Italians, for some reason, tend to accept and use foreign terms quite easily. The foreign terms that have entered and are entering common usage are mainly from the English language. Their usage has been increasing so consistently in recent years that the main Italian language authority l'Accademia della Crusca has raised an official alarm regarding the 'invasion' of foreign terminology.

According to a recent study, the usage of English terms has increased by 773% in the last 8 years. L'Accademia has issued a petition 'Save the Italian Language ' and will officially ask the Italian Government, Public Administrations, Media and Public Companies to limit their use of foreign words and favour the Italian equivalent terms instead.

Whether this initiative will be successful or not (I really doubt it), this phenomenon is going to continue for years.

The following is just an example of everyday ordinary speech:

  • "Domani alle nove ho un meeting col mio boss. Poi al lunch vedo la mia amica con cui faccio spinning in palestra e il pomeriggio devo chiedere alla baby-sitter di venire per il week-end." (It includes six english terms in just two sentences)


What is the expression that describes this phenomenon?

P.S. I not looking for a definition of how the Italian language authority is reacting, but for a term for the phenomenon described which, to different extents, is present also in other languages. I asked this question here and here but I have yet to receive a satisfactory answer ( Alenanno's good answer hints at 'contact and change'. Is there a more precise term?).

  • 2
    "Contamination" is the term I've usually heard, when the process is viewed as damaging to the "receiving" language. One might investigate the terminology used in Iceland, which is particularly defensive of its language. (Of course, English does not currently have this problem to any significant degree, since it's the one doing the contaminating.)
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 12, 2015 at 12:32
  • 3
    You might be looking for language contact. But your questions suggests a heavy language contact.
    – ermanen
    Commented Mar 12, 2015 at 12:52
  • 1
    “Linguistic karma” comes to mind for any and all European nations that have not yet seen fit to ratify the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. If the boot fits …
    – Papa Poule
    Commented Mar 12, 2015 at 13:23
  • 5
    @Josh61: The general term for the word you have wisely put in scare quotes here (because contamination is a judgement, not a description) is Language Contact. Boring, I know, but that's science for you. It happens in all kinds of ways, utterance by utterance, person by person, year by year, quirk by quirk, in trillions of individual encounters over centuries. The phenomenon you're talking about is an example of borrowing, which is common in many languages (but not others, strangely). Commented Mar 12, 2015 at 17:06
  • 2
    @Oldcat - I'm saying that modern English does not have this "problem" to a significant degree -- the language is not being altered significantly by outside influences. There was a time in the past, though, where English "absorbed" easily several hundred words in a single year from French (and people in the English court were speaking mostly French). But now other languages have the problem that many of their "native" speakers speak sentences that are half their language and half English.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 12, 2015 at 21:30

10 Answers 10


My suggestion: linguistic colonization. And here's why:

Some will deny that anything out of the ordinary is occurring here, and thereby refute the very question OP has presented, while others will suggest that the phenomenon OP refers to is merely the normal linguistic diffusion that has always occurred, and therefore suggest the employment of an established term, such as “adstratum”, “linguistic borrowings”, “contamination or pollution,” etc.

"An appropriate term for the 'contamination' of a language." The title of the OP would suggest the need for a term equal in strength to "contamination" rather than a term equivalent to "normal" linguistic "borrowings."

And I would agree that the hyper-accelerated pace of today’s linguistic diffusion, and its resulting impact, is unprecedented and can best be understood by relating it to a concomitant phenomenon, that of "invasive species,” (certainly a form of ecosystem contamination) the term used to describe the egregious diffusion of biological species from previously indigenous habitats into novel or foreign territory. See, Wikipedia “Invasive species” Link

Just as the invasive species phenomenon is largely driven by the exponential increase in international trade and travel resulting from the integration of modern transportation systems with modern communications technologies, so too its linguistic counterpart, which I will refer to as, "linguistic colonization,” is largely driven by modern technologies of mass communication (i.e., cinema, TV, the PC, the internet, and a plethora of mobile devices).

An "alien species" plays the biological role in the invasive species phenomena that "linguistic colonization" plays in the linguistic contamination OP seeks to describe.

While I personally admire the term “adstratum” and, to a lesser degree, "pollution," these terms wholly fail to convey the virulence of a word such as "contamination" and are inadequate to describe the speed, force, and breadth of the global domination of English terminology that OP refers to, for example:

The following excerpt, loosely translated, is taken from the same LINK as is provided in the OP:

[T]he percentage of English loanwords has increased 773% in eight years. And how could we argue against these figures when English words are used daily by the mass media, words which could easily be substituted with their Italian equivalents. We've (Italians) become so used to using these English terms that we struggle to translate them in Italian.

The English Language in Nigeria:

Nigeria is a multilingual nation where English Language has acquired the status of a second language to many people, while it is a third language to others. It plays a significant role in education, politics, government administration, the judiciary, economy and legislation. English today can be regarded as the lamp with which the youths can travel through the education tunnel (Ige, 2000). It is even now being referred to as one of the major Nigerian languages (Ogundare 2004). See academy publishers

Today’s progressive technologies and the globalization of mass media are driving an phenomenon which some feel is rapidly dissolving the historical boundaries between segments of society, societies, and even nations. This is known as “cultural convergence" or "cultural homogenization.” Culture is the integrated and dynamic social system of behaviors, characteristics, customs, language, artifacts, and symbols that distinguish one social group from another.

Foundation for Endangered Languages

The FEL manifesto

1. The Present Situation

At this point in human history, most human languages are spoken by very few people, but that majority of languages is about to vanish. The most authoritative source on the languages of the world, the Ethnologue, lists nearly 7,000 living languages. Population figures for just over 6,000 show that:

• 52% of languages are spoken by fewer than 10,000 people

• 28% are spoken by fewer than 1,000

• 83% are spoken only in single countries, and so are particularly exposed to the policies of a single government

At the other end of the scale, 10 major languages, each spoken by over 109 million people, are the mother tongues of almost half of the world's population. Some of the forces which threaten languages are clear: the impacts of urbanization, Westernization and global communications grow daily, all diminishing the self-sufficiency and self-confidence of small and traditional communities. Discriminatory policies and population movements also take their toll of languages. See, the Foundation for Endangered Languages Link

Related, of course, to this phenomena is the accompanying (and very real) fear of languages becoming the equivalent of endangered species.

There is a general consensus that the loss of languages harms the cultural diversity of the world. Many projects are under way aimed at preventing or slowing this loss by revitalizing endangered languages and promoting education and literacy in minority languages. Across the world many countries have enacted specific legislation aimed at protecting and stabilizing the language of indigenous speech communities. see Wikipedia “endangered language” Link

  • 1
    I would seriously doubt any statistics from official sources. Many axes are being ground. And if they've become Italian words, then Italians will apply Italian grammar and phonological rules to them, and their immigrant status will soon be overcome. It's as American as pizza pie, as Italian as Berlusconi. Commented Mar 12, 2015 at 17:49
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    @John Lawler - I'm not advocating a position here, John. I'm merely asserting that the current rate of linguistic diffusion is unprecedented and therefore inadequately conveyed by existing terminology. At least terminology that I'm aware of.
    – user98990
    Commented Mar 12, 2015 at 18:14
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    Well, that seems true, and I'm not pleased with language extinctions, either, but that's the case with all cultural innovations -- they change and often disappear with technology. Look at all the European cultural knowledge of farming and fighting with horses, lost except to antiquarians. Get kids to think speaking Skagit is cool, and you're over the hump. But that's not easy. Commented Mar 12, 2015 at 18:18
  • 3
    I'm not criticizing your post. I like it. I'm merely remarking that vocabulary is only one layer of language. It would take more than introduction of foreign vocabulary to kill a language, IMO. It's still Italian, presumably, albeit in a different mantle.
    – anemone
    Commented Mar 12, 2015 at 19:24
  • 3
    Not allowing your language to adapt is more likely to put it on the critical list than otherwise.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Mar 12, 2015 at 21:02

According to Wikipedia, English is currently an adstratum to many other languages:

The term is also used to identify systematic influences or a layer of borrowings in a given language from another language independently of whether the two languages continue coexisting as separate entities. Many modern languages have an appreciable adstratum from English due to the economic preponderance of the United States on international markets.

This is taken from the stratum entry, which uses no other term than contact for the language change in question. (One may disagree with some of the formulations, but I think the description of the process is apt.)

The described language change is presumably lexical, so one might go for the very simple term lexical borrowings.

On that note, it is somewhat analogous (though hopefully different in scale) to the one occurring in England after the Norman conquest. The Wikipedia entry on the language change also uses borrowings for the general phenomenon; it offers supplantation in case the native word disappears entirely, and coexistence in case both words (the native and the loan) both belong to the language, as synonyms or with slight nuances in meaning.

  • 1
    Ironic that other languages and cultures are concerned over lexical borrowing from English, considering how heavily English does this very thing from practically every language it's ever had contact with. Commented Mar 13, 2015 at 14:34

English has no official arbiter, no laws to defend it, no academy. I'm not sure if you will obtain a satisfactory answer to your question either here or at Linguistics beta. (And thank you for asking the latter, as well.)

L'Académie française has been on the job of defending the French language since 1635, so I thought I'd go there to see what words they used to describe the "contamination" from foreign sources.

On their mission statement, they start with

Défense de la langue française

(I'm not about to attempt a translation, but I'm hoping this is close enough to Italian and Latin for the erudite readers to pick out key words.)

If it needs defense, then they are implying that there is an ongoing linguistic attack. Other bellicose terms might include onslaught, breach, assault, or invasion.

One paragraph says

cette langue est encore en pleine évolution, très fluctuante sur certains points : verbes passant d’une conjugaison à une autre (recouvrer/recouvrir), genre des mots non fixé, morphologie flottante (hirondelle, arondelle ou erondelle), prononciation variable.

  • évolution / "evolution" suggests evolution
  • très fluctuante / "extremely fluctuating" suggests fluctuation
  • non fixé / "not fixed" suggests moving or shifting or instability
  • flottante / "floating" suggests instability or being irresolute or being inconstant

(For this and other suggestions, I will leave it to the OP to transform back to a desired form, as in linguistic instability or being linguistically irresolute.)

Its mission statement:

La principale fonction de l’Académie sera de travailler, avec tout le soin et toute la diligence possibles, à donner des règles certaines à notre langue et à la rendre pure, éloquente et capable de traiter les arts et les sciences.

  • donner des règles / "giving rules" suggests rule-breaking or lawlessness or language without borders
  • pure / "pure" suggests impurity or admixture or alloyed or adulterated

In bocca al lupo!


I'd call this an effect of globalization, the phenomenon of cultural integration between different nations driven by trade and communication. As one culture is exposed to another, members of the former may find elements of the latter appealing enough to replace equivalent elements in their own culture. Language is definitely included in this practice. In fact, I imagine it's the first and most drastically affected element of culture to be affected by globalization.

It's not as precise a meaning as other answers already given, but it's a nice generic alternative to add to the list.


There is not really any such thing. All languages have evolved by borrowing words, creating new words, forgetting old words, etc., and none started as a 'pure' language. There's no such thing as 'language contamination' just as there is no such things as 'genetic contamination'. Leave such fantasies to Nazis and dog breeders.

  • 6
    Nazis???..what are you talking about...it is not about evil or good, but just a linguistic process.
    – user66974
    Commented Mar 12, 2015 at 15:56
  • 2
    What I'm saying is that 'contamination process' is a valid concept only if you assume the existence of original language 'purity'. If there's no such thing as 'purity' then there can be no such thing as 'contamination'. The reference to the Nazi fantasy of genetic purity, and the corresponding fear of genetic contamination, is an analogy. Commented Mar 12, 2015 at 16:04
  • 1
    Contamination may take place at different stages of evolution. Purity is not the issue. Change is.
    – user66974
    Commented Mar 12, 2015 at 16:15
  • 2
    From O.P.: "the main Italian language authority l'Accademia della Crusca has raised an official alarm regarding the 'invasion' of foreign terminology." Alarm! Fear! Contamination! We must install official government busybodies to maintain purity! This is very serious! Commented Mar 12, 2015 at 16:17
  • 1
    Yup. English was born when Norman knights tried to pick up Saxon barmaids. There's not a lot of purity to worry about there.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Mar 12, 2015 at 21:00

A more general term that could be applied here is appropriation.

  1. The action of taking something for one's own use, typically without the owner's permission.

In particular this is related to Cultural Appropriation, where one culture will take elements of another culture and make it a part of their own.

In this case, instead of culture, it's parts of a language that are being appropriated, so you could reasonably call it 'linguistic appropriation' and be understood.


When I was growing up in a Jewish neighborhood in Toronto, Canada, my friends and family would say that the first language is "peppered" with words, phrases and expressions from the second. That is the second language "peppered" the first. We would say "lightly peppered" when such words from the second language were small in number.

Many people I've known who speak more than one language will pepper their speech with expressions, words or phrases from one or more of the other languages they know, especially if their audience has at least a passing knowledge of the other language(s). Often, but not exclusively, it is for humour.

In Toronto, we speak mainly English with each other. As Canadians, we have at least studied French in school, so we often pepper our speech with French phrases, words or expressions; it adds a certain je ne sais quoi. Being Jewish, we also peppered or speech with Hebrew and Yiddish, but sometimes also other European languages which our parents or grandparents spoke. Today, otaku worldwide will pepper their language with some Japanese (ie: What kind of cars do little sisters ride? Nii-san!)

Pepper is a spice which is often added to foods to make the food more interesting to the palate. Unless ground extra fine, pepper leaves small, hard, black pieces in the food which, with some effort, can be picked out. Unlike salt, pepper doesn't dissolve, and can leave a gritty texture when not ground fine enough.


There is no special name for this. It is a normal process.

At all times, languages have absorbed words from neighbouring languages in areas where the vocabulary of the neighbour was more advanced. Greeks took over knowledge and words from Semitic languages, the Romans borrowed from the Greeks, Germanic languages from Latin, and in modern times French was the language with the highest prestige for some time, then it was English. In areas as computer technology or the Internet the English vocabulary leads to borrowings. A normal process and such borrowings haven't harmed any language, on the contrary, the vocabulary was enlarged.

So I wouldn't call this phenomenon contamination. When areas with need for new words arise there is always some change in the vocabulary of a language. At first the development is a bit overheated, later on a process of normalisation begins. Some foreign words vanish, some are replaced by own coinages and some remain and are a gain.

  • 5
    Nice description...what is it called?
    – user66974
    Commented Mar 12, 2015 at 12:07
  • I have never seen a special name for it. I think it is the normal way of vocabulary acquistion. A language takes what it can need from other languages. All languages made borrowings.
    – rogermue
    Commented Mar 12, 2015 at 13:58

I can't think of a better alternative than linguistic contamination, or simply contamination (from your question), which is what is generally referred to by linguists as the influence of one language over another (see Wikipedia, #3).

I'll also add language pollution as the process of using lexical borrowings from other languages (as well as non-formal language and slang) that causes the target language (in this case, Italian) to become 'polluted'.

This is a natural process that occurs in the vast majority of widely-spoken languages (English, Italian, Japanese, etc), and is an open question in linguistics (as well as computational linguistics).

  • Interesting, so contamination is not that bad word: (linguistics, etymology) The influence of one form (often from a foreign language) on the historical development of another form to which it may be related in meaning.
    – user66974
    Commented Mar 12, 2015 at 15:31
  • 1
    @Josh61 Exactly :) Like Italy, France also has l'Académie Française which tries to prevent this process (to an extent) by providing regulations on 'standard' language (French). However, the majority of members are literary (they write literature), and not linguists; they don't study the process of the language change, but rather the result of the change and how to ensure that their 'proper' language should be preserved. Contamination has existed for thousands of years, and is very widely studied by linguists in a variety of languages. Commented Mar 12, 2015 at 15:48

A more specific term describing a single word or phrase borrowed from another language is Loanword.

A loanword (or loan word or loan-word) is a word borrowed from a donor language and incorporated into a recipient language without translation.

Essentially, it's when a word is taken in from one language and incorporated into another, without translating it or transforming it into a new word. English is in particular full of loan words, but it happens pretty ubiquitously across languages.

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