NEWS » Italian English - a new language?

Italian English - a new language?

A few days ago an English friend of mine, who is learning Italian, asked me, “how do you say baby-sitter in Italian?”. I laughed and said, “baby-sitter” rolling my “r” and emphasizing the double “t”. There are so many English words  that now are part of everyday Italian, that my friend and I usually play this game: if he uses an English word while speaking in Italian, I correct his pronunciation to make it sound more Italian, explaining to him that if he goes to Italy he can use some English words, but he must pronounce them with the right Italian accent, in order to be understood.

I hope this won’t sound snobbish as there’s nothing wrong with pronouncing foreign words with your own accent, even though sometimes they are unrecognisable to a native English speaker. “Turnover” for example is pronounced in “Italian-English” just as it is written, as many other English words.

The funny thing in Italy is that there are an increasing number of words which could be easily used in their Italian equivalent but are now replaced by English terms. The language of marketing seems to be the more affected, but also politics, ecology, architecture and terms referring to everyday life.

On one hand the use of some English words is justified by the fact that the objects they name were created in English speaking countries as for example, all that concerns computers. “computer”, “internet” “Google” and many others, have never been translated into Italian and used in their Italian version, so a “computer” has never been a “calcolatore” and a “mouse” has never been “un topo”, but an “email” has become a “mail”, pronounced as “male” so I always think “is it a male or a female? No, just an e-mail!

So we acquired some English words and some of them were hybridised with Italian, as for example “googolare” (to google), “chattare” (to chat) “postare” (to post e.g. on Facebook).

On the other hand the use of English is impoverishing the Italian language. We don’t have “riunioni” anymore but “meetings”, we don’t have “ una pausa” but a “break”, we can’t have a “conferenza” but a “conference” and it’s all a “brain storming” an “assessment” and a “briefing”, not to mention the “badge” you wear, the “manager”, the “director” and all that hails from: “project manager”, “art director” etc. Even in journalism you have “editors”, “deadlines”, a “pass” and much more.

It’s quite interesting to notice that also the language of the new job market takes a great deal from the English language. The words “Stage” and “work experience”, are preferred to be used in their English version as if they came from abroad, and it’s not the fault of the Italians if they now mean unpaid labour (at least in Italy).

The fact is that it’s cooler to use English words than Italian ones, because in this way you can show off you knowledge of English, the external recognition sign of the international broad-minded person you are. Unfortunately in most of the cases Italians don’t speak much English, even in places of responsibility, in foreign affairs and journalism, but they are very fluent in “Italian-English” and the more creative can even invent new words or merge some English words with Italian, as for example “crashare da qualcuno”, used to mean “to crash somewhere” (sleep somewhere). 

The idea is to give a new meaning to old concepts trying to sound more international and cultivated. Personally I’m more impressed by an extensive vocabulary of Italian words than from the horrifying casual dropping of random English words. Anyway languages always change and, like it or not, Italian is changing as well.

Giulia Lombardo

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