Names, Words, and Pronouns: Italianization Under Fascist Rule

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Italianization and Linguistic Policies during Fascist Italy.

Caption of the cartoon in the featured image: Here Lies the LEI, whose delicate constitution could not withstand the fascist climate, source: Istituto Luce

In the two-decade span of Italy’s Fascist era, a distinct political strategy, known as Italianization, was employed to infuse the regime’s ideology into Italian names and language. This strategy was not solely focused on propagating the Italian language but also aimed to manipulate the dialect usage among linguistic groups with different native languages. The concept of linguistic self-sufficiency had its roots in the early 20th century, but the regime added an ideological layer with the goal of amplifying a centralist connotation and managing popular consensus, particularly in newly colonized areas.

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The regime encouraged Italians to adopt new, “authentically Italian” terms, replacing those that were of foreign origin or seemed to be so. Anything perceived as foreign was deemed alien and non-patriotic. For instance, bars were renamed “mescite” or “quisibeve,” sandwiches became “tramezzini,” the tennis club was rebranded as “consociazione della pallacorda,” cashmere was referred to as “casimiro,” film became “filmo,” alcohol was labeled “alcole,” and football was called “calcio.” Football teams with foreign-sounding names were also mandated to change: for example, Milan was renamed Milano (from 1938 to 1945), and Inter was dubbed “Ambrosiana.”

Fascist plaque advertising the use of 'tu' and 'voi
Fascist plaque advertising the use of ‘tu’ and ‘voi

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The Italianization process also extended to many surnames that ended with a consonant, which appeared “foreign”; an ending vowel was added to make them sound “more Italian.” This operation was rationalized as providing every Italian with the “legitimacy” to “reclaim” an Italian surname. This demographic shift, achieved by submitting a written request to the prefect, was initially granted to inhabitants of the province of Trento, as per the law of January 10, 1926, no. 17, and was definitively converted into law on May 24, 1926, no. 898. The latter law’s final paragraph established that once a surname was officially Italianized, using its “foreign” form was punishable by a fine ranging from 500 to 5000 lire. The second article of the law extended the possibility of Italianizing foreign or foreign-origin surnames, upon request of the interested party, even in cases not provided for by art. 1. Subsequent royal decrees in 1927 and 1928 expressly extended the Italianization of names to the entire area of Venezia Tridentina and the Fiume zone. These laws were only repealed in 1991, with the law of March 28, 1991, no. 114. The process of Italianizing names also involved converting the official toponymy of all the localities in the South Tyrolean area.

The historical context reveals a process that entailed the censorship or outright closure of newspapers that were not in the Italian language. Additionally, there was a strategic encouragement to relocate individuals who spoke Italian to regions where the majority spoke different languages. A particularly notable instance of this was observed in Bolzano, a municipality located in South Tyrol, where the majority of the population spoke German. Furthermore, the policy extended to the financial sector, involving the closure of local banks and credit institutions and the abolition of any secondary official languages.

Poster displayed in Dignano: Attention! It is absolutely forbidden to sing or speak in the Slavic language in public gatherings and on the streets of Dignano. ONLY THE ITALIAN LANGUAGE must also be used at all times in shops of any kind. We, the Blackshirts, will enforce this order with persuasive methods. THE BLACKSHIRTS

Attenzione! Si proibisce nel modo più assoluto che nei ritrovi pubblici e per le strade di Dignano si canti o si parli in lingua slava. Anche nei negozi di qualsiasi genere deve essere una volta adoperata SOLO LA LINGUA ITALIANA. Noi Squadristi, con metodi persuasivi, faremo rispettare il presente ordine. GLI SQUADRISTI

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Historical and Linguistic Challenges in Venezia Giulia


In the region of Venezia Giulia, a complex tapestry of historical events and linguistic issues has unfolded, deeply rooted in the contrasting nationalisms of the Austrian Empire era and further complicated by the fascist Italianization. The situation escalated with the invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941, culminating in the tragedy of the foibe massacres and the exodus of the vast majority of Italian-speaking Istrians and many bilingual individuals of mixed origin (estimates reach up to 350,000). This primarily occurred in the years surrounding the Treaty of Paris in 1947, during which Istria, inhabited by Italians, Croats, and to a lesser extent Slovenes, was largely assigned to Yugoslavia.

Post-war Italian governments allowed some use of the Slovenian language in the remaining multilingual Julian territories within Italy. Some Slovenian-speaking groups advocate for greater use of their language, especially in the multilingual areas of the province of Udine. However, the issue is complicated by the fact that the dialects spoken in these locations often significantly differ from official Slovenian. This argument is frequently advanced by the Slavic speakers of these regions who oppose the official recognition of the language, intending to underscore their distinctiveness from the Slovenes. This stance is influenced by both ancient historical reasons (these regions were annexed to the Republic of Venice since the Middle Ages, and thus administratively separated from the rest of Slovenia) and more recent ones (the strong anti-Slavic propaganda carried out in these areas by teachers, priests, public employees, who were regularly recruited from other areas of Italy, as well as the identification between “Slavs” and “Communists”).

The imposition of the Italian language in every context, from education to public administration, the systematic defamatory campaign against allochthonous languages and dialects, depicted and perceived as languages spoken by manual workers and people of low cultural level, mandatory conscription, and the consistent ignoring by the mass media of any form of expression in these languages that did not confine itself to purely folkloric aspects, have been, and in some cases still are, a strong driver of loss of linguistic identity. However, there has always been some opposition to these policies from groups and movements of the most diverse extraction: from “hyperconservative” Catholic ones, which tended to maintain an anti-Risorgimento and anti-secular view of society, to moderately conservative groups, to movements of progressive or even revolutionary extraction, which tended to link the identity issue to class struggle, anti-militarism, and the ecological issue.

A number of intellectuals, notably Gabriele D’Annunzio, lent their support to the Italianization policy. D’Annunzio, for instance, suggested the term “arzente” to describe a distillate of grape pomace and, more broadly, any high-proof liquor. The term “arzente” is a derivative of “ardente”, which was utilized in the historical expression “acqua ardente” and likely gave rise to the term “arzillo”.

The concept of Italianization was perceived by several intellectuals, especially those aligned with fascism, as a means of linguistically reclaiming territories that had previously been “de-Italianized” or at least “de-Latinized” due to the linguistic assimilation policies implemented by foreign nations. A key figure in this intellectual movement was Giovanni Gentile, who served as the scientific director and was a pivotal contributor to the first edition of the Italian Encyclopedia in 1925. He, among others, viewed Italianization as a method of linguistic and cultural recovery, reversing the effects of previous foreign linguistic assimilation policies.

Examples of Italianized Terms (* Denotes Those Still Widely in Use)

  1. alcool: alcole
  2. autogol: autorete *
  3. bar: mescita, quisibeve
  4. basketball: pallacanestro *, palla al cesto
  5. bidet: bidè *
  6. brioche: brioscia
  7. brandy: acquavite
  8. cachet: cialdino
  9. carrè (culinary): lombata
  10. champagne: sciampagna
  11. chauffeur: autista *
  12. claxon: tromba, sirena
  13. cocktail: bibita arlecchina
  14. cognac: arzete
  15. croissant: cornetto *
  16. cyclostile: ciclostilo
  17. dancing: sala da danze
  18. dessert: fin di pasto, peralzarsi
  19. embargo: divieto, fermo
  20. extra-strong (for paper use): extra-forte *
  21. ferry-boat: Treno-battello ponton
  22. film: pellicola *, filme, filmo
  23. football: calcio *
  24. football club: associazione calcio *
  25. gangster: malfattore
  26. garage: rimessa
  27. garçonnièr: giovanottiera
  28. goulasc: spezzatino all’ungherese
  29. hangar: aviorimessa
  30. hockey: pallar-rotelle, ochei
  31. hotel: albergo *
  32. krapfen: bombola
  33. menù: lista *
  34. papillon: cravattino *
  35. parquet: tassellato
  36. pied-à-terre: fuggicasa
  37. plaid: scialle da viaggio
  38. playboy/viveur: vitaiolo
  39. pullman: torpedone, autocorriera
  40. pullover: maglione *, farsetto
  41. raid: transvolata
  42. record: primato
  43. rugby: pallaovale
  44. sandwich: tramezzino *
  45. sport: sportivo
  46. sprint: scatto *
  47. stop: alt *
  48. tennis: pallacorda
  49. toast (toasted bread): pantosto
  50. water-closet: sciacquone *
  51. whisky: acquavite

Allocutive Pronouns in Italian: A Fascist Perspective

The Fascist regime attempted to enforce the use of “voi” over “lei,” viewing the latter as a “residue of Italian servility towards foreign invaders and an expression of bourgeois snobbery” in the spoken language. Benedetto Croce, accustomed to maintaining a correspondence in which he gave “voi” to his interlocutor, changed the opening of his letters to “lei.” However, this campaign against “lei” also enjoyed the support of cultural figures like the “neopurist” linguist Bruno Migliorini and novelist Bruno Cicognani, who defined this pronoun as a “grammatical and syntactic aberration… Spanishism… a product of courtliness… servility and clumsiness,” hoping for a return “to “tu,” an expression of the universal Roman and Christian” and to ““voi,” a sign of respect and recognition of hierarchy.”

Contemporary Italian foresees two forms of use of allocutive pronouns in interpersonal relationships:

  • Reciprocal “tu,” generally reserved for informal relationships (friendships, family, work, with regularly frequented colleagues);
  • Reciprocal “lei,” in formal relationships (work and institutional environments between people who do not know each other, hierarchical relationships).

The use of “voi” as an alternative to “lei” in formal situations has almost completely disappeared and survives in some southern regional Italian dialects. In recent decades, “tu” has gradually expanded its sphere of use, extending to situations where it was not previously foreseen, such as the relationship between teachers and students in certain sectors of the school. Non-reciprocal uses of allocutives have also been in sharp decline in recent decades (for example, a 1975 circular eliminated the use of “lei” from inferior to superior and “tu” from superior to inferior in the army).

In the face of different sensitivities of speakers, it is advisable not to abuse “tu” in formal situations and to maintain “lei,” especially with people who are not known.

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Until the 14th century, the allocutive system only consisted of “tu” and “voi” as a form of respect. The first attestations of “lei” date back to the 15th century, and between the 16th and 17th centuries, this use gradually spreads until it becomes predominant, probably due to the influence of the Spanish “usted.”

Between the 18th and 19th centuries, “lei,” perceived as the result of foreign influence, was opposed, and until the early 20th century, “lei” / “ella” and “voi” were used interchangeably. In 1938, the fascist regime officially prohibited the use of “lei” in favor of “voi.” Perhaps it is precisely this arbitrary imposition that sanctioned the abandonment of “voi” after the Second World War.

Foreign Languages and Sports in Italy

The Italianization of sports-related foreign words, especially in football, was significantly influenced by the fascist regime. Initially, the wealthy classes introduced sports like tennis and rugby to Italy, bringing along English terms, while traditional sports like fencing utilized French terminology. By the 1910s, football terminology in Italy was predominantly English, with a notable shift occurring in 1930 when many clubs transitioned from “Football Club” to “Associazione Calcio,” and “football” universally became “calcio” in Italian parlance.

In 1930, rugby, under the FIGC, was officially translated into “palla ovale.” The term “sport” was Italianized to “sportivo,” and other sports like hockey adapted to “ochei” or “palla-rotelle” for roller hockey. Additionally, basketball became known as “palla al cesto” or “pallacanestro.” The Italianization extended to the names of sports clubs, such as Genoa becoming “Genova 1893 Circolo del Calcio” in the 1930s. This linguistic shift was not just a matter of language but was deeply intertwined with political and social contexts of the time.


Topics: Impact of Italianization on Surnames, Fascist Italy Linguistic Reforms, Pronoun Usage in Fascist Italy, Linguistic Autarky in the 20th Century, Ideological Implications of Language Changes, Fascist Influence on Italian Communication, Political Design of Italianization, Fascist Era and Linguistic Legacy,Pronoun Battle, Fascist Italy, Linguistic Policies, Historical Irony, Linguistic Conformity, Individual Identity, Modern Debates, Pronoun Usage, Linguistic Compliance

Last Updated on 2023/10/02


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