Si, Parliamo Itangliano, Baby! Italian English Revisited
Tania Botticella Ó Copyright 2007
Itangliano: The Emergence of a Language
In 1989, Anna Dunlop published what is now a rather infamous review of Giacomo Elliot’s Parliamo Itangliano? (1977). Dunlop takes a playful look at the book, which chronicles the Italian fascination with English words, going along with Elliot’s tongue and cheek look at how English is misused when adopted by Italian speakers. Underlying what Dunlop calls the “wit” of Elliot’s book, however, is a presupposition about the so-coined Itangliano that she herself fails to question—Itangliano, which McArthur defines as “highly Anglicized Italian […] a 1970s blend in Italian of italiano and anglo” is assumed to be the somewhat endearing, but misguided child of the Italian and English languages (McArthur 155). The implication of Elliot’s book, and indeed Dunlop’s review, is that while Itangliano is an amusing cultural and linguistic phenomenon, it does not deserve serious consideration by linguistic scholars (unless, of course, academics are looking for evidence of how the English language faced a bastardization by English as a Foreign Language speakers).
Nearly 30 years have passed since Elliot first released his book to the Italian public and 18 since the Dunlop article appeared in English Today. Today, the landscape of linguistic studies has very much changed. Linguist Margie Berns, for instance, explores the current state of studies devoted to Expanding Circles of English—what might more aptly be called the growing sociolinguistic phenomenon of World English. According to Berns (2005), scholarship has yet to grasp the “sociolinguistic reality” of English in the world today (85). While adequate studies of Western and Northern Europe, as well as Japan exist, critical work on Southern and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and South Africa is severely lacking. In other words, the full impact of English as a global language has yet to fully register in academia.
Itangliano and the Fate of World English (WE)
As Berns argues, the role of English in the Expanding Circle (nations where English is a Foreign language), which includes Southern European countries such as Italy deserves more attention. In this context, the potential presence of Itangliano in Italy—and perhaps even in other nations that Italian immigrants call home—cannot be ignored. Drawing on current debates about the status of English as an International language, this study revisits the notion of Itangliano, and more precisely, re-evaluates the cultural and linguistic significance of this potential “language”. This re-examination suggests that the particularities of Itangliano—and by extension other hybridized languages such as Franglais (French and English), Singhlese (Sinhala and English), Chinglish (Chinese and English) —work to complicate the notion that the spread of World English (WE) necessarily indicates that a form of Standard English (SE) is being imposed across the globe. In effect, the more positively defined Itangliano serves as the starting point for linguistic theory that reconsiders the function of English as a World Language.
Italian English in Context
This section frames the discussion of English in Italy within the context of previous scholarship, historical and present attitudes toward English in Italy, and more generally, within current debates about Euro-English and English as a global language. Moreover, it explores how the rise of Italian English relates to issues of Italian national identity, globalization, and the mass importation of not only American and British products, but also English/American culture.
A Historical Overview: English in Italy Pre-1900
As linguistic scholars such as Arturo Tosi and Virginia Puclini note, the use of English in Italy explodes in the last half of the 20th century, much like in other European countries. However, the current popularity of Itangliano, or Italian English, must be situated within the phenomenon of “Europeanisation”, and indeed, the contact promoted between Italian and English colonies dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries. During the medieval period, English began to infiltrate the Italian language “and concerned terms used by Italian merchants for banking and trading across the Channel” (Tosi 208). In the centuries that followed, terms that reflected progress in parliamentary democracy were adopted and reconstituted by the Italian language (committee ® comitato; consitution ® costituzione; legislature ® legislatura). Later, when French became the first recognized “foreign language” in Italy, other channels such as arts and literature became more proficient methods of promoting language contact in the nation; it was generally a small number of the elite that frequently used French borrowings such as restaurant, buffet, and trousseau, which interestingly now see more wide-spread use in Italian, as well as English.
However, with the new industrial revolution came a resurgence of interest in English, “as the production of industrial commodities for mass consumption was centered on Britain” (Tosi 209). New English words were used to describe innovations in technology and transport, among them locomotive (which was “Italianized” with locomotiva) and others that remained English loanwords (ferry boat, yacht, tandem, tunnel) (209). Of course, popular culture also did much at this time to spread English lexemes—industries such as sports (football and rugby), leisure (poker and bridge), food (tea—tè; whisky; sandwich), and clothing (tight, smoking, plaid) influenced the trajectory of English loanwords, and more urgently, the fate of Italian English in the 20th century.
New Linguistic Frontiers: Italian Immigrants Abroad and Mussolini’s Legacy
At the turn of the 19th century, the influx of Italian immigrants heading to so-called New Worlds—America, Canada, and Australia—from all over Italy, especially the South, impacted the direction of Italian English domestically and abroad. The first wave of Italian immigrants, many of whom went in discovery of improved economic conditions, were largely responsible for this new interest in forms of English that existed outside of Britain. In particular, American culture began to infiltrate the shores of Italy in connection with economic and material prosperity, and of course, the very real notion of the “American Dream.” As Pulcini observes, the influx of Italian immigrants that made their way to English colonies affected attitudes toward the English language in two very significant, almost contradictory ways: on the one hand, America, and in turn the English language, was seen as “a promised land of job opportunities, of freedom and of democracy”; on the other, the harsh realities of “New World” life that many emigrants reported, along with the material, middle-class values of Americans, led to general attitudes of suspicion and “distrust” amongst Italians toward nations such as the United States, and indeed, the English language (Pulcini 1997; 78).
As a direct result of these conflicting attitudes toward New World life, the “early borrowings of American origin show a picture of a country perceived as being between life in the wild and a futuristic society”, which is indicated by loanwords such as Far West, cowboy, and skyscraper (later gratticielo in Italian) (Tosi 209). In an effort to build a solid national identity in the country, attitudes toward English, and particularly American culture, became increasingly negative. These attitudes took a drastic turn under Mussolini and his fascist regime, which took hold of the Italian nation in 1922. According to Pulcini, “Fascism transformed existing rhetorical and literary concerns into a xenophobic campaign” (1997; 80). Under Mussolni, foreign words were effectively banned from public street signs, advertisements, and media communications. In 1940, the “Accademia d’Italia” (Italian Academy) instituted a list of Italian substitutions for foreign words; violators caught using loanwords were subjected to fines and in extreme cases, even imprisonment. In essence, the English language was associated with values pertaining to cosmopolitanism, modernization, and globalization—values, of course, that violently conflicted with the fascist agenda.
On the Other Side: Fascism Falls, English Rises in Italy
These extreme measures taken with respect to the import of foreign loanwords, ironically, led to the popularity that foreign languages enjoyed in Italy after the fall of the fascist regime (1945), especially with regard to English. Tosi argues: “The new stream of borrowings after the Second World War was encouraged by the positive image of the English-speaking countries that had helped to liberate Europe from Nazism” (209). In other words, this new cosmopolitan view toward the English language—which, for a long time, had been suppressed in Italy—was understood to release Italy from oppressive forms of nationalism that dominated during Mussolini’s reign. As the rising middle class in Italy had frequently more access to the arts, leisure activities, and film, English began to make more of a firm mark on the Italian language during the 1950s and 60s; words and phrases such as part time, supermarket, teenager, sex appeal, show, blue jeans, and jazz all made their debuts as borrowed English lexemes. “Young people felt attracted by American non-conformism,” Tosi observes, “and by alternative subculture as music was perceived as a powerful channel for solidarity and collective action” (210). In this respect, the English language was bestowed with a powerful form of cache in the nation—it carried with it not only changes to the linguistic landscape of the country, but also a form of ideology that was, for many Italians, a symbol of counter-culture, revolution, and change.
English in the European Union and Euro-English
The widespread use of English in European nations where English is the not the native language, as well as English’s role in the communications of many transnational companies, has made English “straightforwardly the lingua franca of both the Continent at large and of the European Union” (McArthur 157). The official “working’ languages of the EU are English and French, with Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Swedish all being afforded official language status. In this respect, the learning and practice of English in terms of political power in European union is integral for Italy as a nation. However, English’s status as the unofficial lingua franca of the EU designates not a standard form of English, but instead, what is now commonly known as Euro-English (the form of English spoken by countries outside of the UK and Ireland). “English represents neutral ground,” McArthur writes, “and might have been the EU lingua franca even if the UK and Ireland had not been members. English is the second language in all other EU countries in terms of education and employment prospects” (158). Euro-English, then, serves as the “link language” that unites European countries in political concerns and intellectual exchanges, the less formal Italian English serving as dialect that promotes and serves the particularities of the Italian nation. This allows for individual countries such as Italy to negotiate between often conflicting notions of English as a World Language (WE); the global power of English can be harnessed at the local level to promote forms of intranational and international connectivity.
English as Power? The Role of English as a Lingua Franca in Italy
The Italian education system, its business sector, and government have granted English a more formal status within the nation. In this respect, Italian English—the form of language used in interpersonal and informal communication amongst Italians—seemingly differs from the standard form of English promoted in public sectors and private business. This section explores the role of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) within Italy and queries whether these more standard forms of English do indeed conflict with the status that Italian English has gained as a pidgin or creole language.
English in the Education System
In the 1970s and the 1980s, many Italian parents took measures to ensure that their children received instruction in the English language. Some parents rejected schools on the basis that they did not provide English instruction and members of the elite class bought their children night classes and summers abroad in Britain or America. As Tosi points out, “Fluency in English was soon perceived not only as an advantage in life but also as a mark of social prestige” (210). Some elites even took to petitioning the Italian government for schools that offered full English immersion. However, the last decade has seen a change in terms of those that have access to English as a Foreign Language instruction in the country. In 1985, the National Curriculum endeavored to promote the study of foreign languages, and in 1990, foreign languages became an integral component of elementary instruction. According to Pulcini, English is currently studied by 60% of Italian students, followed by French at 35% (Pulcini 2002; 157). Demand for English language instruction has risen so greatly within Italy that the nation has seen a sharp decrease in French language posts and a dramatic increase for EFL teachers. Monica Vittadini, on a prominent website for EFL teachers, One Stop English, writes of the current situation with regard to the teaching of English in Italian elementary schools:
pupils are now more aware of foreign languages due to satellite TV programmes, the Internet, and magazines, and it is more and more difficult to satisfy their needs and interests and find out something really new and exciting: a song or a game they haven’t already experienced in the international fun club of their hotel during the last summer holidays, a cartoon or film hero they haven’t already met on TV or in his official site. Moreover, parents have a lot of expectations because speaking English is seen as a “must” for your life and your job (“Italy: Two Letters”).
Teacher Suzanne McCallion concurs, remarking of English that “you will often hear it being expressed as a passport to the world” (“Italy: Two Letters”). Two conflicting ideas of English, then, often present themselves within English language instruction in schools: on the one hand, instructors attempt to promote English as the World’s lingua franca, and on the other, they cannot deny the cultural, less tangible impact of the language on Italian students.
In Italian universities, English is studied as part of the Modern Languages program “but recently it has become part of the curriculum for non-specialists who need to acquire proficiency for special academic purposes e.g., in the Faculties of Engineering, Law, Economics, Mathematics, Political Sciences, and Arts (Italian, History, Philosophy, Communication Sciences)” (Pulcini 1997; 82-83). Within universities, English continues to play an important role in academics, sometimes even serving as the “link language” that promotes a sense of intellectual connectivity amongst European nations.
Italian English and Industry
These conflicted notions toward high and low notions of English are present in Italy’s business, advertising, media, and electronic industries. As Pulcini notes, the “incidence of English words in the global lexicon seems to be low, but it is much higher in the microlanguages of special disciplines, such as computer science, marketing, advertising, business and economics” (Pulcini 1997; 79). Instruction manuals for the computer, for example, feature a high number of anglicisms; this is because terms such as Internet and cyberspace, having been promoted by innovations in British and American technology industries, lack Italian equivalents. However, this does not mean that English-speaking communities standardize the lingua of technology in Italy; in direct contrast, the jargon of technological innovation exists as a sub-category of Italian English, the language thriving in this “in between” space where it retains this pidgin or creole status.
Much the same can be said of the way that English operates in advertising and the media within Italy. In his survey of how the English language permeates Italian culture, Martin Gani (2002) observes that with respect to the Italian use of English in Italian media, “Not much thought goes into whether many ordinary Italians really understand what’s being written” in newspapers and magazines (20). Of course, Gani’s observation presupposes that the English language retains a stable meaning across linguistic cultures—a notion that the very existence of Itangliano or Italian English challenges in that it exists in between stable language communities (Standard Italian and English). Examining a set of Italian newspapers from January 1995, Pulcini scrutinizes English loanwords that did not exist at the time of publication in dictionaries and considers the lexemes for their potential entry into the Italian vocabulary. She analyzes the function of English words in Italian media sources from formal, semantic, and sociocultural perspectives to conclude that English loanwords are not merely taken on for empty purposes—the borrowing process naturally occurs as a result of cultural contact, and moreover, English lexemes and phrases are “nativized” into Italian (such as the previously cited example of un mister for a sports coach), producing what is, in effect, Italian English.
While it might seem that the advertising industry in Italy might use English for more gratuitous effects, Nigel Ross (1977) surveys the streets of Milan to study the use of English on shop and business signs. Challenging popular misconceptions about how International English is defined, Ross arrives at different conclusions with regard to the presence of English in Italy. He argues that the appearance of English on Milan signs has little to do with its role as a lingua franca; on the streets of Milan, English signifies a cosmopolitan ethos and cultural—rather than economical, political, or academic—prestige. In a study focused on the streets of Rome, Jeffrey Griffin (2004) comes to similar conclusions; he notes that English makes its way onto Roman streets not only to serve Rome’s large tourist industry, but also to signal the city’s hip cosmopolitanism to Italian speakers. Griffin finds that English occurs in a wide variety of contexts—English, on the streets of Rome, is not restricted to commercial use—and that the range of words used is “impressive.”
Linguistic Properties of Itangliano
As the process through which English words and phrases are not only brought into the Italian language, but also modified to suit the sociolinguistic needs of Italians shows, concerns about the fate of the Italian language in relation to English are largely exaggerated. This section pays close attention to the formal properties that dictate how English is assimilated into the Italian language such as pronunciation, the grammatical structures of Itangliano, and the controversy that surrounds “false anglicisms.” The linguistics of Itangliano supports the notion that contact between the Italian and English languages can be viewed as an exchange process.
As Pulcini notes, English impacts Italian early on primarily through written sources. Before innovations in television and film, Italians rarely encountered spoken English. Pulcini writes: “Recent times have witness a reverse tendency: loanwords are now increasingly borrowed close to their native form and through oral sources, and Italians’ competence in English has greatly increased” (2002; 156-57). In this respect, Italians have become more self-conscious about their pronunciation of English words as they now, more than ever, encounter the language through non-print media. Pulcini summarizes the major differences in Italian pronunciation of English:
The degree to which these deviations are present in Italian speech depends on many sociolinguistic factors: the age and class of the speaker, and indeed, even the age and significance of the loanword. Instruction on how to make these phonetic deviations less apparent is, of course, widely available; Wordreference.com, for example, offers both American and British pronunciations of English words.
The extent of this self-consciousness is the source of humor in Silvio Soldini’s Agata e la Tempesta (Agata and the Storm; 2004). In the film, an English instruction tape playfully reprimands a middle class merchant for his inability to pronounce month—the phonetic “th” sound is effectively lost in translation. The humor of Soldini’s film, then, suggests a new attitude amongst the film’s potential audience with regard to phonetic deviations—differentiations in pronunciation might be imagined as unique and even endearing features of Italian English.
Grammar and Meaning
As McArthur, Tosi, and Pulcini observe, English words are often modified within the Italian language; changes to English occur with respect to grammar, phonetics, and even meaning. The processes in which these words are absorbed into the Italian language generally have the following characteristics (McArthur 2002; Pulcini 2002):
1. Words are adapted to fit gender and numerical (singular and plural) inflectional systems present in the Italian language.
What Pulcini calls “grammatical gender” is ascribed to English words on the basis of: natural gender; formal features (anglicisms ending in –ion and –ty are designated as feminine because they coincide with the Italian –ione and –tà); the gender attributed to the closest semantic equivalent in Italian; gender preference (in Italian, the masculine designates unmarked gender; therefore, if none of the words fit in the above criteria, they are usually assigned the masculine gender).
Example: Computer is designated as a masculine noun ® un computer.
2. Compounds might also be inversed or created to reflect Italian norms:
Example of Inversed Compounds:
(English): A pocket radio ® (Italian English): un radio-pocket
Example of Combined Forms:
(English) Festival + Bar = (Italian English) Festivalbar, the widely popular Italian music festival that features an array of artists and music varieties—musicians play in both English and Italian—housed together in one event.
3. Compounds are often clipped.
Example: (English): A night club ® (Italian English): un night
4. The senses of lexical borrowings from English are often restricted in Italian English, the meaning of these words adapted to suit Italian needs.
“Luxury loanwords” are used to reconfigure existing items or concepts in Italian (Pulcini 162). Some English words such as baby-sitter have replaced little used Italian words such as banbinaia while others co-exist (goal and rete in football/soccer might be used simultaneously by a sports announcer). English lexemes can be used to convey particular emphasis—for example, Pulcini notes that meeting has a formal quality that the Italian riunione lacks). In addition, English words might also take on additional meanings; shopping implies a more frivolous tone than the Italian spese. Most dramatically, the meaning of the English word might be changed altogether, creating what some linguists identify as “false anglicisms”.
Examples. For speakers of Italian English:
Un mister signifies a sports coach.
Spot strictly connotes a television commercial.
With respect to English in Europe, Berns argues, “Europeans make adaptations and introduce innovations that effectively de-Americanize and de-Anglicize English” (as quoted in Jenkins 42). Although it is questionable whether the goal of Italians is to “de-Americanize and de-Anglicize English” altogether—after all, lexical borrowings are sometimes used to connote an affinity with the contact language—it is possible to see an exchange occurring between standard forms of English and Italian.
The Problem of False Anglicisms
The modifications that Italians make to the English language signals that the language does not merely subsume Standard Italian, but instead, that it undergoes a process in which it is carefully adapted to suit the needs of Italian culture. There is also the question of “false anglicisms”—English words that take on new meaning in the Italian language. Cristiano Furiassi explains:
false anglicisms may be defined either as autonomous coinages which resemble English words but do not exist in English, or as unadapted borrowings from English which originated from English words but that are not encountered in English dictionaries, whether as sub-entries. False anglicisms are either formally or semantically different from the original English words from which they supposedly derive, so that both an English native speaker, proficient in Italian, and speaker, proficient in English, would recognize them in written and spoken registers (123).
Furiassi finds discrepancies in online Italian dictionaries, as only a small number of “false anglicisms” are identified as such. However, Furiassi assumes that English lexemes take on stable meanings across cultures, which of course they do not—take, for example, the discrepancies within so-called “Inner Circle” varieties of English with respect to words such as football and soccer. Of late, this topic has been of interest to scholars working on the field of International English, precisely because, paradoxically, at the global level, the signification of English lexemes are destabilized by the standardization process; this is significant because it allows for theorizations of how particular cultures and languages can be negotiated under the universal umbrella of English as a “World Language.” In this respect, it is possible to see how the deviation in meaning—for example, between the Italian English antidoping and the English dope test or the Italian English telequiz and the English game show or quiz show—connotes a shifting, rather than a falsity, of Italian English Anglicisms.
Forza Itangliano! Italian English as Counter-Culture
This section explores the use of Italian English in more informal and less “patrolled” settings such as the media, entertainment and culture industries, and online communication. Unbound by regulatory concepts of the English language, the ever-changing nature of Italian English in Italy’s pop culture industries prevents the realization of a Standard, and perhaps static, form of English or Italian. From a sociolinguistic point of view, Itangliano is effectively rendered counter-cultural because it is a language perpetually “in motion”—while contact with English promotes a cosmopolitan vision within the nation, it also allows Italians to constantly evaluate the extent to which English interfaces with the country’s native language. In this respect, the Italian reliance on what Dardano (1986) calls the “ ‘plasticity’ of English (e.g. grammatical flexibility and the abundance of monosyllabic words)” promotes Italian English as a language that is continually being formed, which defies linguistic theories that simply designate English as a language of power (as quoted in Tosi 211).
The Culture of Italian English: Media and Music
Sky TV and Rai, Italy’s two major news providers, operate with the basic assumption that almost all Italians are familiar with even a basic form of Italian English. Rai TV, Italy’s publicly owned media operation, features English advertisements and promotions. During evening newscasts, English words are interspersed into dialogue and flash across the screen in news tickers. A visit to the SKY TV flashes the header “SKY Life—news, video, club, community e TV di SKY.” On an average day, the website offers an array of English phrases and words:
Film, sport, sponsor, club, password, TG 24 Live, talent, life, show, personal shopping, music is my life, home page, total, video, what’s on, gossip, box office, killer, blog, league, Sport USA, community.
The TV and Film listings provide a snapshot of how American and British culture has made its way into Italy through satellite television: Inside Man, Desperate Housewives, One Tree Hill, Lost, Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Not all imported forms of entertainment, however, retain English or American titles—the popular American teen drama/comedy Gilmore Girls, for example, is known as Un Mamma Per Amica (translated in English as “A Mother for a friend”). As Nigel Ross notes (1995), the dubbing process, which accounts for the way that most films and television shows are translated into the Italian language, produces changes in “meaning, register, and pronunciation” with respect to the Italian language. The findings of Ross’s study suggest that the ever-evolving dubbing process creates an unmediated aural space where the linguistic norms of Italian and English interact, and even produce, the hybridized language of Italian English. Sociolinguistic contact between Italian and English has also produced specific cultural movements, such as the Spaghetti Western (the Italian interpretation of the American “Western” that emerged in the mid-1960s). Effectively, the Spaghetti Western—the most well-known being Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (Il Buono, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo) starring Clint Eastwood (1966)—responded to and redefined the direction of the American Western.
Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Western, Il Buono, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo (1966)
The import of American and British music has also proved central to the development of a distinct counter-culture in Italy. As David Crystal emphasizes, “In the 2000s, the English-language character of the international pop music world is extraordinary” (Crystal 103). While the influence of Anglo-music might seem oppressive and even detrimental to Italy’s own music industry, the fact remains that the popularity of English music continues to grow alongside Italy’s own thriving musical acts. In this respect, “the way popular music in the English language has had a profound and positive impact on the nature of modern popular culture” cannot easily be dismissed (103). Developments in North American and British rock, rap, punk, and hip-hop have changed the landscape of Italian music, producing a more diversified and modern eclectic taste in music throughout the nation. The ideas that these kinds of music carry with them—for example, notions of freedom and rebellion associated with rock music and the assertion of ethic identity often associated with hip-hop and rap—particularly resonate within the country at a time when its population is becoming more racially and ideologically diverse due to an influx in immigration. Moreover, the recent trend that sees Italian artists adapting Anglo-music styles and lyrics into Italian functions as a sort of cultural translation and exchange—in their own musical endeavors, artists render their songs socially relevant to an Italian audience. Annually, the San Remo and Festivalbar music festivals feature both domestic and international artists, serving as a testament to this notion of a cosmopolitan music community.
Language Contact and the Internet
Online communication, gaming, and Internet usage have also greatly influenced the course of Italian English since the 1990s. Accordingly, online culture has created many English lexemes such as video, chat, blog, and email and are widely used by Italians—while Italian translations may exist, they remain generally unpopular. In particular, the increasing use of acronyms is changing the properties of the language—indeed, it is even transforming the very basis of the English language itself. Tosi asserts: “Many of the acronyms and adapted Anglicisms derive from English and, if they proliferate, there is little doubt that the more specialized use of computer-based pastimes and communication technologies will provide new models and sources for the young in the near future” (223). In this respect, Italians involved in networking and online communication activities—these trends, in fact, are not restricted to youth—will have a hand in shaping the direction of Italian English, for they will decide to what extent Italian and English will join together and interact in terms of meaning.
But is it Really “English”? Challenges to Itangliano
The existence of this sub-culture with respect to Italian English was both verified and mocked by the debut of Giacomo Elliot’s Parliamo Itangliano (1977). While Elliot’s rendering of Itangliano seems playful on the surface, it is possible also to see some generalizations being made about the spread of English in Italy within his text. Italians, Elliot seems to complain, take on English words with irreverence—the humor of the book, after all, derives from the idea that Italians do not need to know English to speak Itangliano. As Pulcini notes, “The terms ‘Itangliano’ and ‘Italiese’ are used derogatorily [by linguists] to denote spoken or written styles which contain many Anglicisms” (2002; 154). However, as previously discussed, the nature of English instruction in Italy has largely changed since Elliot first published his book. Since the 1960s, when English surpassed French as the most frequently taught foreign language in the country, instruction in English has been in high demand. Moreover, this hybridized form of English and Italian labeled Itangliano, or more appropriately Italian English, has become an intrinsic and acceptable form of Euro-English, and more broadly, World English.
To Speak or Not to Speak Italian English: Current Attitudes Toward English
As previously mentioned, it was mandated in 1990 that all Italian students learn a foreign language in elementary school, the most popular choice being English. According to Tosi, those “who are not fluent in a foreign language feel gratified by the use of easily-comprehensible foreign [English] words (for example no limits, action, style, stop, best show, view, new” (Tosi 212). The wide acceptance of English by Italians has not gone unnoticed by those who argue that the Italian language is being threatened by “anglomaniacs.” As Tosi reports, a Florentine reporter complained that of that English dominated the streets of Florence, as he found untranslated English loanwords in the local job centre, cinema, marketplace, and media. The cries of the popular press, while leading to two brief initiatives by the CCD party and the Northern League, went largely unnoticed, perhaps because the campaign against English reeked of fascist propaganda, a road Italy was not willing to travel down again.
Only a small few of Italy’s academics have opposed the spread of English, arguing for Italian translations of words such as weekend, fast food, and bestseller; most linguists disapprove of initiatives that falsely attempt to stop natural evolutions to language. David Crystal argues that approaches to mixed varieties of English such as Itangliano are now changing, for “when these ‘mixed’ languages are analyzed, it is found that they are full of great complexity and subtlety of expression—as we would expect, if people have the resources of two languages to draw upon, rather than one” (165). In other words, the in-between nature of the language marks positive difference and cultural exchange rather than denigrates what might be called the “superstrate language” (the socially dominant language). This is generally true of attitudes toward Italian English, as “ ‘open’ attitudes toward the spread of English, together with a lack of linguistic policy in the country, have granted Italian the fame of a ‘democratic’ language as opposed to ‘introvert languages’ such as German, French and Spanish” (Pulcini 1997; 81). While opposition to this mixed variety of English certainly exists, then, Italians can be said to interact, rather than passively accept, forms of English that pervade in international relations, the media, popular culture, academia, and business.
Conclusions: The Future of Italian English
Returning to Berns’s challenge with regard to the study of World English (WE), it is evident how studies of linguistic phenomena such as Italian English might impact language policy. The case of Italian English proves that its existence poses no imminent threat to the Italian language; instead, the English language makes contact with Italian to engage in a process of exchange. For Tosi, this indicates that English is finally playing a truly democratic role within Italy. He emphasizes:
An increasing number of ordinary families, wishing to imitate the elite, seek private English tuition, investing in all sorts of language training to help their children improve their English. The dream of social mobility made a powerful impact on the spread of Anglicisms. Italians seem willing to accept these Anglicisms more because of their status than because of their utility. English words in the media, in songs, advertisements and shop windows are perceived by the most recently emancipated social groups to denote modernness and efficiency, the end of the age of isolation and provincialism (211).
In this respect, the spread of Italian English indicates an interesting duality: on the one hand, English might be associated with the reinforcement of pre-existing hegemonic institutions, such as business, government, and academia; on the other, however, the spread of English operates as a form of counter-culture found, literally, as Nigel Ross and Jeffrey Griffin show, in the streets of Rome and Milan, and in the growing sub-culture of online chat rooms and email communications. Dardano (1986) makes a similar observation, arguing that Italian English be evaluated at two levels: “(1) at the higher level, we have the enrichment of cultural lexis and of technical terminologies while (2) there is interference at middle and lower levels ‘where new creations—often ephemeral—appear in the language of journalism, advertising and youth slang’” (as quoted in Tosi 211). What is often understood as conflicting attitudes toward the spread of Italian English in terms of “high” and “low” English needs to be queried; as this report suggests, these two attitudes and functions of English are often interrelated, rather than opposed, as the role of English as a World Language itself brings about a series of irresolvable contradictions.
Ultimately, the recognition of more nuanced model with regard to the presence of English in so-called Expanding Circles leads to the formation of more realistic and practical language policies not only in Italy, but also in other nations where English is the dominant EFL. As Berns’s study suggests, ongoing scholarship on Expanding Circle Englishes must be encouraged, for they serve to expand restrictive notions of English as an International or World Language. As the case of English in Italy shows, embracing English as an International Language does not always translate into the destruction of linguistic, and in turn cultural, differences.
Berns, Margie. “Expanding on the Expanding Circle: where do WE go from here?”.
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