Italian Language Blog

Parliamo L’Italiese Posted by on Jun 9, 2009 in Italian Language

Whether we like it or not, la bella lingua has absorbed a fairly substantial vocabulary from the English language. The language of sport and entertainment in Italy, for example, has long been influenced by English: ‘Il Jazz’ for example, was already in use back in the 1920s. During the fascist years under Mussolini there was an unsuccessful attempt to ‘purify’ the Italian language, and to replace ‘Il Jazz’ with an Italian interpretation: ‘Il Giazzo’. In general though, we Italians seem to prefer to adopt rather than adapt the words we need, and hence we commonly use such terms as il rock, la star, lo sport, il fitness, la mountain bike, il tennis, and so on.  Fortunately perhaps, the name of our national sport, il calcio (football), has avoided Anglicization, as has that other great sporting passion il ciclismo (cycling). Il golf is an interesting case because until recently it was not a popular sport in Italy. The word il golf however has been around a while in our language, and generally denotes not the sport itself but a cardigan or jumper (deriving from the English golfing wear).

Another interesting use of an English word is la spider, which is not, as you may think, an insect, but a convertible sports car. Why? because the name comes from the spider shaped framework of the hood, and we probably use the word spider instead of ragno because it sounds more ‘cool’ or exotic.

This is certainly the case with many ‘lifestyle’ words that have recently become trendy in popular Italian culture. In the world of fashion for example everyone seems to be after ‘il look’. I’m looking at the front of one of my Italian dressmaking magazines called Boutique, and here are some of the eye-catching headlines I find on the front page (English words highlighted in blue): DRAPPEGI SEXY; SUMMER STYLELOOK CITTA’, MARE, O COUNTRY; PER LUI, UNO STILE SURF UNISEX, well you get the idea.

Another ‘lifestyle’ area invaded by trendy English words is ‘il fitness’. One that always makes me laugh is ‘il wellness’ which is our version of the term ‘wellbeing’ for which we already have the very nice, but terribly unfashionable word, benessere. Some Italian friends of ours recently asked us about one of the latest ‘English’ terms that has crept in: ‘full immersion’ as in sono andato a un full immersion weekend di fitness. “You’ve lived in England, what exactly does it mean?” they asked. “Boh!”, was my reply, neither me nor my English husband had ever heard anything like it, perhaps it has arrived from America, It didn’t involved scuba diving by any chance?

Recently, with the advent of the computer and particularly the internet, we have had a huge influx of English words and terminology. In computing for example we use: il computer, il monitor (although we also use lo schermo – the screen), il mouse, clicca (an Italianized version of click), on-line, and so on, however we also use the Italian words tastiera (keyboard), stampante (printer), and casse acustiche (speakers)….. as you can see a real pasticcione  (big messy mixture)!




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  1. Bella:

    This is very interesting topic Serena. I have to say that while some Italian has permeated our language (ex. ristorante (italiano) , pizzeria, trattoria, al fresco, al dente, etc. and then names of businesses and restaurants…Spasso, Il Forno (restaurant) Salon Bella Gente (beauty salon, Sorella (a ladies boutique)… not to mention music terminology : piano, forte, allegro etc.) I’m not sure that I want English to permeate Italian! English is the language of world affairs and business…but Italian is something special and mysterious…and of course very beautiful and romantic. I know that languages evolve with the times, but still I think it would be better to invent new Italian words (Heck, I do it all the time…when I am speaking Italian and I don’t know a word…I make it up! The funny thing is my Italian friends all understand exactly the meaning of the word! 🙂 It has become a little joke that I speak my own dialect.) Anyway, what really bothers me is when the names of cities are changed…a city should be named and spelled and pronounced as the people of the (or any) country do… for instance in Italia: Milano, Roma, Venezia, Padova, Genova, Firenze…. Oh well, perhaps I am too much of a purist!

  2. Victor:

    I found an interesting word from the usage point of view. This word is “water” which is used for the toilette can in Italy. Can you explain the story of this word, does it come from the English word?

  3. Victor:


    I agree with you on the city names topic, but also the Italians are changing the name of the cities (Parigi, Strasburgo for example)

  4. VincePlato:

    Salve Serena:

    I admire the French for trying to defend their language. I’ve read it is illegal to use English words in advertising in France and Quebec. The last time I was in Quebec City a businessman was being fined for using an English word on a sign on his shop.

    Do Italians really care that much what happens to Italian? Don’t they usually speak dialect most of the time? Do you know if foreign words make it into dialect as easily as they enter the national language?

    When I was stationed in Italy in the 1960’s it seems to me that Alfa Romeo had a sports car model called “the Spider”.

    By the way, ‘full immersion’ is a language term used originally when someone, wanting to learn a new language, would live in an environment where only that language was used. They would ‘sink or swim’ using the new language. This was thought to be the fastest way to learn a language.

    While ‘full immersion’ might be used in other pursuits, it is more likely that an American will say “24/7” meaning 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

    I just love your posts. They provide a great way to learn a lot about Italian without the feeling that you are studying.


  5. G Tassi:

    Full immersion means to do learn and/or do something, and almost only that thing, for a period of time. The Berlitz language school is an immersion type of instruction. Just imagine doing it and only it for a full weekend or week and you have full immersion.

    Yes it is American. Where else would you get redundant terms. If something is immersed in a liguid, it is usually fully under the liquid.

  6. Serena:

    Ciao Bella, Thanks for your interesting response. Although I agree with you to a certain extent about the ‘purity’ of language if we follow that line of though to its logical conclusion we wouldn’t have the Italian language which is basically a corruption of Latin! As for place names, take for example Turin which us Italians ‘incorrectly’ call Torino, it’s original name being Augusta Taurinorum. Then there’s Naples, which we call Napoli, it’s ‘true’ name is Neapolis, a Greek name (as it was them who founded it) which means Newtown i.e. nea=new, polis=town. However, as you might have guessed from my blog non sono molto entusiasta delle parole Inglesi ‘alla moda’ (the ‘trendy’ English words such as ‘weekend’, ‘fitness’, and so on which we already have in our own language.

  7. Serena:

    Ciao Victor, The word water, which we use to describe the toilet bowl or ‘vasone’ (big vase), comes from the English name Water Closet’ or WC for short. By the way, in Italian we pronounce it ‘vater’, the letter W, which is not originally part of the Italian alphabet, we pronunce ‘doppia vu’ or ‘vu doppia’, and therefore internet addresses, which begin WWW, we pronunce vu vu vu, which is actually a lot easier to say than the English version!

  8. Serena:

    Salve Victor, you wrote: “Do Italians really care that much what happens to Italian? Don’t they usually speak dialect most of the time? Do you know if foreign words make it into dialect as easily as they enter the national language?”
    Perhaps younger people don’t have the same awareness of what has ‘invaded’ their language, having grown up with it as part of contemporary popular culture, however, many of us over 30 (40 even!) do care, see the BBC link in part 2 of my blog. The younger generation don’t speak much dialect anymore, also in the larger towns and cities, although there will be a local accent, people tend to speak Italian rather than dialect. It’s really only in the posti sperduti (lost, or out of the way places) that people speak a lot of dialetto. As for English words entering dialect, yes it happens when emigrants return to Italy from America or England. For example, in a village near us we have heard the expression ‘buttare via il trascio’ (throw away the ‘trash’). In other words returning emigrants from America have ‘Italianized’ the word trash into trascio! We normally say ‘buttare via l’immondizia’.

  9. Serena:

    Thanks to everyone who enlightened me about the meaning of ‘full immersion’

    Grazie mille, Serena

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