Italians, for some reason, tend to accept and use foreign terms quite easily. The foreign terms that have entered and are entering common usage are mainly from the English language. Their usage has been increasing so consistently in recent years that that main Italian language authority " l'Accademia della Crusca" has raised an official allarm regarding the 'invasion' of foreign terminology.

According to a recent study , the usage of English terms has increased by 773% in the last 8 years. L'Accademia has made a petition to 'Save the Italian Language ' and will officially ask the Italian Government, Public Administrations, Media and Public Companies to limit their use of foreign words and favour the Italian equivalent terms instead.

Whether this initiative will be successful or not (I really doubt it), this phenomenon is going to continue for years. I think it is a social-psycho-linguistic issue. That's why I am asking here what is a proper, correct term to define it.

P.S. This question is open also here and here.

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    Strictly political. The language is not being "contaminated" (consider the presuppositions of that word in a title, by the way), but enriched. Look at how many times official language groups have made fools of themselves by forbidding and proclaiming and being ignored. Look up the story of King Knut (Canute in English) and his relative power to the tides. Languages are not changed consciously; they are changed quite unconsciously, by people and in ways that have nothing whatsoever to do with "The Language" and its erstwhile "defenders" or "cleansers". Mar 8, 2015 at 21:49
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    @johnlawlerinexile, you are mostly right, however there are several exceptions. Off the top of my mind: (1) there are languages with prescriptive grammar and morphology (unlike descriptive one), e.g. Russian; (2) languages with unbound morphemes (Chinese) also tend to prefer local equivalents versus loanwords. In other words, I can easily imagine "Save Our Language" movements in these countries. Mar 8, 2015 at 22:07
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    @bytebuster, what do you mean by "there are languages with prescriptive grammar and morphology (unlike descriptive one), e.g. Russian?"
    – Alex B.
    Mar 8, 2015 at 23:00
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    @bytebuster what makes Russian distinct, then? Grammar texts can be descriptive or prescriptive. The grammar of a language, in and of itself, is neither. It's like letter vs spirit of the law — that's a perspective taken by the people who interpret the law, not the law itself. Mar 9, 2015 at 4:17
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    Isn't the question here clearly "How do you call the phenomenon of speakers of one language increasingly using words of another language without using a loaded word like contamination"? That's how I understood this
    – user9315
    Mar 9, 2015 at 18:36

2 Answers 2


The neutral phrase for this phenomenon is language contact which is one of the ways in which language change can occur.

What you have reported in your question is a matter of (having a wrong) perspective. I used to dislike the seemingly vast amount of loanwords, so I can understand those that don't like it, but I changed my mind. Consider this: you're living now, so your perspective comes from what is happening now. You (a general you) learned a certain language that you call Italian since your childhood, with a specific vocabulary. During your life you've experienced an acquisition of foreign terms, so from your perspective it's been "contaminated" (for lack of a better word) by other languages.

However this is a false perspective because the "base language" you learned as Italian is not "pure" at all. It's the result of all the previous influences and borrowings; there is no such thing as truly, 100% pure language. There are more welcoming and less welcoming languages, so to speak, but you won't find a truly immutable, pure language, at least not in the Information Age we're in. Geographically isolated languages might show a higher degree of "purity", but they can still be influenced, because that's the very nature of languages.

Going back to my previous statement, the Italian you learned is full of borrowed words that you think are perfectly Italian. Just to name a few:

  • Gazzella (gazelle), comes from Arabic ghazāl
  • Cifra (digit, number), comes from Arabic ṣifr
  • Bistecca comes from beef steak
  • Manichino comes from fr. mannequin
  • Fiordo, comes from Norwegian fjord
  • Grattacielo is a calque from English skyscraper

There's even cliccare, a verb formed by attaching the verb ending -are to the root clic, from English to click.

English has acquired many terms from Italian as well: opera, stanza, pianissimo, a cappella, falsetto, but I could really go on. It's also not a coincidence that these terms are all related music and theatre. Italian has been the Lingua Franca in Europe in the past, such as during the Renaissance, and many terms are still used in present day.

It should be mentioned that many loanwords stay side by side with the local terms, such as is the case with those that are used in defined contexts: The English term corner is used in soccer matches only, as far as Italian is concerned, while the corresponding word angolo is used for all instances (including soccer too at will).

In conclusion: languages change, and one of the ways they do is to assimilate foreign terms. That's just what they do. Trying to "save" a language can be good when the native speakers are dying out, but in this case it's kind of pointless.

  • I agree that borrowings like bistecca and cifra is an instance of language change, but if that is "the answer", then the question is mis-worded. The question talks extensively about L'Accademia's campaign to save the language from foreign words. The natural interpretation of the "it" which is being asked about would be the attitude expressed by L'Accademia and similar institutions. Focusing on L'Accademia makes no sense if the question is about the process of borrowing. We can only deal with the question asked, not the asker's intent.
    – user6726
    Mar 9, 2015 at 16:52
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    @user6726 I think that whole thing about l'Accademia and the petition was to provide some context although it ended up catching more attention than the actual question. I think he was asking how to call the "borrowing", and that is Language contact that results in Language change. Maybe I should specify this.
    – Alenanno
    Mar 9, 2015 at 17:24
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    @user6726 Considering that the name of the question is "What is a proper term for the contamination of a language" and that the natural antecedent for "it" in the question is "this phenomenon", it seems safe to assume that the asker was not asking about the name of the Accademia's mindset but about a non-loaded term like borrowing.
    – user9315
    Mar 9, 2015 at 20:20

This is an instance of xenophobia: there isn't a specific terms that relates to languages, because it's never just fear of foreign words, it's always paired with fear of any kind of foreign thing.

  • No, I am sorry. As I clearly said in my question, Italians are quite at ease with this issue. The concern of the Accademia is merely a linguistic one.
    – Mr. Black
    Mar 8, 2015 at 22:22
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    An individual or small group can be xenophobic, even in a very non-xenophobic society.
    – user6726
    Mar 8, 2015 at 22:26
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    How exactly did you find out that all the people showing dislike of loanwords are fearful of any kind of foreign thing? Did you ask them all? My brother regularly scolds me for using English terms where there is an appropriate German one, yet I have never seen a person I'd be less likely to describe as xenophobic.
    – user9315
    Mar 9, 2015 at 18:34
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    @MaxP: -phobia is used not just for fear, but also for aversion, antipathy or dislike (someone who is photophobic is not scared of the light). To wit, OED defines xenophobia as an antipathy, not a fear. If he has a strong dislike for foreign terms because they are foreign, he is, by definition, xenophobic with respect to the German language. Mar 10, 2015 at 4:05
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    @guifa a) then xenophobia is not by definition a bad thing, and b) user6726 explicitly talks about "fear of any king of foreign thing" and c) user6726 says that "it's never just fear of foreign words". Apart from them you can dislike foreign terms because they are an unneccessary addition, they are often used as an attention grab or because you feel using a foreign term because you can't think of the native one shows inferior command of your language. One of these reasons is traditionalist, one is aesthetic and one is slightly snobbish, but neither is xenophobic.
    – user9315
    Mar 10, 2015 at 11:01

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