Markets, Productivity, and Happiness in a Historical Perspective

From sterlino to whisper numbers: a diachronic investigation on stable and volatile loanwords in Italian domains of economics and finance

Vaccarelli Francesca , University of Teramo
Rosati Francesca, University of Teramo

Together with French, English has always been the most important source of exogenous enrichment of modern Italian vocabulary. The influences of English on Italian language, culture and society began to emerge as early as the 13th century, but it was only in the 20th century, in particular in the second half, that such influence reached very high levels. The impact of Anglo-American culture, especially after the Second World War, set the primacy of English as the most widespread foreign language in our Country – a primacy that in previous centuries had been the prerogative of French. Anglo-Saxon culture – i.e., its lifestyle, values, language, music, fashion – has become more and more popular in a gradual, but continuous and constant way. From time to time, scholars and pundits have debated the strong influence that the American myth has had on the seemingly weak, small-town and easily influenced mentality of Italians with tones ranging from mildly tolerant to bitterly critical. In 1989 Anna Dunlop (“Parliamo Itangliano”, English Today, 18: 32-35) talked about the “fatal attraction” that Angloamerican language and lifestyle exerted on Italians, highlighting how they have long been, if compared to the French neighbours for instance, less reluctant “victims” towards the infiltrations of English in their own language. Such influence of English on Italian has been so significant and dominant over the decades that the term “Itanglish” was coined in order to describe the many words, ideas and expressions of Angloamerican origin which has been entering our vocabulary – often mispronounced and used to add a hypothetical touch of class both to spoken and written Italian. Above all since the 1950s, English has been considered the main “donor language” for Italian, even if neither homogeneity nor continuity has been recorded in such influence that hit its heights between the 1970s and the 1980s, then went through a phase of “dormancy” and became acuter in the two decades of the 21st century. Therefore, this paper aims at investigating from a diachronic point of view the English loanwords which entered the Italian domains of economics and finance – from “sterlino”, “costuma” and “feo” in the 13th and 15th centuries to the many items in the 20th and 21st centuries – and verifying their stability (e.g., “benchmark”) or their volatility (e.g., “plain vanilla” and “whisper number”).


Keywords: anglicismi, italiano settoriale, contatto linguistico