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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.

  • sym., 'la name' is not used in South Italy, but 'la surname' is. – Kyriakos Kyritsis Jan 11 '14 at 14:52
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    @martina I think "Marcela" and "el" were actually correct, very typical for people in the North :-) – user193 Jan 11 '14 at 16:15
  • @randomatlabuser Didn't know that. Do you think we should revert to the original even if it doesn't sound italian then? – martina Jan 11 '14 at 17:24
  • @martina I wrote "el" as the dialect variant of "il", because I thought is just a regional practice. – symbiotech Jan 11 '14 at 17:57
  • Note however that in English you would correctly say "I met the John who used to be in class with Jessica". – Paola Jan 12 '14 at 10:35
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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.

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    I 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 Jan 12 '14 at 10:33
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    I 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 Jan 15 '14 at 14:22
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    As 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 Feb 9 '14 at 0:23
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    In Tuscany, the article in front of a first name is common for feminine names, not for masculine names. – user377486 May 30 '14 at 22:22
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    Linguists don't set rules or tell people how they should speak, they study how people actually speak. I'd reword the final paragraph. – ukemi Nov 2 '19 at 11:53
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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).

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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.

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  • «Each region of Italy spoke a dialect of Latin, albeit many Italians think they're dialect of Italian.» Interesting. Your sources? – DaG Jan 18 '16 at 17:19
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    The 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 Jan 19 '16 at 11:44
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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.

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  • Interessante: quindi a nord distinguete fra “la Maria” (amica, parente etc.) e “Maria” (un'estranea di cui sappiamo il nome)? – DaG Mar 13 '17 at 9:33
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    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 Mar 13 '17 at 10:07
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According to Michele Brunelli it is mandatory in Venetian to use the article for that case:

L'artìcolo personale, che 'l se cata in vèneto e in catalan (ma nò in italian), el xe l'artìcolo che se dòpara davanti i nomi propi de persona. El vèneto el ga solo che el personal feminile: la Maria, la Làura, la Giovana...

What you see is the transpose of our language/dialect to Italian, in which case it is incorrect.

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Multiple sources make note of how this phenomenon is commonly encountered in vernacular speech, specifically in northern Italy. However it is stigmatized in formal and written Italian:

... in some Italian dialects feminine but not masculine proper names must appear with a definite article (Elena Guerzoni, p.c.).

Nella lingua parlata è frequente l’uso dell’articolo determinativo davanti ai nomi propri. Quest’uso è comune anche con i nomi maschili solo nell’Italia settentrionale, mentre con i nomi femminili è più diffuso, ma in entrambi i casi è da evitare in contesti formali e nello scritto

La Giulia e la Maria verranno a cena

Hai già chiamato il Giuseppe?

«Dove son stata? Al cinema sono stata, con la Franca» (D. Buzzati, Sessanta racconti)

Patrizia Petricola in her encyclopedia makes note of some specific regions in which it is encountered:

Nel linguaggio quotidiano e informale, specie dei parlanti settentrionali, toscani e salentini, però, l’uso dell’articolo è frequente, soprattutto davanti ai nomi femminili (la Giulia partirà domani, telefona alla Giulia).

Use of the definite article before female names is standard in Venetian,1 hence Venetian dialect of Italian commonly also has this feature.


1. Vocatives: How Syntax meets with Pragmatics (p.68)

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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

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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).

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    I 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 Jan 19 '16 at 12:30
  • it could even be an opinion, but, it more or less matches what Treccani (mentioned on another comment) says: it's regional. – maxadamo Jan 19 '16 at 13:13
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    Standard Italian language has its own rules, of course, but it's not true that "none of the western European languages has this rule". – Charo Jan 19 '16 at 14:14
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    I 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 Jan 22 '16 at 8:27
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    Der Johann is common in Southern German, too: see e.g. canoo.net/services/OnlineGrammar/Wort/Artikel/Gebrauch/…, kommunikationsabc.de/2012/11/13/… – Federico Poloni Mar 13 '17 at 11:07

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