The Italian Almanac

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The Purity of Language

The growing popularity of SMS messages is not a threat to the Italian language, the president of the national watchdog on the use of 'proper' Italian said. ''Let's debunk this belief,'' Nicoletta Maraschio of the Accademia della Crusca told woman's weekly Donna Moderna. The rise of the SMS message in Italy - and its common abbreviations of words for reasons of space - has long worried linguistic experts and especially teachers, who think the new way of writing may result in new generations having a poorer grip on the Italian language.

A conference organised by Accademia della Crusca last year revealed that teachers had already spotted some abbreviations - X for 'per' (for), XK? for perche? (why?), QLK for 'qualche' (some) - in their students' compositions. But Maraschio defended the use of the messages as giving Italians a chance to use the language more. ''SMS messages have multiplied the occasions on which Italians write, and we needed that,'' she said. ''I use them a lot myself''. She also scotched criticism that television and radio were dumbing down the language.

''The yackety-yak type programmes are detrimental because they empty words of meaning with their banality,'' she said. ''But there are some very useful programmes: (the science and natural history presenter) Piero Angela uses good, simple and effective Italian, for example''. ''And many radio journalists know how to communicate with their listeners without being confined by slang,'' she added.

The oldest language watchdog in the world, the Accademia della Crusca was founded in Florence in 1583 and brought out its first dictionary in 1612. It brings together scholars and experts in Italian linguistics and philology, loyal to its mission of maintaining the purity of the Italian language. It was the model for linguistic watchdogs in other countries - most notably the hallowed Academie Francaise.