A few days ago the Italian newspaper La Repubblica published an article about the so-called Itanglish, complete with a list of the English words that Italians use most often while speaking Italian. The article is actually quite interesting, but it seems to be the usual article about language written by someone who is not a language expert. Despite quoting the opinions of people who do not seem alarmed by the increasing use of Anglicisms, it all looks hasted and superficial to me. In the meantime, as it often happens with this kind of articles, the tone is a tad sensationalistic and quite over the top:
An unfettered invasion […] English is contaminating us […] Italians betray home-bred words […] the contamination rides the wave of technology […]
I do not intend to give a lecture about the tone journalists should use, but it’s quite obvious that this pop-nationalism is not only at odds with the complex reality of language evolution, but it ends up making the article quite self-contradictory, as the informed people quoted say that
the spread of foreign terms is a phenomenon that needs to be acknowledged, not a negative one, and it is mostly limited to specific sectors
our language is not at stake: it does not die if it welcomes foreign words, because vocabulary is only its superficial structure, and a language is only under threat if its fundamental structures, like morphology and grammar, are altered.
Still, the ‘threat’ is really a phantom menace, given that without the alteration of the fundamental structures of classical Latin (changes in verb tenses, elimination of cases, and so on) we would not be speaking our beloved Italian. It is also quite irritating to find that the article does not avoid the kind of cheap pride that makes many of my compatriots sound very provincial, like when the article claims that
50% of English words are of Romance origin
whereas there is non consensus among linguists on the issue, so it’s obviously a quite random number, and in the end it does not even matter.
The article is still an interesting quick read, that prompts some reflections. On the one hand, as a translator, I am often appalled by the mental laziness of people who borrow perfectly translatable terms, or expressions for which we already have an equivalent, like ‘week-end’ (‘fine settimana’, a new concept for people who used to get only the Sunday off, but which can be quickly and easily translated), ‘coffee break’ (‘pausa caffè’ is too hard, is it?), ‘fashion’ (‘moda’), ‘trend’ (‘tendenza’) and so on. And I just get nasty when I hear ‘wellness’ or ‘brand’ instead of ‘benessere’ and ‘marchio’. On the other hand, I never get tired of reminding purists that ‘contamination’ has always been, is, and will always be the engine of linguistic evolution, not just lexically, but also from a cultural perspective. After all, we are talking about the word smuggling that inspired this blog’s name, and about which (even if someone just doesn’t get it) I wrote and I will keep writing the sweetest words.