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Review of  Language and Society in a Changing Italy

Reviewer: Fazzion Giuliana
Book Title: Language and Society in a Changing Italy
Book Author: Arturo Tosi
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Subject Language(s): Italian
Issue Number: 12.1099

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Tosi, Arturo (2001) Language and Society in a Changing
Italy. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters Ltd.
(Multilingual Matters 117); 288 pp; Hardcover ISBN 1-85359-
501-2; Softcover IBSN 1-85359-500-4.

Reviewed by Giuliana Fazzion, James Madison University

There are three parts to "Language and Society in a
Changing Italy". The reason the author chose this format
is because he has identified three major dimensions of
Italian sociolinguistics - ordinary language, special
languages and contact varieties - which have offered a
natural division for the various issues covered in the
book. This book examines the last fifty years because they
have been a crucial period that has witnessed new forms of
interaction, solidarity and conflicts between the diverse
groups of society. It also covers two old language
processes that have overlapped. One process has to do with
the spread of the national language that overcame
diversities through history and succeeded to become the
common language within the national community. The other
is the reaching of a standard national language based on
the habits of modern life, rather than on old models of
literary tradition.

Part One, "Everyday language: Evolution and variation",
groups five chapters, numbered from 1 to 5, which acquaint
the readers with the historical progress of the language up
to modern conventions.

Chapter One, "Language Planning and Language Change",
explains the long story of the "questione della lingua"
which started in the 15th century. "La questione della
lingua" is the debate born by the contrast between the
models inspired by literary works and everyday language
that lasted until 1870, the year when the Italian peninsula
became a national community. Since then there was a
standardization of language in all activities controlled by
the state, but the everyday language, since it could not be
monitored by official authorities, it produced a situation
of polymorphism. This phenomenon, even if only lightly,
persists in Italian today. The Fascist period, 1922-1943,
censored the use of dialects and even tried to eradicate
minority languages. It added its own figures of speech:
metonymy and metaphors and for propaganda purposes the
regime made also wide use of terms from the socialist

Chapter Two, "Linguistic Diversity" presents the
explanation of how, especially from the 16th century to the
19th century, dialects continued to be spoken throughout
Italy, while Italian was the only language adopted for
general writing purposes. Then, for the 20th century, the
author introduces us to several studies that were done
which identified three main varieties of Italian and three
varieties of dialects. The author also adds a section
explaining that when the dialects drew closer to the
national language, historical reasons caused the
introduction of 'foreign languages', defined as historical
minorities, next to the domestic minorities.

Chapter Three, "Standard and Non-Standard Variations" it
introduces us to the notion that the spread of the national
language resulted in a number of variations, due to the
contact with dialects, that Italian linguistics have
divided into varieties or strata, depending on the main
components and the characteristics of speakers. The author
expounds the theory of Berruto (1987, 1993) who exemplifies
different types of language by using a sentence according
to nine strata of the language.

Chapter Four, "Language in Education" gives the reader the
history of the Italian language in the field of education
in the last one hundred years. The author covers the period
of Fascism, the after-war years in which they wanted
education for all, and the models successfully or
unsuccessfully imposed in some areas. The chapter ends with
a section on teaching non-native speakers.

Chapter Five, "New conventions" deals with linguistic
etiquette in particular the clear marker of social distance
in the opposition between "tu" and "lei". Other areas that
are emphasized are the gender in language, expressions that
are politically correct, some expressions of racism related
to neo-Nazi, Red Brigade terrorism, anti-Semitic taunts.

Part Two, "Special Languages: Tradition and Innovations"
contains five chapters, numbered from 6 to 10. It takes the
reader further into the language examining different
aspects of modern Italian: bureaucracy, politics,
newspapers, advertising, and the young people language.

Chapter Six, "The Language of Bureaucracy" indicates that
bureaucratic language draws on many specialized areas such
as juridical administrative and financial vocabulary. Its
main objective, however, is to enhance the status of a
piece of communication, to raise formality levels in all

Chapter Seven, "The Language of Politicians" explains that
political language can be as longwinded and ambiguous as
bureaucratic language. The main difference is that this
type of language aims at persuading, as opposed to simply
informing. It is for that reason that the author wanting
to consider the development of the politician language,
takes a look at rhetoric by introducing Umberto Eco's
extensive analysis of rhetoric as a communication
technique. Then the rest of the chapter is dedicated to the
changes that occurred with the Second Republic which did
away with the plethora and small groupings.

Chapter Eight, "The Language of Newspapers" indicates that
since the late 1960s newspaper language has been a potent
vehicle for innovations to the point that today the gap
between spoken language and most varieties of written
language has considerably narrowed. The "Italian
journalese" needs to be brief, clear and 'official' and the
author gives us innumerable examples through studies of
Beccaria, Dardano (1973)and Eco (1977).

Chapter Nine, "The Language of Advertising" is a chapter
that examines the various aspects and purposes of
advertising as a language that reaches all tastes: from
information to persuasion, international slogans,
linguistic anomalies and figures of speech, from
innovations to stereotypes, bad tastes, and good causes.

Chapter Ten, "The Language of Young People" concentrates on
the language adopted by young Italians that in the last
thirty years has been one of the most remarkable
developments seen in Italian society. There is consensus
that this form of speech has developed concomitantly with
the declines in use of dialects among young people. It is
a special use of language rather than a special language in
its own right. This special use shows different features in
different age groups, but one general characteristic is the
short life span of most expressions, with a few surviving
because of their impact on ordinary language.

Part Three, "Language Contacts: Origin and Status". This
section contains three chapters numbered from 11 to 13. It
considers the fast diversification of communication habits
within new professions that with the new exchanges and
increased international relations brought about a
modification of the status and functions of all languages
in Europe. All speakers of different languages needed to
resort to English as the international lingua franca.

Chapter Eleven, "Italian and English in Italy". The
chapter deals at first with the factors involved in the
contact between the national language and English. Then,
the author explains through various examples how English
can travel easily. Other important topics in the chapter
deal with the passage from British English to American
English, Anglophones and Anglophobes, the formation of
Italian derivatives from English, the language of
computers, electronic music and the Internet.

Chapter Twelve, "Italian in English-Speaking Countries",
speaks of the interaction between Italian and English
outside Italy. The significant opportunities for language
contact were produced by the fact that English is one of
the most widely spoken languages and Italy has provided one
of the largest immigrant communities in the world. The
growth of Italian among communities of Italian immigrants
constituted an immense linguistic resource as well as an
important network for the spread of Italian language and
culture abroad.

Chapter Thirteen, "Italian in Multilingual Europe",
discusses in details the EU language policy and translation
service. The Union's legislation must be published in all
the Member States' official languages before it becomes
national law. Every time the Union grows, so does the
number of translators and interpreters, and all this means
more money. Modern technology and technical measures seems
to come to the rescue. However, professional translators
know very well that it is impossible even for the most
advanced machine to understand the full implications of a
text. To counterbalance this inconvenience the supporters
of machine translation argue that the texts should be
written in simplified language, so that machine will be
able to read texts in one language and recreate them in
another. The text, the author says will be culturally so
empty, that the complexity of the human brain will be

This book can serve as a text for a sociolinguistics class
or as part of a course on intercultural communication.
Certainly, with this volume, the author has fulfilled his
multiple objectives. In fact, his book appeals to students
and researchers in linguistics particularly because it
provides information on Italian language in action today.
I would add that this book is of great help also to native

The Reviewer: Giuliana Fazzion, Ph.D., teaches at James
Madison University. Besides Modern Italian Literature,
Italian Cinema, and Dante Alighieri's works, her research
interests include sociolinguistics, and issues related to
translation. She can be reached at


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