Italians Fight Flood of English Words

Students of Italian may have an easier time using Italian newspapers to improve their understanding of the language thanks to the latest flood of neologisms from English. Italian journalists have coined 5,000 new words over the last five years, many of them come from English, according to a new book from the National Research Center (CNR).

Should an Italian casually offer, “Andiamo a drinkare una cosa al bar?” Chances are an English speaker with a minimal grasp of Italian will understand that a few cocktails are in the offing. And a pompous acquaintance going on about “glocalismo” or how he just bought shares in a “public utility” will be relatively easy to follow, as perhaps a friend who mentions a favorite “quizzone” or game show.

There is, however, a flip side to this trend — some of the new terms not based on English are incomprehensible to those outside Italy. A few examples? Describing that new coworker as a “cococo” isn’t a put-down, but just shorthand for the much-debated continuous collaboration contract. And what about celebrity labeled” attapirato?” Nothing tragic — they’ve been given the golden tapir award for some kind of dubious behavior from the country’s most-watched satirical show “Strip the News” (Striscia la notizia).

Not all Italians are enthusiastic about this hybrid language. Protests over the mix of Ital-English don’t come from the Accademia della Crusca, Europe’s oldest linguistic watchdog which has been notably silent about the growing number of foreign words in everyday Italian, but a group of Italian politicians and, yes, notable journalists who don’t like the way things are going. In a petition sent to Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, signers take umbrage with the transformation of the labor ministry (“ministero del lavoro”) now known as “ministero del Welfare” and the names of state TV Rai’s channels (Rai Educational, Rai News, etc.)

This is the first sign of resistance in an Anglophile country just getting around to protecting its national identity. According to statistics, Italian is one of the most studied languages on the planet, but for the first time this spring Italians inaugurated a national exhibit on their native tongue.
The exhibit at the Uffizi Gallery’s Reali Poste in Florence — which explores the roots of modern Italian as well as its intersections with foreign languages — is precisely the kind of horn-tooting celebration Italians strenuously avoid. It took 10 years to find enough interest and funds to put it together and may form the cornerstone of the first museum on the history of the Italian language. Slated to close in the end of September, the unexpected success of the exhibit prompted organizers to hold it over until Dec. 31 2003. Tutto OK, then. ?1999-2004