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‘Anglomania’: Why Italy's government wants to restrict use of English words

Clare Speak
Clare Speak - [email protected]
‘Anglomania’: Why Italy's government wants to restrict use of English words
Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is known to drop English words into her speeches, but would have to stop that under a new law proposed by her party. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's party has proposed fines of up to €100,000 for businesses which use English words instead of Italian ones under plans to “defend national identity”.

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The leading party in Italy’s nationalist coalition government has proposed a crackdown on borrowing English words into Italian in the latest plan taking aim at what it says are threats to Italian culture and tradition.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's far-right Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d'Italia or FdI) party submitted a draft law on Friday which suggests fines of between 5,000 and 100,000 euros for businesses which use foreign-language words where an Italian word would do the job.

READ ALSO: 'Anglicismi': The English words borrowed into Italian - and what they mean

The bill, put forward by FdI MP Fabio Rampelli and backed by Meloni, sought to ban the use of words from all foreign languages but singled out English and “Anglomania”, which it said “has repercussions for society as a whole”.

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It said public and private businesses should use Italian when promoting goods and services, and specified that all job titles at companies operating in Italy should be in Italian, with foreign words allowed only if they’re impossible to translate.

The proposal also stipulated that university courses “not specifically aimed at teaching a foreign language” should be taught in Italian only.

The text stressed that Italian must be the primary language used in offices that deal with non Italian-speaking foreigners - a demand which few offices would have trouble satisfying, as Italy's international residents know.

The text said the use of English terms instead of Italian "demeans" the Italian language, and argued that Brexit had made the use of English in the European Union "even more negative and paradoxical".

READ ALSO: Italy's culture minister slams foreign words in Italian language... by using foreign words

It insisted that the use of terms in English and other foreign languages should be limited "with a view to safeguarding [Italian] nationality and defending identity".

The proposed bill was widely criticised in Italy, including by language experts at Florence’s prestigious Accademia della Crusca, which is seen as the highest authority on the correct use of the Italian language.

"The proposal to sanction the use of foreign words by law, complete with a fine, as if you had gone through a red light, risks frustrating and marginalising our work,” Accademia della Crusca president Claudio Marazzini told news agency Adnkronos.

“The excess of sanctions exhibited in the bill risks making lovers of the Italian language look ridiculous,” he added.

Introducing laws regulating the use of the English language in Italian workplaces, public communications and advertising would bring Italy in line with neighbouring France, where several bodies exist to protect the French language from encroaching English.

France also applies fines for inappropriate use of English terms, though these are typically fixed at a much lower €135 - and rarely enforced in reality.

For Italy to bring similar rules in, the draft bill would have to be approved by both houses of parliament and then converted into law. There was no indication of when - or if - this may happen.

But the plans tapped into a long-running cultural debate in Italy, where opinion is often split between those who want to protect the national language from outside influence and those who argue that language is fluid and evolving.

The habit of replacing Italian words with English terms, or anglicismi, has long been widespread among Italian teenagers and English words are frequently used in marketing and advertising, as in many other European countries.

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It is also common to hear terms like “meeting” and “smart working” at Italian workplaces, while politicians in Italy are known for often peppering speeches and official documents with English words.

After coming to power in October, Meloni’s government itself added the English phrase ‘Made in Italy’ to the name of the business ministry (it is now called ‘Il ministro delle Imprese e del Made in Italy’) while Meloni used English words in her own inaugural address to parliament, including by describing herself as an "underdog".

In another recent example, Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano was widely ridiculed after using foreign words to criticise the use of foreign words in Italian.

The new language bill came just days after the government said it aimed to defend another aspect of Italian culture by banning the use of synthetically-produced foods, which it said posed a threat to Italy’s agri-food heritage.

Political opponents in Italy have widely decried such bills as "ridiculous" and many have asked why these issues are seemingly being prioritised by the government at a time when the economy, cost of living, unemployment, energy security and other pressing issues top Italian voters' list of concerns.

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