Thursday, October 30, 2008

English words in Italian

English-speakers are often amused and bemused by the great use Italians make of the English language. There are basically two kinds of English usage in Italian: the established use of words for which an Italian equivalent is unavailable or unwieldy, and the often unnecessary or snobbish use of English. There is no ready consensus about the fine line dividing the two.

Examples of the first kind: computer, e-mail (usually called "mail" when referring to a single e-mail), marketing, film, sport.

Examples of the second: week-end (could be fine settimana), welfare (previdenza).

Examples of iffy ones: shopping, homeless.

When using English (and other foreign words), the plural is unvaried but the article does change by gender and number. I computer, una mail. How do they figure out the gender of our sexless Anglo-Saxon vocabulary? They go by the Italian equivalent: since mail=posta, it becomes feminine. Another example; la star (for celebrities, even males, because stella is feminine). Even more strangely (to our eyes and ears) is the habit of making an Italian verb out of an English word, with all its proper conjugations: ho chattato per due ore (I chatted online for two hours). I myself once sent a snippy e-mail to a guy informing him that he was now in my kill-file (ti ho killato). Not pretty, I know.

Italians do not usually go out of their way to impose Italian, as the French have with their beautiful language. This is perhaps also due to memories of Mussolini's ridiculous attempts to rid Italian of foreign influences, especially from the hated English-speaking enemies. The department store Standard became Standa.

An interesting exercise for learners of Italian might be to peruse Italian sites and play Spot The English word. Look at an Italian publication, including online, and notice the frequency and use of English words.

(Above, David Beckham- una star dello sport)