Prego? The Future Of Dialects In Italy

Old local languages stuck in the shadows
Old local languages stuck in the shadows
Davide Sacco

TURIN - It’s a little like Babel. In Italy, words can have one meaning on one side of the street and something entirely different on the other. From the mountains to the sea, from the north to the south, this is the land of endless dialects.

But because families are using these local languages less and less, there is a danger that they will slowly disappear. That's why, both to celebrate linguistic pride and to preserve Italian culture, the National Union of Pro Loco is dedicating a specific day (January 17) to celebrate the country's dialects every year.

"The aim is to preserve unique expressions of local communities, along with all the culture that the dialects convey," says the union's Gabriele Desiderio. "Seeing as the transfer from generation to generation is decreasing, we want to send a warning signal that a cultural heritage may be lost."

It's not just words or expressions that are at stake but also traditional knowledge, says Tullio Telmon, dialectologist and former president of the Italian Linguistic Society. “We're talking also about the skills that were handed down along with the specific language — and names, place names, words that you would not imagine because they involve entire worlds."

(source: wikimedia)

Distinguishing between different languages and regions is tricky. The boundaries (when there are any) are short-lived, and there are continuous changes and influences. The northern dialects are different from the southern ones, and then there is the Latin divide between western and eastern Europe. This cuts Italy (and Europe) into two, leaving enormous instability of language. During the two world wars, for example, many soldiers were fighting side-by-side with fellow Italians with whom they couldn’t communicate.

Whether these varying forms of expression should be characterized as "dialects' or "local languages' is open to interpretation, though Telmon says the two are actually synonymous. "But I prefer to say "local languages' because the word "dialect" historically has had a negative connotation. Up to 20 years ago, its use was felt as a kind of social inferiority. Now, as everyone has learned the national "standard" language, the local one has an added value."

Telmon says that these local languages will die unless parents communicate with their children using them. "Support and learning in schools are always welcome, but the action of learning one’s mother tongue from a parent is unique," he says.

Many make the mistake of deferring to standard Italian, believing it will serve their children better.

“There are parents who, misled by modernity, teach the most popular language at the time," Telmon says. "The solution, instead, is multilingualism. There was a time of incorrect linguistic education, when they were convinced that learning a local language as a mother tongue impeded the child from learning standard Italian. But learning doesn’t work like that. Up until about 10 years old, most children can learn two, three, even five different languages without any problems.”

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Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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