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Review of  Language and Society in a Changing Italy

Reviewer: Anna-Maria De Cesare Greenwald
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: 12.1193

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Tosi, Arturo (2001) Language and Society in a changing Italy, Multilingual
matters 117, 288 pp, ISBN 1-85359-501-2 (hardback), ISBN 1-85359-500-4

Reviewed by Anna-Maria De Cesare, Duke University

Purpose of the book

According to Arturo Tosi, the purpose of this book is to explain the
interrelation "between language and society in contemporary Italy",
especially the last fifty years, as well as "to provide an up to date
account of linguistic diversity, social variation, special codes and
language varieties within Italian society, and in situations of language
contact both within and without Italy" (p. vii).

This book has been especially designed for "students of Italian abroad who
have little or no previous knowledge of linguistics, who have little or no
knowledge of Italian" (p. vii). The book has further been designed both for
students and scholars interested in European multilingualism and those who
wish to look at how language operates within the Italian communities as
well as in English-speaking countries.


The identification of three major dimensions of Italian sociolinguistics -
ordinary language, special languages and contact varieties - provides a
natural division of the book in three main sections. These three parts are
further divided into parts (usually 4 to 6), that are again divided into
several little paragraphs (from 2 to 6 pages). The content of the book is
as follows (for a more detailed account of the book content, see
review/subject n. 12.1099):

Part 1 Everyday language: evolution and variation (pp. 1-90)

Chapter 1 ("Language planning and language change") deals with the change
in language mainly from the perspective of changes in history and politics.
Chapter 2 ("Linguistic diversity") provides a close look at the situation
between language and dialects and between language and minority groups
(such as: Catalan, French, Occitan, Albanian and Greek, German, Friulian,
Slovene and Serbo-Croat, Sardinian, several varieties of Ladin). It also
gives an explanation about the present multilingual situation in Italy.
Chapter 3 ("Standard and non-standard variations") provides a description
of the concept of "Standard Italian" as well as of the following varieties:
Regional Italian (with the discussion of further varieties, such as: the
Northern, Tuscan, Roman and Southern varieties); "Substandard" Italian or
"Italiano popolare"; Colloquial Italian or "Italiano parlato"; Neostandard
Italian or "Italiano dell'uso medio". Tosi presents the main
characteristics of these varieties: special lexical items, morphosemantic
features, phonetic features (pronunciation), etc. Chapter 4 ("Language in
education") deals with language curricula and the educational side of the
language, that is "standard Italian". It discusses and presents some
principles for teaching the "national language" and the news ideas about
language teaching. Chapter 5 ("New conventions") presents some of the
modern aspects of standard Italian. It discusses Linguistic etiquette;
Language and gender; Political correctness; Racism, vulgarism and snobbery;
Conformism, "newspeak" and new words.

Part 2 Special languages: tradition and innovations (pp. 91-204)

The second part of the book presents the particularities of five special
languages: The language of bureaucracy (chap. 6), The language of
politicians (chap. 7), The language of newspapers (chap. 8), The language
of advertising (chap. 9) and The language of young people (chap. 10). It
gives a very good deal of examples and explanations of the function and
functioning of these languages. It also presents the results of the main
researches done in these areas (mainly by Italian linguists).

Part 3 Language contacts: origin and status (pp. 205-262)

The first two chapters of this section (chap. 11: "Italian and English in
Italy" and chap. 12: Italian in English-speaking countries) presents most
of all the influence of Italian in the English language and vice versa. For
instance, it provides a list of areas of Italian words that today are part
of the English language and presents the English words that are today part
of the Italian language. This part begins with the 13th and 14th century
and ends in the contemporary era with the use of words related to the world
of music, internet and new technologies. The last chapter (chap. 13:
"Italian in multilingual Europe") deals with the question of language
within the EU. It presents and discusses the role of standard Italian
within this system.

Conclusions (pp. 263-268)

References (pp. 269-280)

Index (pp. 281-288)


Tosi's "Language and society in a changing Italy" gives a very thorough
account of the interrelation between the Italian language and the Italian
society (links such as language and politics, mass media, gender,
emigration etc. are discussed). Because the book covers many different
aspects of this interrelation, it gives us a very good idea about the
present situation in Italy. It gives an account for both the present
situation in Italy and the main events that led to it.

Moreover, this book presents the ideas and the results of the main
sociolinguistic researches about Italian and Italy (especially in the last
35 years). This book will greatly benefit those with no knowledge of the
Italian language, as most of the literature to date has been written in
Italian. This book will also serve the purpose of presenting an overview of
the situation in present day Italy to those wanting to have a comprehensive
image of Italian as a language and a society. It is definitely a reference
book for Italian sociolinguistics and could even be used as a textbook for
a class on that subject.

I particularly enjoyed the part concerning "the Language of politicians".
It is very clear and presents the rhetoric of two of the main figures in
Italian politics who are still important today, Umberto Bossi and Silvio
Berlusconi. This part of the book not only presents the main ideas of the
two parties that these men created but also provides the reader with a
thorough "dissection" of the linguistic strategies used to achieve their
political goal(s). The same detailed account is offered for the special
languages of bureaucracy, advertising and young people. The pleasurable
clarity of this part of the book stems from the large number of examples,
the aim of which is to illustrate the main strategies used in each of these
special languages.

For a book written for a general audience, I found Tosi's "Language and
Society in a changing Italy" to be not only detailed but also well argued
and easily accessible. This accessibility arise form the separation of the
subjects into different paragraphs and the absence of footnotes.

Although the book is definitely very useful to anyone interested in
sociolinguistics in general and in the Italian language and society in
particular, students with no knowledge of linguistics, Italian and Italy,
may not always find the book very useful. I would have wished to see some
more basic explanations of the concepts used and about Italy in general. In
part 1, for instance, when presenting the situation of the language
minorities in Italy, I would have liked to see a map of Italy, with the
exact locations of the language minorities to which Tosi refers.

While this book contains a lot of Italian examples, the reader with no
previous knowledge of the Italian language may find some of the examples
difficult to understand. The ones that are not part of the text are always
accompanied with an English translation, but a good number of examples that
appear in the main body of the text are not, making it impossible for the
reader with no knowledge of Italian to understand. The matrix of examples
used to illustrate regional differences are also very hard to understand
for non Italian speakers, although translations of those differences would
be very difficult if not impossible.

The division of the book into parts, subparts and sub-subparts is useful to
anyone interested in having a brief presentation (several pages) about a
given topic. To the person who reads it from the beginning to the end,
however, it sometimes gives the book a somewhat repetitive tone. Another
phenomenon deriving from the division of the book into different sections
is that one finds answers to questions that might arise during the reading
only much later in the book, because of the absence of any
cross-referencing. One example is to be found in the section called "the
fascist language policy". There, we read that the nationalistic campaign
conducted by Fascists wanted the "prescription of selected forms considered
to be more 'Italian' (the allocution 'voi' instead of 'lei')" (p. 7). One
can only wonder why, as no explanation is provided in the same chapter of
the book. The explanation seems to come only later in the book: "'lei' is
normally adopted in northern / central Italy while in the southern regions,
Sicily and Sardinia there used to be a general 'voi'" (p. 44). Can that
mean that the Fascist considered the pronoun "lei" to be closely associated
with the north of the country and for that reason not Roman enough to be

Finally, Tosi's book provides a very useful reference section, including
the main titles of Italian sociolinguistics and the main Italian scholars
(Beccaria, Berruto, Cortelazzo, Dardano, De Mauro, Lepschy, Serianni,
etc.). It is a very good starting point to both anyone interested in a
specific topic of Italian sociolinguistics and anyone interested in having
an idea of the picture of the situation of Italian research today. Glancing
at the reference section gives us also a good idea about the language that
one has to know in order to learn more about Italian sociolinguistics.
Except for an important English bibliography written by Tosi himself,
almost all the other titles are in Italian (but note: Andreoni 1983; Bates
and Benigni 1975; Bettoni 1981, 1986; Boissevain 1976; Cervi 1991; Child
1943; Correa-Zoli 1981; Danesi 1986; Di Pietro 1977; Richards 1994;
Saltarelli 1986). Could it be a sign of the disinterest of the
international research community for this field? What is the research
situation in the United States? Are there more Americans to be included in
this list? Or is the English speaking world not particularly interested in
Italian (with the exception of Tosi)?


Andreoni, G. (1983) "Australoitalian: A community language. Introduction",
in F. Leoni (ed.), "Vocabolario Australoitaliano". Armidale: University of
new England Press.

Bates, E. and Benigni, L. (1975) "Rules of address in Italy: A sociological
survey", "Language and Society 4", 271-88.

Bettoni, C. (1986) "Italian abroad. Studies on language contact in
English-speaking countries", Sidney: Frederick May Foundation of Italian

Boissevain, J.F. (1976) "The Italians of Monreal: Social adjustment in
plural society". Ottawa: Studies of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism
and Biculturalism.

Cervi, B. (1991) "The Italian speech community" in S. Alladina and V.
Edwards (eds) "Multilingualism in the British Isles" (pp. 214-27). London
and New York: Longman.

Child, I. (1943) "Italian or American? The second generation in conflict".
New Haven: Yale University Press.

Correa-Zoli, Y. (1981) "The language of Italian Americans" in A. Ferguson
and S.B. Heath (eds) "Language in the USA" (pp. 239-56). Cambridge, London,
New York: Cambridge University Press.

Danesi, M. (1986) "Teaching a heritage language to dialect-speaking
students" Toronto: Ontario Institute for studies in education and centro
canadese scuola e cultura italiana.

Di Pietro, R.J. (1977) "The magic of Italian in the New World" in R.J. Di
Pietro and E. Blansitt (eds) "Third LACUS Forum" (pp. 158-65). Colombia,
SC: Hornbeam Press

Richards, C. (1994) "The new Italians" London: Penguin.

Saltarelli, M. (1986) "Italian in the USA: stratification and cohesion" in
C. Bettoni (ed) "Italian abroad. Studies on language contact in
English-speaking countries" (pp. 105-12). Sidney: Frederick May Foundation
of Italian studies.

Reviewer : My name is Anna-Maria De Cesare. I am a Ph.D student in Italian
linguistics at the University of Geneva, Switzerland and I am currently a
"visiting instructor of Italian" at Duke University, North Carolina. My
academic interests include lexical semantics (especially the adverbials),
informational structure of the sentence, sentence processing, (lexical)
diachronical changes and syntax. My dissertation deals with two
semantico-pragmatic concepts: "intensification" and "focalisation".


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