It has already become a custom for the media to publish news about certain bills without having read them.
What Reuters published and the versions of other media
This is what has happened with a bill presented by Fratelli d'Italia (FdI), Giorgia Meloni's party, in the Italian Senate. On March 31, the Reuters agency published a story about this project, stating that it "has proposed imposing fines of up to 100,000 euros ($108,750) on public and private entities which use foreign terms, most notably English, instead of Italian in official communications."
Basically this is what some media have broadcast. And others have developed that news with more or less rigor. For example, CNN has headlined as follows: "Italian government seeks to penalize the use of English words." In turn, Euronews headlines their story as follows: "Italy's right-wing government wants to ban English words with €100,000 fines". CBS News has chosen this headline: "A new law proposed in Italy would ban English — and violators could face fines of up to $110K." The Huffpost has gone a bit further: "100,000 euro fines for using English in Italy." What is true about this?
The text of the bill published by the Italian Senate
The common denominator of the cited news is that none of these media links the law. Here I have the habit of going to the sources and making them available to the readers. The project was published by the official gazette of the Italian Senate in December. The official text of that bill it can be read here (see PDF). If you find it more comfortable for translation purposes, you can read the web version here. The project was presented by Senator Antonio Iannone, of the aforementioned party, on August 6, 2018, as seen in the official publication.
The Italian Constitution does not establish any official language
The raison d'être of the project is that, unlike other fundamental laws, The Italian Constitution in force today, approved in 1947, does not establish any official language in that country. The same happens in countries like the United Kingdom or the United States, where there is no formal official language and the official status of English is understood as the language used to draft laws. In addition, and unlike Spanish and French, Italian does not have an official and public academy that sets its rules. Historically, the Accademia della Crusca, founded in 1583 in Florence, is in charge of that, but it is a private institution.
The legal gaps that this bill seeks to fill
The problem they have encountered in Italy is that by not having an official language, many workers may find themselves in the situation of having to sign employment contracts in other languages. It is one of the aspects that this law seeks to correct (see Article 5). The bill also requires knowledge of the Italian language for "anyone who holds positions in Italian institutions, the public administration, companies with a majority public participation and foundations whose assets are constituted by public donations" (Article 4.1).
The bill also establishes the use of Italian in the communications of public institutions, financed with public funds or that is of public utility (Article 3.1). Likewise, to make up for the lack of an official academy, the bill contemplates the creation of a Superior Council of the Italian Language, with functions equivalent to those of the French Academy and the Royal Spanish Academy.
What the bill says about foreign words
What part of the law refers to foreign words? Regardless of what the preamble says, Article 2.3 states: "The use of foreign words to indicate commercial activities, typical products, specialties and geographical areas of Italian denomination is prohibited. The Republic promotes by all means the protection of Italian names abroad". Thus, the prohibition of foreign words is not generalized, as some media suggest: it is limited to very specific cases. If that law is passed, no one could be fined for using a foreign term on the street, in the media, on social media, or on a blog.
So, and as anyone reading the law can see, it is false that in Italy English is going to be banned, that words in English are going to be banned or that fines are going to be imposed on everyone. to use that language in Italy. Some journalists should be ashamed to lie like that in their headlines and thus mislead their audience.
The part of that bill that doesn't seem right to me
Having said that, there are things in that bill that don't feel right to me. Although the text imposes linguistic obligations on public administrations, there are some obligations related to private companies. I have already cited the case of employment contracts. Article 4.3 also obliges to write in Italian the "internal regulations of companies operating in the national territory". So far good. The problem comes in Article 4.2:
"The acronyms and the names of the functions covered in the companies that operate in the national territory are in Italian. The use of acronyms and names in a foreign language is allowed in the absence of an equivalent in Italian."
Presumably this provision will be aimed at avoiding the use of acronyms such as "CEO" instead of executive director. The problem is that these are private entities. They are very free to name their internal roles however they want, such as calling the CEO "Superman" and the sales manager "Spiderman". What this article does is invade the scope of freedom of expression and business.
The fines (Article 8) have a range between 5,000 and 100,000 euros. These are exaggerated amounts for an administrative offense. It is increasingly common for administrative sanctions, imposed by officials, to have a much higher amount than criminal sanctions, imposed by judges and after a trial. It is a serious mistake.
On the other hand, Article 3.2 states: "For each event, conference and public meeting organized in Italy, it is mandatory to use translation and interpretation tools, also in writing, which guarantee a perfect comprehension in Italian of the contents of the event."
The use of the term "public" in the document is somewhat confusing. If it is about events, conferences and meetings of public administrations, what the project says is correct. But if it is about private events, again we would be facing an invasion of freedom of expression, which not only includes the content of the message, but also the language in which it is transmitted. If someone in Italy wants to give a lecture in Esperanto, in Polish or in Sanskrit, they should be free to do so, without having to hire a translator. And people are free not to attend that event or to leave if there is no translation.
Image: Portrait of Dante Alighieri, by Sandro Botticelli.
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