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Ciao, hello, no! Italy's right-wing government wants to ban English words with €100,000 fines

Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni speaks to media after a EU Summit, at the EU headquarters in Brussels, on March 24, 2023.
Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni speaks to media after a EU Summit, at the EU headquarters in Brussels, on March 24, 2023. Copyright AFP
Copyright AFP
By Giulia Carbonaro
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Giorgia Meloni's party said the policy is necessary to protect the Italian language and the national identity from the growing "Anglomania" in the country.

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The right-wing party led by Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, has pushed forward proposed new  legislation which will punish the use of English and other foreign words in official communications with fines between €5,000 and €100,000.

The goal of the legislation, which has received wide condemnation in the country even by Italy’s most renowned scholars of Italian linguistics and philology, the prestigious Accademia della Crusca, is “to defend and promote the Italian language” and protect the national identity, according to Meloni’s party.

The new proposal, supported by Meloni, was introduced by Fabio Rampelli, a member of Italy’s lower chamber of deputies. In a tweet pinned to his Twitter profile, the MP gives an example of the so-called “Anglomania” which will get Italian politicians and bureaucrats fined if the law is passed.

“In the lower chamber of deputies we speak Italian,” Rampelli writes. “We continue our battle for the use of our language instead of English. We can’t understand why we call ‘dispenser’ the automatic hand sanitizer dispenser.”

Instead of using the word “dispenser” in English, Meloni’s government would have officials use the much more wordy Italian expression: “dispensatore di liquido igienizzante per le mani.”

The Italian language – like most other languages in Europe – has adopted many English terms in recent years, in part because these were terms indicating ‘new’ things which did not belong to the Italian tradition (computer, social media, smart working), in part because the English language often offers a more concise, snappier version of terms that in Italian would take quite a roundabout way to express.

In part, because for many the use of an English word even where an Italian term would do just fine – for example, in Italy it is common to refer to work meetings as “briefing” or use the word “deadline” in a professional environment – adds a touch of authority and internationalism.

According to the latest data, Treccani, the well-respected Italian-language encyclopaedia, currently contains 9,000 English words and 800,000 Italian words. Since 2000, the number of English words that have inserted themselves in the Italian language has grown by 773 percent.

The adoption of English words into the Italian language is an object of endless debate in Italy, where opinions are split between protecting the integrity of the national language and accepting that living languages are fluid and constantly evolving.

Meloni’s new proposed legislation takes a strong stance into this debate, pushing for a conservative approach that intends to virtually ban English words from the public administration, schools and universities. Under the new law, “any [university] class that isn’t specifically aimed at teaching a foreign language must be in Italian”. Courses in foreign languages will only be justified when targeted to foreign students.

Anyone holding an office in public administration must have “written and oral knowledge and mastery of the Italian language.”

According to the draft bill, the use of English words “demeans and mortifies” the Italian language and it’s even worse now that the UK is no longer part of the European Union. The proposed legislation still needs to go up for parliamentary debate.

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