The Life of Language

Political correctness, Italian-style

Political correctness is as alive and well in Italian as it is in English. Fifty years ago a domestic was called serva. Later the term domestica came into use, but today the term colf, an abbreviation of collaboratrice famigliare or “family collaborator" is used. A street sweeper used to be called a “spazzino." About 40 or 50 years ago, the term netturbino or “city cleaner-upper" came into use. But today’s correct term is operatore ecologico or “ecological worker." The words for blind and deaf, respectively, are cieco and sordo, but applied to an individual the more accepted terms are now non vedente and audioleso, meaning “non-seer" and “one who is hearing challenged."

Lucy Carlone, Italian lecturer

Turning labels upside down

In the type of French slang called verlan—in which words are changed by reversing the order of syllables—Beur means Arabe, but refers more specifically to the French-born descendants of North African or Maghrebi immigrants. The word emerged in the 1980s with the growing visibility of Beurs in the media, and it placed them in a category inherently apart from those of supposed pure French heritage. The Beurs, or French issus de l’immigration (children of immigrants), as the official discourse calls them, are still referred to—in the media as well as in academic circles—as “second and third generation immigrants" instead of simply as “French." Yet, if originally others gave them this label, the Beurs and Beurettes have reappropriated and transformed its meaning. Such was the case of Zebda, a music group, whose name means “butter" in Arabic and beurre in French, a homonym of Beur. Beur has even been recently “verlanized" back into rebeu (also spelled reubeu and robeu) as an attempt by the Beurs to reclaim a sense of lost identity. And the word has given birth to Beurgeois to describe those Beurs who have successfully ascended socially and economically. —Hakim Abderrezak, assistant professor of French

Good Education

No one word in modern Italian is the exact equivalent of the English “politeness" or the French politesse. Italian does have educazione, which refers to manners rather than studies, suggesting the way our families—not our teachers—raised us. The expression i>maleducato (poorly raised) is often heard to describe someone who is particularly loud, rude or unrefined—in a word, impolite.

The French and English terms politesse and politeness derive from the Latin root politus. The same root is present in the Italian word pulito or “clean." The connection between the two terms is not so far-fetched. It is enough to enter an average family household (maybe avoiding university housing) to see how much pulizia (cleanliness) has to do with educazione. The emphasis placed on cleaning and organization, even in the most modest of homes, usually baffles the foreign visitor. Receiving someone in a spotless house is often more important than giving up a seat on a bus to the elderly.
Sabrina Ovan, director of language instruction in Italian

Le Franglais

The debate over the use of Anglicisms, or le Franglais, in contemporary French is nothing new.

Although purists decry the prevalence of English as a threat to the future of French civilization, most ordinary French people are caught up in the English-loving trend. Anglophones who use and teach French as a second language no longer have to worry that the words we learned were faux amis (false friends), such as réaliser and opportunité, as they are now widely used and accepted with the familiar English meanings. Of course, many of the Anglicisms are almost puzzling to English speakers. For example, a fashion Web site entreats us to “Donner un peu de peps à une jolie petite robe!" To keep up with their favorite celebrities, the French read “la presse people."

Being surrounded by Anglophone culture on all sides, and having struggled to ensure a future for their language and culture, the people of Québec have made a diligent effort to create a Québécois standard variety devoid of the borrowings that are ubiquitous in the popular Montreal speech known as joual. Thus the term courriel, invented and widely used in Québec, is a frequent alternative to e-mail, the preferred term of French internautes.

Betsy Kerr, associate professor of French



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This page contains a single entry by cla published on June 27, 2008 7:47 PM.

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