Q. What's Italian for 'A fitness team is meeting in the pub'?
A. 'A fitness team is meeting in the pub' say Italians worried about the increasing invasion of English. Richard Owen reports

An Italian academic has sounded the alarm over the “infiltration” of his national language by English terms — but admits that “the battle has probably already been lost”.

Michele Cortelazzo, lecturer in linguistics at the University of Padua, said that the tendency to absorb English terms existed in all European languages. “In Italy, however, there has been a massive influx of English words, even when there is a perfectly adequate and useable Italian equivalent”.

He said that prime recent examples were flop instead of the Italian fiasco, and trend instead of tendenza. Before sprinkling their conversation with English terms Italians should ask themselves if they are not simply attracted by the exotic fascination of foreign words, Signor Cortelazzo said.

There was the additional danger that Italians would use English words incorrectly, thus appearing “provincial” rather than worldly. He added that once a word establishes itself in another language, trying to go back was probably futile. He said that one example was free (giveaway) press, for which the Italian equivalent, giornale gratuito, was “simply too long”. According to one estimate, well over 1,400 Anglicisms have entered Italian since 1990.

Concern over the “bastardisation” of the language of Dante by “ill-considered Anglo-Saxon terms” was first voiced 15 years ago by Giovanni Nencioni, then the head of the Accademia della Crusca, founded in the 16th century in Florence to “safeguard the purity of the Italian language”.

Corriere della Sera said that the process had gone too far. Instead of saying that there was too much pollution (inquinamento) this weekend (fine settimana) so I won’t go to the shops (fare un giro di acquisti), the average Italian would nowadays use the English words smog, weekend and shopping, as in: “Troppo smog, questo weekend niente shopping.”

The newspaper, which is launching a course for readers on how to use English properly, said that the list of commonly used loan words was becoming longer by the day. It includes meeting, manager, fax, marketing, drink, happy hour, team, babysitter, decoder, personal trainer, discount, outlet, CD, DVD, stress, e-mail, fitness, cocktail, pub and barman.

Signor Cortelazzo told Corriere della Sera that if the “invasion” of English terms was irreversible, the answer lay in using them correctly and avoiding “excesses and distortions”. Some apparently English words used in Italian are incomprehensible even to English speakers — mobbing for example, is used to mean bullying in the workplace, footing for jogging, tight for morning suit, golf for sweater, box for garage and slip for male briefs.

Sergio Romano, a commentator and former diplomat, said that although bandying English words about was fashionable in Italy, in reality even the Italian elite often knew little English because self.advancement depended in local networking rather than engaging with the outside world.

«The Times», lunedì 9 ottobre 2006, p. 9