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I hear this sentence in the Italian version of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. I understand I should take it with a little of cum grano salis, and that trying to understand why the plural was used could make little sense, as the translation could have been chosen to be closer to the original sentence in American.

A person, speaking also for other two people, said:

Non vogliamo gli avvocati. Abbiamo deciso di confessare.

In English, the literal translation would be the following. (It's probably not what an American would say.)

We don't want the lawyers. We decided to confess.

I would expect the first sentence to be Non vogliamo l'avvocato. I would not take that to mean there will be a single lawyer representing all three, even if I would not exclude that possibility.

Is using the plural in that sentence the default choice for writing it? Does using the singular give to the sentence a slightly different meaning?

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    In that case, I would say Non vogliamo avvocati. which would be similar to We don't want lawyers. – apaderno Oct 16 '20 at 19:11
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    @Hachi, No, in Italian the article isn't used, when the word is generically referring to somebody: non vogliamo asini in classe, non vogliamo incapaci nella nostra squadra, non vogliamo tecnici al governo. – apaderno Oct 16 '20 at 19:18
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    Neither is ungrammatical, but the meaning is different. – apaderno Oct 16 '20 at 19:27
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    non vogliamo gli asini in classe doesn't have exactly the same meaning non vogliamo asini in classe has. The first would be used to speak of people in the classroom, while the last could be used to mean non ci sono asini in classe, ma se ci fossero, non li vorremmo or to speak of people in the classroom "as if" they weren't in the classroom. – apaderno Oct 16 '20 at 20:06
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    I see no real difference between non vogliamo l'avvocato/avvocati/gli avvocati. But it's a specific feature of avvocato, not a general feature of Italian. – egreg Oct 16 '20 at 20:07
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There is no default.

I'd interpret Non vogliamo l'avvocato as none of us wants a lawyer. A single lawyer for the group or one for each convicted is completely irrelevant, given the second clause “we want to confess”.

My impression is that the singular would be more idiomatic and more natural in fast speech. The form Non vogliamo gli avvocati would convey the same idea and I feel it less natural, but it could depend on the context.

It wouldn't be different with a positive declaration: Vogliamo l'avvocato might be interpreted either as we want a lawyer to assist us or each one of us wants a lawyer. The context would clear things up, but it could well be Vogliamo gli avvocati to strengthen the idea that they want distinct lawyers.

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No it's not the default choice. You should say "Non vogliamo l'avvocato" if you hired only one lawyer, "Non vogliamo gli avvocati" if you hired more than one. Honestly to me they should have adapted to "Non vogliamo nessun avvocato", to express the fact that they don't need any lawyer.

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