Say it in Italian, please

dilloinitaliano2Italians (with the exception of Mussolini, perhaps) have never been chauvinists. Unlike the French, they have never tried to ban the use of foreign words, forcing people to call ordinataire what almost the entire world knows as a computer. But, says a small group of purists here, enough is enough. And they are right. Using English words has become so chic here that it has become downright ridiculous. Not only because the Italian language has enough words of its own to say, if not everything then almost everything, in an effective way, but also because since few Italians know English well, their pronunciation of these words and their use of them is often blatantly ludicrous.

People go on a break, rather than an intervallo, they go out to a night-spot that is “trendy”, work in “il back-office”, buy a dress that is “molto fashion” (whaaa?), choose a “brand” that is “molto in”, worry about their “look”, enroll in “un workshop” and decide to keep their businesses open “no-stop”. Stores have names such as Phone Center, Sun and Fun Solarium, Easy Computer, Cocktails and Deli, Rhythm and Sound. You can go for “un drink” with your friends instead of una bevanda and order “take-away” instead of piatti da asporto.

There are probably new words, mostly in technology, that do not exist in Italian. (Hacker comes to mind and it would indeed be ridiculous to refer to your computer mouse as a topo.) But, in genera, things have gotten out of hand, which is probably why in little more than a month and a half, an online petition launched by publicist Annamaria Testa through the organization has collected more than 68,000 signatures (including mine) inviting the Italian government, its civil service, its media and its enterprises “to speak a bit more, please, in Italian” .

The petition also asks the 530-year old Accademia della Crusca in Florence, an organization designed to protect the purity of the Italian language, to sponsor its cause. The backers of the petition are not interested in coercion, but they do believe that government and media ought to use words that most Italians understand, adding that an effective use of the Italian language is also a way to better promote their country on the world stage and to keep open the creative channels that went from Dante and Galileo to Leopardi (a major 19th century Italian poet) and Fellini.

According to Ms Testa, the untrammeled use of “itanglese” is damaging to Italian culture and, in general, to communication, because it often encourages Italians to use English words mistakenly or pronounce them incorrectly. Last year she published a list of 300 words that in her view should be used instead of their equivalent in English.


The silly use of English is also apparent in the growing number of Italian stores and restaurant that use English language terms  or names; the other day, I went to see my tax consultant located in the Roman neighborhood known as the quartiere africano because of the names of its streets. This is an area where tourists would rarely go, except by mistake, as there are no monuments to visit, and yet, badly needing an espresso, I found myself in a café called “A chic place to meet”. Whaaat?

But the worst culprits in recent years are the government and its related offices. Budget bills speak of spending reviews and transparency, economists talk of market share and rankings, social workers worry about welfare and the Italian IRS (Entrate) now has introduced a program of voluntary disclosure for people who have bank accounts abroad. And believe it or not, the Italian prime minister holds a Question Time in Parliament.

The most blatant example  of late, however, may be that of the Jobs Act, a new and controversial labor law to which the current government has dedicated most of its energy over the last six to eight months. Why Prime Minister Renzi, whose own English is atrocious, felt it necessary to call this the Jobs Act rather than the Legge sul Lavoro, is anybody’s guess.

But there is a bright side to this. He actually started out by awkwardly terming it the Job Act, in the singular, but somehow realized this was wrong and corrected it to Jobs Act so that maybe now Italians – who as a people do not excel in foreign languages – will finally start realizing that a plural in English requires adding an “s”.

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