La inglese lingua: uno straniero idioma o il nostro del futuro nazionale linguaggio?

English-as-Official-Language_Map

(Per un attimo, ho pensato di scrivere tutto il post come ho fatto con il titolo, ma ho avuto subito un mancamento. Rimando gli interessati ad Asterix e i Britanni, di Goscinny e Uderzo, 1966.)

Ti sembrerà incredibile, ma di fatto nell’Europa continentale (Italia, Francia, Spagna, Germania) l’inglese si conosce ancora poco. Questo fatto è davvero anacronistico. Da un po’ di tempo sostengo l’assoluta necessità di imparare l’inglese per chi non è madrelingua (che sia o no italiano). Basta pensare che la stragrande maggioranza dei contenuti su Internet è in inglese e soprattutto è in inglese anche la stragrande maggioranza dei contenuti di qualità. Troppo spesso, per quanto ci riguarda, i contenuti in italiano sono dei rimaneggiamenti di contenuti originali pubblicati in inglese, e non raramente la loro qualità lascia comunque a desiderare.

L’abilità di leggere l’inglese è importantissima e, se vogliamo avere risonanza anche al di fuori dei confini nazionali, allora dovremmo anche imparare a scrivere direttamente in inglese. Ovviamente questo non vale sempre. Per esempio, è praticamente inutile (almeno per il momento) comunicare in inglese se il nostro target è l’Italia. Ma, anche se il nostro target è il mondo, allora comunicare in inglese escluderà automaticamente gran parte del pubblico italiano. Inoltre, data l’altissima qualità di molti contenuti in inglese, faremo fatica ad attirare l’attenzione degli anglofoni se non avremo almeno una buona padronanza della grammatica e se non saremo capaci di esprimerci in maniera chiara e semplice. Il lettore anglofono medio non perdona le sgrammaticature gravi e non ama i pensieri confusi, in stile idealista ‘continentale’ (cioè quello tipico della scrittura come è insegnata nelle scuole e nelle università italiane, francesi, tedesche, spagnole, ecc.) Quindi, dovremmo giudicare in base al caso se è utile investire in testi in inglese oppure no. In ogni caso, imparare a scrivere decentemente in inglese insegna anche ad avere un pensiero più chiaro e più semplice.

Un dato interessante: una ricerca di BBC ha rilevato che solo il 2-3% della letteratura pubblicata in lingua inglese consiste in traduzioni da altre lingue. Quindi gli editori anglosassoni hanno poco interesse per i contenuti originali in altre lingue. Si sa, gran parte degli anglofoni capisce solo l’inglese. Ma questo dato ci dice anche che i lettori anglofoni sono poco interessati alle altre culture, anche se queste sono rese accessibili attraverso una traduzione. Potremmo anche chiederci se le opere letterarie non in inglese non vengono tradotte perché sono giudicate a ragione di non sufficiente qualità, oppure se quella degli anglofoni è solo una specie di presunzione culturale. In ogni caso, se il mercato mondiale è dominato da pubblicazioni in inglese (perché i grossi editori sono anglosassoni e perché sospetto che la situazione non sia molto diversa per quanto riguarda la non-fiction), allora in media ci saranno anche più testi di qualità in inglese che non in altre lingue, per un semplice calcolo delle probabilità.

Possiamo indignarci, oppure prendere atto di questo fatto e provare a giocare secondo le regole dell’Anglosfera (vedi cartina geografica in apertura). È una questione di priorità: contano di più le idee o le forme? Se pensiamo che le nostre idee possano avere un valore internazionale, allora credo che valga decisamente la pena tentare di esprimerle in inglese. Non è facile, ma grazie a Internet, alle tantissime occasioni di confronto e di pratica con utenti madrelingua inglese, è molto più facile di un tempo. A volte si riescono anche a conoscere online dei madrelingua inglese che sanno scrivere bene e che sono felici di darti dei consigli o addirittura di editare i tuoi testi, anche gratis. I forum dei MOOC, per esempio (come quelli offerti da Coursera), sono delle arene fantastiche anche per mettere alla prova e cercare di migliorare le proprie capacità di lettura e scrittura dell’inglese (lingua in cui sono offerti gran parte dei corsi). E poi capita a volte di assistere a divertenti bisticci fra britannici e Americani sulla lingua inglese ‘perfetta’! Un’altra buona pratica è leggere gli articoli su BBC News : puoi stare certo che sono scritti benissimo. In bocca al lupo! 🙂

Non sottovalutare l’importanza dell’inglese. Qualcuno dice che nel futuro parleremo tutti cinese. Secondo me, è molto improbabile. Il cinese è una lingua troppo complicata per essere adottata come lingua globale. Invece, l’inglese è un buon candidato (accanto allo spagnolo).

(Però, almeno per il momento, non esageriamo con l’inglese! Per esempio, basta con questo ‘Made in Italy’. Quale altro paese non anglofono si vende ufficialmente al mondo usando uno slogan in inglese? Lasciamo perdere i paesi dell’Estremo Oriente asiatico: le loro lingue sono troppo diverse dalle lingue neolatine o germaniche. Invece, pensiamo davvero che un anglofono non possa capire una frase semplice come ‘Prodotto in Italia’?)

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6 thoughts on “La inglese lingua: uno straniero idioma o il nostro del futuro nazionale linguaggio?

  1. Egregio Signore

    I read your post using Google Translate, which was a reminder of just how unsatisfactory Google Translate is! But I do hope that your fainting fit (assuming Google got this right) was not too serious! A cup of hot sweet tea (preferably Twining’s Strong Breakfast Tea) is my preferred medicine in cases of mild fainting, by the way!

    I was surprised to read your view that few Europeans speak English, since as a tourist I have found that when visiting a European country I can usually rely on finding somebody who speaks a little English to help me out. As an English person I find that many Europeans and others are learning to speak American English, rather than British English, possibly because so much popular music is sung with an American accent, and possibly because of the almost hegemonic position of the United States (and here I realise that I have used a term deriving from an Italian thinker!)

    On the other hand, I do make an effort to learn to say a few words in the native language, especially ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Being polite costs nothing and shows, I hope, respect for the language and culture of my fellow Europeans. At least I try hard not to be like the stereotypical English person abroad, who believes that by speaking slowly and loudly and using language such as that one might use with children one can make people understand!

    While the English have a reputation for not learning other languages, something which successive governments have tried to redress*, I come from a family in which several generations have learned one or more European languages with enjoyment and interest, and I can say that when one has acquired skills in translation there are very few opportunities to earn a living wage. The pay for translation and other language work, such as writing sub-titles for foreign films and TV shows is not good. Yet there is an appetite in England for such shows, as the success of series like the Italian Montalbano, the French Engrenages and the Danish Forbrydelsen has shown. We are not all as dismissive of European culture as we are sometimes thought to be. And of course, our own national bard, Shakespeare, drew, albeit indirectly, from Italian sources such as Francesco Petrarca.

    I once read that one can buy in any language, but one should try to sell in the language of the intended purchaser. I assume that this is why our government wants us to get better at speaking foreign languages. That said, we in England are learning to read and understand terms such as appellation d’origine contrôlée and Denominazione di Origine Controllata!

    * http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-25003828

  2. Gentile Signora,

    Thanks for your comment, I appreciated it so much!

    The faint (yes, Google Translate got it right) was avoided in time, fortunately. Google Translate got a number of other sentences wrong instead (I have checked it myself), especially by turning several sentences into the affirmative form, while in my original they are in the negative form. Which is a serious mistake, of course! But your comment seems in line with what I have actually written, so I suppose that you spotted those incorrect automatic translations. And, by the way, thanks Google Translate for making my post accessible to non-native speakers of Italian. I am totally pro technology, even if I agree that the artificial intelligence behind the program has still a number of problems.

    I agree with you on many of the points that you raise.

    In general, in my post I was being rather radical purposefully. My intention was to stimulate my fellow nationals to go beyond the borders of ‘Little Italy’ (not talking of the NY borough here, of course) and exploit all the quality information in English on any field imaginable that today is almost incredibly available on the Internet.

    Your comment is so rich, it touches upon different valuable issues, that one has indeed several options to address it, and many of your observations would deserve a dedicated, independent reply. But I have to make a choice now, and it will be one dictated by my current state of mind (since we know each other rather well, dear Karen, we might talk about any other aspect in other times and places, of course).

    I am of course positively surprised to learn that a series like Montalbano is appreciated in the UK. It’s a good series, I watch it when I can. Zingaretti is a great actor and Camilleri a very good writer, of course. It’s nice to know of its popularity even abroad. But you stress how few subtitles are paid, which is sad. You probably know that in Italy films are completely translated and professional speakers (‘doppiatori’) are used. So, for instance, we generally don’t know how the real voice of Al Pacino or Leonardo DiCaprio sound. We know instead that they are ‘doubled’ by Italian speakers, even if we don’t always know who they are actually (Ferruccio Amendola did Pacino for a long time. Not sure who does DiCaprio).

    I think that the Italian habit of translating films influenced a certain laziness towards learning English.

    You also mention Francesco Petrarca. I did not know that Shakespeare knew his works. When we are taught Italian literature at school, it is rarely put into context properly. Italy has had a fantastic cultural history, but I don’t think that most Italians are really aware of the real significance of it. That might also have to do with the hegemony (Machiavelli?) of US culture, as you remark very rightly, anything coming from ‘America’ (par excellence) being often valued more that it deserves. But that’s just the world we live in. The aroma of ancient Europe is just perceived as a smell of old fashioned things. UK is probably included here.

    So, yes, humanities and languages still struggle to gain public attention, compared to science and technology. However, the UK government fostering the teaching of foreign languages is an evidence of how culturally advanced your country is compared to mine. One thing is a governmental resolution and one thing is how things develop, of course, but I find it admirable that a country whose language is understood in half the world, to say the least, is actively promoting the teaching of other, much less popular languages.

    Suppose that the final goal is just learning the language of prospective customers, just to use another observation that you make. It might be crude, compared to a sincere cultural interest. But, again, that’s the world today. Perhaps, materialistic reasons can favour a more integrated global society more than any somehow idealistic purposes.

    But you also say “I once read that one can buy in any language, but one should try to sell in the language of the intended purchaser.” So, yes, you also envisaged already the possible economic aspects behind the arguments by the British Council.

    That is also related to my “stop with the ‘Made in Italy’ slogan” statement, I think. I wonder how many Italian entrepreneurs can say more, in English, than “my company represents the excellence of Made in Italy”, however. I am afraid to say that the slogan is slowly emptying itself of any valuable content. And too often the message is that, just because something is made in Italy, then its quality must be good. The Italian government and ministry for economy have certainly a responsibility for it (words are for free, effective economic politics are not).

    Well, I was hoping to write a short comment, while at the end I practically got a new post!

    I am happy that you don’t think speaking English loudly helps non English speakers to understand! Haha, so true, what you say. It happens to Italians too, of course.

    And glad that you are learning the meaning of DOC and of DOCG (?). By the way, if you are interested in wine, I would like to mention here that a couple of years ago I have given my contribution to the Wikipedia article in English on Italian wine. I have written the section on the notoriously confusing Italian wine appellation, the first paragraph on Super Tuscans and the short section on wine guides. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italian_wine .

    By the way, do you know ‘Inventing Freedom’ by Daniel Hannan?

    1. I had not heard of Daniel Hannan, but having learned of his views on our much-loved though currently beleaguered National Health Service, I can state with certainty that I would not be prepared to endorse his overall view on that at least!

      1. I bought the book at Barnes and Noble while I was in New York. The imposing Manhattan around me certainly played a part in triggering my curiosity to know more of the relationship between the spread of English and the development of advanced, modern societies. The book seems well written to me, even if the conservative position of the author (whose political stance I discovered later) is often apparent and I must say that in general I don’t agree with it. I still have to finish the book, however. I remember that the chapter on the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution was difficult and a bit boring. I think that Hannan tries to support his points of view on certain current affairs by making reference to facts and points of view of old times. Which of course can often be a very disputable move. In any case, the book also gives a lot of information that I found very interesting, because I am not at all an expert of the history of English. As an expert like you are, maybe you have in mind an alternative good reading for me, Karen?

  3. On Italian wine, an Italian producer of Prosecco appeared on a UK TV food programme last week, complaining about pubs selling sparkling white wine ‘on draft’ (Italian: alla spina) and calling it Prosecco. You may know that Prosecco is very popular in the UK at the moment. His point was that this breaches the regulations about the circumstances in which wine may be sold as Prosecco. (My thought was that it feels wrong to be buying wine ‘on tap’ where ever it is made and whatever it is called!)
    I found that a number of UK newspapers had covered this story with fine examples of the punning headlines so beloved of newspaper editors such as ‘Prosecco on draught in pubs gets the Italians in a fizz’, punning on fizz meaning bubbly/sparkling and fizz meaning annoyed!

    1. This is amusing!

      The history of Prosecco is interesting. In Italy there have been a number of complaints by producers, because wine obtained from non-authorized grapes was sold as Prosecco (even recently, and I believe that it still happens). The producers have their reasons, but it is also true that ‘prosecco’ was used for at least two centuries as the name of a variety of different wines, before the official regulation was issued in the 1960s. So, that is a battle between legislation and tradition, and it’s not easy to find a settlement. Prosecco is also a very popular wine in every part of the world, hence the interests are big.

      As far as I know, the authorized packaging for a wine under protected designation of origin (like Prosecco is) should be explicitly mentioned in the official regulation. So, for instance, it must be stated if you can sell Prosecco not only in bottle but also in bag-in-box or in different types of containers, such as casks to serve the wine ‘alla spina’. What I am not sure about is what happens when the wine is sold abroad.

      I agree with you that asking for a wine on draft is not the best. It happened to me a number of times, but the circumstance was generally peculiar (small local producers trying to promote their wines in a cheap, easy way; popular events with live music and cheap drinking).

      The fact behind the case of the UK pubs, I believe, is that each country has its own trading regulations, so the producers should accept the fact that, once you have sold the wine to the foreign importer, you lose a lot of control on the way it is then commercialized (and, as I was saying, I am not sure if some of the Italian regulations still apply).

      Moreover, Prosecco is not Barolo or Amarone, in the sense that it’s a mass-market product. Some Proseccos are really fine, excellent wines, while others are just entry-level products. Unfortunately, Italy never developed a categorization by crus, meaning that by law every legal Prosecco DOC is the same as any other (in France, instead, often wines are also categorized under different levels of excellence, within the same Protected Designation). The high excises on wine in the UK prevent most importers to buy expensive, high quality Proseccos (also including those under the Prosecco DOCG designation, which are typically of a higher quality), because the name is associated to a popular and relatively cheap wine, as you also say. That is to say, consumers in the UK are generally not so willing to buy an expensive Prosecco, if they can find a cheap one.

      It’s also a matter of education, of course, and actually many Italian producers are working to disseminate a better wine culture, both in Italy and abroad.

      However, I remember that in London (a wine bar in Covent Garden, in a basement there) we asked for some wine by the glass and the bartender used a measuring cup to fill exactly 150 cl in the glass. We appreciated it a lot, and it’s something that you don’t see in Italy.

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