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English words are killing off Italian, say experts

THE Italian language is under assault from the infiltration of English words, the abandoning of verb tenses and a shrinking vocabulary, and could be driven to extinction altogether, the head of the country’s most illustrious language institute has warned.

The language of Dante and Petrarch is becoming vulgarised and made more simplistic as young people dispense with the subjunctive and future tenses and sprinkle their day-to-day language with Anglicisms, according to the Accademia della Crusca, an academy that guards the purity of Italian.

“There’s been a big increase in the number of foreign words and expressions and the trend will continue, above all with English words,” said Prof Claudio Marazzini, the president of the academy, which was founded in Florence in 1582. “We are heading towards a more meagre Italian.”

Thousands of words are at risk of extinction through not being used in daily discourse, he said. They include “accolito” (acolyte, henchman), “maliardo” (bewitching), “tremebondo” (tremulous, trembling), “zufolare” (to whistle), and “abbindolare” (to be taken for a ride, to be led by the nose).

When Italians use the English word “location”, they are effectively killing off three perfectly good Italian equivalents – luogo, sito and posto – he said.

When the Italian government set up half a dozen reception centres in the south to accommodate the tens of thousands of migrants streaming across the Mediterranean from Libya, they called them “hot spots” instead of using the Italian term “centro d’accoglienza” – a decision that was criticised by the Accademia della Crusca.

Italians are more prone to adopting foreign words and expressions, possibly because the country was only founded in 1861 and the sense of nationhood is less than that of France or Spain, the academy said.

Hybrid English-Italian terms are emerging with ever more frequency – for instance, the verb chattare, an invented word meaning “to chat”, is slowly edging out the correct Italian word, chiacchierare.

“If we go on like this, Italian will have vanished by the year 2300. In its place we’ll speak only English,” Prof Marazzini told La Stampa newspaper.