As every other living thing on planet Earth, languages are born, grow and die.
Setting aside for the moment the topic of languages’ birth and death and the age-old question about what to do with endangered languages, let us focus on language growth and development.
A general and boring overview (for linguistic nerds only!)
Generally speaking, there are many factors influencing the process of growing and developing of a language: among these, two are intrinsic factors and one is an extrinsic factor. The two intrinsic ones are on the one hand the number of speakers a certain language has and on the other hand its “prestige”. First of all, it goes without saying that the more speakers a language has the faster it will grow – and change too. As for prestige, it is possible to say that the higher level of respect is accorded to a language the more it will influence other lower-prestige languages. The extrinsic factor is a certain language’s exposure to external influence. For example, a French speaker living in France will have more chances of getting in contact with people living outside the borders of his or her country compared with a speaker of Huli in Papua New Guinea. This also means that it will be far more likely that the French speaker will “contaminate” his or her own native language with new foreign elements.
The situation described above is common to all languages in the world. However, there are also other minor factors – which are typical of a certain language and culture – that influence the process of that language’s growth and change.
The case of Italian
Considering the case of Italian, we may notice two main trends in its development and growth: one is a relatively strong liking for exoticisms, and the other is its richness of dialectal varieties. We can see a proof of what I stated above by giving a look at the latest edition (2010) of the main Italian language dictionary, “the Vocabolario della Lingua Italiana di Nicola Zingarelli”.
Here is a list of a few interesting words among the newest entries:
– Loan words from English: ‘shot’, ‘shottino’ (meaning a little glass of an alcoholic drink), ‘acquaspinning’, ‘crunch’, ’emo’ (short version of ’emotional’).
– Words coming from local dialects or parlances: ‘impanicarsi’ (to panic), ‘inguattare’ (to hide something), ‘pinocchietto’ (capri pants), ‘nduja’ (spreadable sausage from Calabria made with pork), ‘friarielli’ (a vegetable commonly known as field mustard), ‘inciucio’ (a dishonest agreement).
– Neologisms: ‘cinepanettone’ (a commercial movie released at Christmas time), ‘cinecocomero’ (a commercial movie released in summer)
The Zingarelli dictionary has also engaged in the endeavor to save words that are less used and replaced by more common synonyms in the everyday language. Among these we can find words such as ‘abulico’ (abulic), ‘aulico’ (noble, refined), ‘scherno’ (mockery), ‘zelo’ (zeal) or ‘trastullare’ (to amuse).
What about your language? Are there any new words in your language that you like? Are there any old-fashioned words you would like to save?
Share your ideas in the comments!