Ageing language overdue for a liftata

11th August 1995 at 01:00
Modern-day Italian parents may well discuss the cost of babysitteraggio, while the country's teenagers know that when they buy a T-shirt they should ask for una medium or una large. Their grandmother, if she can afford it, may well decide to be liftata, to hide the wrinkles of old age.

These and thousands of other neologisms are included in the largest and most comprehensive Italian dictionary ever published; five volumes with 1,318 pages at a price of Pounds 600. Treccani, the publisher, is a venerable institution responsible for the most hallowed of Italian encyclopedias.

According to Treccani's directors, Il Vocabolario Della Lingua Italiana marks a turning point for the language. It is a recognition of the fact that Italian is evolving, and must do so in order to continue to be an important language.

The gap between "proper" and spoken Italian has widened, with the official language gradually losing touch with what is spoken on the streets. "Proper" Italian has changed little from the days of Dante, while the English of Chaucer or Shakespeare is profoundly different from the English of today.

The new words which are consecrated as Italian by Treccani include many of foreign origin, with English being prevalent. But also many regional colloquialisms have been considered which were excluded from dictionaries of the past. One Roman example is malloppo, originally meaning stolen goods but now used in broader senses; another is budellone, derived from budella, entrails, which rather crudely describes a voracious eater.

Thanks to the computer revolution, the new dictionary includes verbs like faxare. And the recent political scandals have given birth to tangente, meaning a pay-off or kick-back on a public contract.

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