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Monday, March 29, 2010

Let's "chattare": Is the Italian language losing it?

It's a bit scary for me to take on the Italians' adoption of other languages into their own.

All languages do this (witness "disco" from "discotheque" - even tho' our daughter-in-law [really, probably both of them] childes us that "disco" is passé (there you go, another one from the French!), and the word is now "club" - in many languages). And, we in the U.S. are particularly good at turning verbs into nouns and vice-versa. My favorite, from a local sports announcer (you have to be an American football fan to understand this one): "the team first-downed." You can catch an older post from the Constructive Curmudgeon on this last turn (ho ho) of events.

The Italians seem to be especially good at absorbing other languages. Some of this seems healthy for the language. We like, for example, the Italian use of the word "vernissage," which is a bit like "lagniappe" for New Orleanians [which means a little something extra - like the 13th donut in a baker's dozen]. "Vernissage" is (usually) an opening, such as an art opening, with something extra - wine and cheese, beer if it's at the British School, a full spread in some cases. And, because we love these "extras," we like the word "vernissage." I don't think it has a plural in Italian.

Or the word, "kermesse." While it supposedly means "festival," I think the closest meaning is a "happening" [I know that's old and cold too] or "event." From the Dutch, it appears. I'm told we English-speakers use it too; I've only encountered it in Italy.

But... (and here she goes), "CHATTA" for "CHAT"?? I searched the site of one of Italy's major newspapers, La Repubblica and found the use of "chatta" for "chatting" on the Internet, etc., goes back there 10 years. The ad above, for the Italian telecom company that is promoting its wireless service, says "Luca chats with his friends and drinks a coffee."

I can take "club" (pron. "cloob" - like, hmm, boob). But "Show girl" for, well, "show girl" (witness the recent stories about Berlusconi's candidates for political office)? "lo stress" for "stress"? "il weekend" for "the weekend"?

And, it really bugs me that caved in to "mappa" for "map," when the Italian word is - or should I say was - "carta" (as in "paper" or "chart" - the way we use "cartographer").

There's also the consumer industry appropriating terms - such as the Fonz, from Happy Days, illustrated at right.

I recall our friend Patrizio N. was keeping a list. And I really should have checked in with his list first. But I'll just throw this post out there and see if some of you want to add particularly odd usages to the list.

And, to close the post, I'll throw in "aperitivo panty", which you may recall from a post almost a year ago - a photo from our local (coffee) bar - at right. (And, yes, I know, "aperitif" is often used in the U.S.)

Ciao all, and let's drink to that - preferably a cappuccino.



Unknown said...

Dianne, the list is endless! In my opinion, the phenomenon goes way beyond the healthy osmosis among languages. The flood of English words (a lot of them wrongly used and misused) invading everyday Italian is a clear sign of cultural weakness. One more sign of decadence of the Belpaese. Patrizio

Kitto said...

I enjoyed the post :)

The Italian word, la mappa, is from Latin, not borrowed from English, and has been used in Italian for centuries. Our English word, map, comes from Latin/Italian. The actual Italian word is "mappamondo" -- there's even a room with this name in the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena.

I'm not sure I agree totally that English is "invading" Italian language. I think it depends on where you are in Italy. I have friends in Italy who do not speak English, and almost rarely use Italianized English words when they speak. Whereas my friends who know some English who live in the larger cities, tend to throw these words in more often. A friend of mine does it quite frequently. When I asked, he said he was using them for my benefit to help me understand him better. How kind haha :)

Although, there is one usage of English that simply irritates me. The use of "bowl" instead of la terrina. You can see an example of this at

Dianne Bennett and William Graebner said...

Thanks, Patrizio (can't I even tease one of your "most notorious" out of you)?

And, Keith, appreciate the lesson on mappa/carta... my lack of Latin is showing, I know... and the addition of "bowl"... that's a new one for me. Dianne

Giorgia said...

Keith -- "mappa" is a word in its own right, not just the short for "mappamondo", and it does mean "map"; "mappamondo" is a spherical map of the world.
Also, "terrina" is a clay dish, or a serving dish, whereas the Italian for "bowl" is "ciotola". And, to be fair, I've never heard any Italian use the word "bowl" instead of "ciotola", I couldn't even find it on the link you provided...