Is it a common Italian practice the use of definite article for feminine proper names, like in Veneto region?

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1

I noticed a common practice in Veneto, which is the strange use of definite articles with proper names.

Some feminine examples I hear very often:

Chiama la Marcella per vedere che cosa è successo.

Dov' è la Jessica?

It's less often encountered and sounds mostly satirical for masculine names:

È arrivato el Pippo.

Since in English this would be equivalent to some bizarre phrases like "Where is the Jessica?", I wanted to know if this is correct usage and if it is a common practice elsewhere in Italy, apart from the Veneto dialect.

symbiotech

Posted 2014-01-11T13:06:27.830

Reputation: 874

North-(mid)-East only. In North-West (eg Turin - Piedmont) no one speaks like that, and it sounds pretty funny when heard – Andrea Ligios – 2016-01-18T14:19:22.083

sym., 'la name' is not used in South Italy, but 'la surname' is. – Kyriakos Kyritsis – 2014-01-11T14:52:47.670

1@martina I think "Marcela" and "el" were actually correct, very typical for people in the North :-) – None – 2014-01-11T16:15:29.850

@randomatlabuser Didn't know that. Do you think we should revert to the original even if it doesn't sound italian then? – martina – 2014-01-11T17:24:03.810

@martina I wrote "el" as the dialect variant of "il", because I thought is just a regional practice. – symbiotech – 2014-01-11T17:57:08.680

Note however that in English you would correctly say "I met the John who used to be in class with Jessica". – Paola – 2014-01-12T10:35:13.950

Only in the North. In South men and women names haven't got the article (are humans together!) – Joe Taras – 2014-01-13T11:21:06.413

Answers

17

The use of articles before a proper name is possible only in few cases which you can find explained in full detail here (Treccani), and here (Accademia della Crusca), here (Treccani), here (Il Corriere della Sera). The above articles are so exhaustive that I will not reproduce their content here. What is important to stress is that the use that you report is very popular in the North and is generally accepted only in colloquial language - it should be avoided in the written, formal language. Of course it is accepted if, for example, you are writing a novel set in the North. Also note that, in general, grammatically, there is no difference at all between feminine and masculine names, although some usages can be more or less frequent, more or less uniform throughout Italian regions (for more details please refer to the sources above).

Note that linguists have set the general rule - that is taught at school but not often respected - to altogether avoid articles before proper names. Truth is that there exists such an illustrious history of special cases, in Italian literature, that few people actually bother complying with the rules. Speakers, writers and poets make the language; linguists come way after.

user193

Posted 2014-01-11T13:06:27.830

Reputation:

2I agree that there is no difference between using articles with feminine or masculine names, and in fact in Milan articles are used for masculine Christian names too, so il Mario" is married to la Maria. This is a traditional dialect form which is becoming less frequent with the disappearance of dialect usage. – Paola – 2014-01-12T10:33:00.833

4I would only add to this good answer that in some cases I've noticed that the article can be used selectively. Sometimes it's based on closeness: if a friend of yours is called Giovanna, you may call her "la Giovanna" ("that Giovanna I often mention") but all other women called Giovanna may still be more respectfully called just "Giovanna". More in general, with the erratic usage of dialect-derived expressions in the North, it happens to some people that the article sort of get stuck to their name like a nickname. This is typical for shopkeepers, male and female alike: "la Pina", "il Mario"... – Mauro Vanetti – 2014-01-15T14:22:26.000

2As far as I know (I'm not from the North of Italy), the use of la may be more frequent, in some regions, than the use of il in front of proper names. Furthermore, I think that la in front of last names is common all over Italy when colloquially referring to people like female television celebrities and politicians, while this is not at all the case for males. – Walter Tross – 2014-02-09T00:23:25.173

1In Tuscany, the article in front of a first name is common for feminine names, not for masculine names. – user377486 – 2014-05-30T22:22:35.867

I agree with @user377486. I live in Lombardy, and in some places articles are never used in front of masculine names. – Giulio Muscarello – 2014-06-02T18:40:02.723

5

The usage of the article is not correct in written Italian, but it's used in colloquial language and depends on the location. For example, here in Tuscany the articles are used every time for female name or surname and male surname. I don't know why it isn't used for male names, but so it is :) . An other example, I heard some people from Milan speak opposite (article for male names and not for female names).

Andrea

Posted 2014-01-11T13:06:27.830

Reputation: 386

1

It's common in most part of northern Italy. I live in Piedmont where habits change according to the area. In some city or village people use the definite article both for female and male names, in other areas people don't use article in front of names at all. Contrary to a comment I've read, to use articles isn't a mistake in our regional Italian. It's a mistake to use it for written standard Italian we take at school. Regional Italians aren't a grammar mistake in spoken language. The thing is, Italian language was born from a Tuscan dialect of Latin, after the unification of Italy the country needed an official language. Each region of Italy spoke a dialect of Latin, albeit many Italians think they're dialect of Italian. These dialects influence our accents and way of saying, and the use of the definite article in front of names comes from our culture.

Giulia

Posted 2014-01-11T13:06:27.830

Reputation: 21

«Each region of Italy spoke a dialect of Latin, albeit many Italians think they're dialect of Italian.» Interesting. Your sources? – DaG – 2016-01-18T17:19:52.723

1The English word "dialect" is used in two distinct, although partly overlapping, ways. A dialect can be a variety derived from a language or a variety not directly derived but related to a language and co-evolved with it. Italian dialects derive from Latin but share the same "ecosystem" of Italian, therefore they are dialects of Italian only in the second, broader meaning of the word. However, Latin had no articles. :-) – Mauro Vanetti – 2016-01-19T11:44:02.617

1

It's common in the spoken language of Northern Italy in familiar and informal contexts.

The article serves the purpose of letting you to refer to a specific person, known to all the people involved in the conversation. In a sentence like "hai visto la Maria di recente?", "la Maria" is that precise "Maria" that we both know - relative, parent, neighbor, friend, acquaintance - without need for other specifications.

Gianluigi Gamba

Posted 2014-01-11T13:06:27.830

Reputation: 51

Interessante: quindi a nord distinguete fra “la Maria” (amica, parente etc.) e “Maria” (un'estranea di cui sappiamo il nome)? – DaG – 2017-03-13T09:33:47.187

A volte potrebbe non bastare (quando io e te conosciamo due Maria), ma spesso l'articolo viene usato per sottointendere una conoscenza comune. – Gianluigi Gamba – 2017-03-13T10:07:19.627

1

According to Michele Brunelli it is mandatory in Venetian to use the article for that case. What you see is the transpose of our language/dialect to Italian, in which case it is incorrect.

Giulio Vian

Posted 2014-01-11T13:06:27.830

Reputation: 111

Chi è Brunello? – DaG – 2017-03-13T15:34:51.420

Errore di battitura "Michele Brunelli" – Giulio Vian – 2017-03-13T15:38:17.517

Grazie, ma non so neppure chi sia MIchele Brunelli, scusa l'ignoranza. – DaG – 2017-03-13T15:41:48.897

0

It's of course slangish and should be avoided (in any form in my opinion: either written and verbal).

There is not "the John", "der Johann", "le Jean", "el Juan" ... hence there isn't "il Giovannino" and "la Pasqualina".

None of the western European languages has this rule, and Italian is just in line with the others (eastern European languages don't have articles at all as they use declinations).

maxadamo

Posted 2014-01-11T13:06:27.830

Reputation: 306

1I think this is an opinion and not a real answer to the OP question. In Catalan, we do use definite articles with people proper names. We say, "na Maria" and "en Joan" or "la Maria" and "el Joan" (different regional variants of Catalan use one or another form). "Na Maria ..." is considered a very formal form in most regions of peninsular Catalan. – Charo – 2016-01-19T12:30:46.877

it could even be an opinion, but, it more or less matches what Treccani (mentioned on another comment) says: it's regional. – maxadamo – 2016-01-19T13:13:06.427

I strip & paste Treccani: L’articolo ➔determinativo può precedere i nomi propri solo in alcuni casi:

  • riconosco il Giulio dei tempi migliori
  • Anche loro cercavano il Freddo (nickname)
  • La Ferrari testa rossa (name specifying something else)
  • Il Manzoni non scrisse solo I Promessi sposi (famous people)
  • < – maxadamo – 2016-01-19T13:19:25.887

1Standard Italian language has its own rules, of course, but it's not true that "none of the western European languages has this rule". – Charo – 2016-01-19T14:14:29.880

@Charo: should I say "most of the major western EU languages"? Ok. Let me say that a widely spread language, given the bigger amount of contributions, gets more chances to evolve than - let's think - czech, catalan, basque, danish... without any offense. I come from Sicily, my dialect could be nice, but in my opinion it didn't evolve much from an archaic language. – maxadamo – 2016-01-19T14:37:51.610

2I am afraid that this answer is debatable on two accounts: as @Charo showed, it is not true that “None of the western European languages has this rule”; and even if that were the case, it has no relevance on how another language works. – DaG – 2016-01-22T08:27:45.940

Sorry but southern German, means regional. – maxadamo – 2017-03-13T21:44:43.513

0

This usage is well spread in northern Italy, but it is considered as neither correct or polite in standard Italian. So, it should be avoided as much as you can

Anna Costalonga

Posted 2014-01-11T13:06:27.830

Reputation: 11