little Horse
and no one who speaks English would wear the nonsense of
If you prove imagine the rainbow you would have light passion
I’m sure we’ve all spotted amusing notices in mangled English (“Please do not hang” is a favourite, next to railings around a source of very hot water); or menus where the chef has tried to describe a dish with curious results (“The capuntis to the jump of sea on it cremates of ceci”). But these are worthy attempts to be of help to foreign tourists. They pose no threat to the Italian language.
Italy has a similar organisation to the Academie Française, the Accademia della Crusca, founded in Florence in 1582, which monitors and guards the language. Interestingly, crusca means ‘bran’, using ‘sorting the wheat from the chaff’ as a metaphor. The current president, Professor Claudio Marazzini, lists particular concerns such as new verbs (chattare instead of chiacchierare – to chat), the gradual disappearance of the subjunctive, and the sprinkling of the language with Anglicisms.
“When Italians use the word ‘location’, they are effectively killing off three perfectly good Italian equivalents: luogo, sito and posto,” he cited as an example.
But so often they get it wrong anyway. Who, for instance, understands what footing is? (It means jogging.) The word mister, which means a football coach, has been in the language for a century. They seem to have adopted the word educazione to mean education instead of istruzione. We all know about the Italian invention of Slow Food these days, although they now like the word ‘slow’ so much that they use it for Slow Tourism, whatever that is. The list goes on and on….Some Italian universities have begun moves to offer all teaching through the medium of English. (And I happen to know that many if not most of the lecturers do not have a fluent command of English.) One wonders what kind of language the graduates of the future will speak. My guess is a kind of incomprehensible Euro-English.
[Happy April Fools Day! Wouldn't be translated as "Good Fish of April, right?]
Of course what is happening now is only the opposite of the same phenomenon in the 16th century when in England, and throughout Europe, Italian words concerning music were absorbed into other languages. Everyone knows Italian words such as crescendo, allegro, and even bravo. The difference is that there was at the time no equivalent vocabulary in other languages. Today’s situation in Italy prompts Professor Marazzini to complain that “We are heading towards a more meagre Italian. If we go on like this, Italian will have vanished by the year 2300.”