Osservatorio degli italianismi nel mondo (OIM) – a digital resource for surveying Italian loanwords in the world's languages

author: Matthias Heinz, Universität Salzburg
published: July 27, 2018,   recorded: July 2018,   views: 499


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The paper presents a large-scale digital humanities resource, the Osservatorio degli italianismi nel mondo (OIM), which aims at an extensive documentation of the significant lexical impact of Italian as a donor language worldwide in an ongoing international project hosted by the Accademia della Crusca, Florence (cf. Heinz/Gärtig 2014, Heinz 2017, Pizzoli 2017). Like only very few other languages Italian has a long-standing history as a culturally rich and diverse source for borrowings; besides contact-induced borrowings due to geographical proximity, Italianisms are especially frequent in many culturally relevant domains (e.g. musical terminology) in the languages of Europe and beyond. The lexicographical data become accessible through an online database integrating language contact dictionaries of Italianisms in a growing number of languages. The core of the database draws on the lexicographical corpus gathered for the Dizionario di italianismi in francese, inglese, tedesco (DIFIT), whose collections of Italian loanwords in French, English and German are currently available online, while the release of data for Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan, Polish and Hungarian (with Maltese closely following up) on a new digital platform is imminent. For the latter and further (many of which Non-European) languages data are made available from a preceding survey project on Italianisms (cf. Serianni 2017); at the same time the revision and refinement of existing core data is underway. From a metalexicographical point of view the information programme of this resource contains some innovations. Its microstructure aims not only at describing lexicogrammatical and semantic evolutions from both a diachronic and synchronic perspective but also at classifying each lemma according to type of borrowing and at evaluating the actual vitality of a loan within a given language. The OIM search engine allows for the application of filters in order to determine the lexical strength of Italian as a source language in a given language variety (overall and according to lexical sectors). Information about loan vitality assumes a central importance for measuring the penetration of Italian into different areas and the persistence of the influence of Italian culture in a diachronic perspective. In order to measure uniformly the current spread of loans a framework for assessing loan vitality is being developed, using corpora of texts in different discourse traditions (both literary and non literary texts). By assigning a progressive number to each certified entry, a “density index” can be obtained: this tool can easily reveal the impact of the Italian language in the host language. The paper will highlight the major challenges, guidelines and solutions for implementing the macro- and microstructure in the process of preparing the source material for the database, while also pointing out further steps towards incorporating an ever growing body of target languages in this collaborative research endeavour.

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