Matteo Renzi passed the “Jobs Act” and mothers are taking their bambini to “baby parking.” But Italians are finally saying basta to the world’s lingua franca.
In the 1989 Italian satire Palombella Rossa, Nanni Moretti — an actor and director often described as Italy’s Woody Allen — plays Michele Apicella, a young politician who suffers amnesia after a car accident. He regains consciousness only to find that he doesn’t understand the world, or his own place in it.
Midway through the film — and midway through Michele’s emotional breakdown — he is besieged by a journalist, who insists on peppering her Italian with non-Italian words as a badge of her sophistication. “Il mio ambiente è molto cheap,” she says. (“My surroundings are very cheap.”) “Ècosì kitsch,” she adds. (“It’s so kitsch.”) The encounter pushes Michele over the brink: “Who speaks poorly, thinks poorly, and lives poorly!” he says, slapping her repeatedly. “Words are important!”
When Palombella Rossa was made, such Anglicisms were used mostly by tiny handfuls who, like the journalist, were mocked for their pretension. But if Michele had awakened from his accident in 2015, he would have found himself besieged: It’s no longer possible to avoid the language of Shakespeare and Dickens in the land of Dante and Petrarch. And Italians have recently decided to do something about it.
For the past 432 years, the Florence-based Accademia della Crusca has been entrusted with guarding the integrity of the Italian language. This year, the organization started setting off alarm bells about English. “A real war against our language is underway and I believe it’s plain for everyone to see,” Claudio Marazzini, the Crusca’s president, told a group of students earlier this year. This February, after hosting a summit on Anglicisms in Italian, the Crusca started a committee called Incipit. Composed of respected linguists, Incipit is charged with preventing the adoption of foreign words before they gain a foothold in the national psyche by suggesting Italian equivalents.
“It’s too late to do something about ‘car sharing,’” Marazzini admitted. “But we need to find Italian words in a hurry for ‘quantitative easing.’”
English, as the world’s de facto lingua franca, has a habit of creeping into many of the world’s languages, often to their speakers’ chagrin. And this isn’t the first time English has infiltrated Italian: In the wake of World War II, Anglicisms occasionally turned up. But these were typically technical words, borrowed to fill in vocabulary gaps in the fields of science and technology.
Today English words and phrases for daily life are being adopted wholesale: “copyright,” “slot machine,” “question time,” and “dress code,” among others, all make regular appearances. Read more at Foreign Policy.