ATA Conference - Session IT-4 reviewed by Marica P. Angelides

Session IT-4 Interferences from English and How to Avoid It, presented by ILD Distinguished Speaker Beppe Severgnini, reviewed by Marica P. Angelides

The ILD presented a long and rich program at this year’s ATA conference in San Diego.  The talks were all interesting and some were highly specialized. I think everybody left with a favorite.  My favorite was Beppe Severgnini’s (from now on Beppe).  This article is based on my fond memories of this talk, and its aim is only to give a summary to those who missed it. With the wit and skill of an orator, Beppe provided an overview of English words used in the Italian language. “I am not a purist”, he said, and “I don’t think that a language should be pure.” However, Italian is our language and, in his opinion, “we should all make an effort” to use it as much as we can. Unfortunately, he said, this is not always the case.
Beppe listed eight categories into which he divided the “reasons” why we Italians use English so much. “Inevitable” (inevitabile, che include le parole il cui uso non può, al giorno d’oggi, essere evitato) “Useful” (utile, che comprende le parole utili da usare), “New” (nuovo, che include le parole nuove) “Easier” (più facile, che include le parole il cui uso in inglese sembra più facile che ricorrere all’italiano) “Fashionable” (alla moda, che include quindi quelle parole il cui uso è di moda, fa tendenza); “Sound important” (suonare importante, che include le parole che sono usate per darsi delle arie, che fanno sentire importanti coloro che le usano), “Smoke Screen Words” (parole che creano una cortina di fumo, cioè le parole il cui uso serve a celare qualcos’altro, to “cover up things”) and, finally, “Show off” (esibizionismo, che include parole usate nella lingua inglese per puro esibizionismo).
Beppe only approves of the first three of these “reasons.” He thinks that “Inevitable” captures most of the computer and computer related words that Italians have not been able to “translate” – “as the French did with ordinateur”- and it is OK to use them.  Indeed, calcolatore does not quite cut it for “computer,” because it already refers to the hand-held calculator and a person doing numbers; so “computer” is OK.  Beppe also prefers “mouse,” because topolino is too funny and it reminds us of the little creature too much for us to use it in a computer-related setting.  He also pointed out that Italians have to be praised here because we have been able to use the Italian language for a goodly number of computer words like schermo, salva schermo and the like.
One of the most Useful words for Beppe is “jet lag”, which in the Italian dictionary appears to be “malessere che segue viaggi aerei intercontinentali”. Other words that Beppe puts in this category are: “leader, guardrail (too long and complicated to translate as “barriera metallica con proprietà elastiche che serve a impedire l’uscita di strada”), cocktail, privacy (entrambe sono in uso nel nostro vocabolario da parecchio tempo, cocktail addirittura dagli anni ‘50) and spread. “Spread viene tradotto come, per esempio, il differenziale di interesse fra i titoli di stato tedeschi e italiani e non deve essere scambiato per ‘o spreaddd che è un grandissimo fuoco d’artificio che si usa nella zona di Napoli!!!New Words used today in Italy include the well known social network, time line, account (as in Twitter account or Facebook account), and touchscreen. Beppe rightly pointed out that “by the time we think of something good as a translation, the word has already been used and then it is hard to switch to the Italian equivalent. Some of these words are also monosyllables in English and their Italian translations have three syllables; that alone would make one prefer the English over the Italian.”
With regard to the Easier group, Beppe said that sometimes we Italians are lazy, and we don’t like to think hard to find the right word.  So we just grab the first one available in English, especially if we have been living in an English-speaking country for a while.  I find myself doing that often, and I understand where Beppe is coming from in this instance.  I giovani non devono essere choosy,” said an Italian politician, and soon this event became the number one topic on Twitter.  Why did she use the English word instead of simply saying:  Ragazzi non fate i difficili” or “Ragazzi non fate gli schizzinosi”?  One explanation could be that she spent a long time in America.  When she asked Beppe’s opinion, he told her that he thought that using that English word in that particular context “was a mistake”.
Beppe very much dislikes Fashionable, Sound Important, Smoke Screen, and Show Off words.  Among the Fashionable words, there is “spending review, which has had a proper Italian equivalent forever in revisione della spesa, and therefore there is really no need to use it.”  Other hip words in this category are “trendy (di moda), background (retroterra) standing ovation (ovazione stando in piedi) and VIP.  Beppe said that he dislikes the latter so much that he refuses to attend events with “VIP” on the invitation!  Regarding the Sound Important words, Beppe asked himself:  “Do we Italians have an inferiority complex?”  And then, “Why do we use words like maintenance (manutenzione), spelling (ortografia), business (azienda, commercio, impresa), business plan (piano economico), competitor (concorrente) customer service (sevizio clienti) cultural cringe (“sudditanza culturale”) and many more, like assessment, full immersion, knowhow, brainstorming.  Are those all ‘bocconismi’? [From the Università Bocconi, in Milan, where, incidentally, Beppe teaches a class or two].”  Beppe really hates the Smoke Screen Words, which, he said, “are used to cover up things like: social card instead of sussidio or carta sociale.  What is the reason behind such a use, to cover an undeserved one?” Finally, the Show Off words are mainly used by exhibitionist politicians. Do we really need to use words like Tax Day, America Day, Family Day, when these all have equivalent words in the Italian language? I agree with Beppe. If there is an Italian equivalent, let’s use it and if it is not “easy” to remember, let’s look it up. Let’s make an effort to use our beloved Italian language.

Speaker's bio: Beppe Severgnini has been writing for the Corriere della Sera since 1995. He has been a columnist for the Financial Times since 2011. He has written three portraits of nations, two books on language, three travel books, and an autobiography. Ciao, America! became a bestseller in the United States. La Bella Figura, which has been translated into 15 languages, was a New York Times bestseller. Italian Language Division Distinguished Speaker

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