The Italian role-playing community uses the English loan spell more feminine or masculine? We find out in a new linguistic study!

We know that a significant part of the Italian role-playing community uses very often anglicisms, that is words borrowed from the English lexicon, to refer to specific actions or elements of our hobby. In this sense, these Anglicisms are almost used as technical-specialist terms.
Certainly, among these Anglicisms, one of the most used is spell, which in Italian our manuals translate as Magic spell. Partly out of habit, which comes from reading the manuals in English, and partly out of personal taste, there are many role players who use spell, instead of Magic spell, at least when they write on the web.

For my part, I've always used more than anything else Magic spell, in my RPG experience. Only recently, using the English manuals of Pathfinder 2e, the term stuck to me spell, which I have always used in the feminine.
So, you will understand that when a few days ago I found "lo spell" written, I got the usual linguist curiosity. By now those who follow this column will know what we are talking about: in the Italian rpg community, spell is it used more in the masculine, or in the feminine?
In this article we will try to answer this question through a small investigation.

It is always good to specify, however, that this article will not say which of "la spell" or "lo spell" is the correct version. In fact, at the moment both the masculine and the feminine are equally applicable to this loan. Only time will tell if one or the other will win the challenge.
So, feel entitled to continue using (or not using!) spell as you always have.
Let's find out, however, how our community behaves in general!


From the series Role play linguistics: our other articles

If you want to take a look at our other linguistic insights, here they are:
Review bombing or review bomb?
Homebrew, how do you use it in Italian?
Hack it or hack it? Apostrophe yes or no?
The quickstart or the quickstart?
The retcon or the retcon?
The master, the master or the mistress?

Spells are a key part of the d20system rulebook such as D&D and Pathfinder. In the picture, the Secrets of Magic manual
Spells are a key part of d20system's rulebook such as D&D e Pathfinder. In the image, the manual Secrets of Magic

The attribution of gender to English loans

Anyone who has already read other articles in this column will already know this part, but we will repeat it for those who read it for the first time.
Generally, theEnglish does not attribute a grammatical gender to their own words, although there are notable exceptions, such as boy/girlcow/bull duke/duchess. To all the other nouns, English does not attribute a grammatical gender and, above all, it does not attribute a morphological gender, as it does in Italian. For example, chair it is not feminine like ours chair, and Most it can refer to both a man and a woman, unlike mayor mayor.

Gender of English nouns referring to people and animals

The absence of grammatical gender in most English nouns makes their use in Italian rather problematic, since our language must necessarily attribute a grammatical gender to a word. And if the borrowings of English names, as a rule, tend to be left unchanged, each article, pronoun, verb in the past participle or adjective placed next to them it must necessarily have a grammatical gender.

So if we don't change an English word like leader adding the typical suffixes of gender and number -o/-a, creating leader leaderhowever, we must choose the genre of all that we approach to these words. In the case of leader the choice is easy, since the gender of the word is adapted to the gender of the person to whom it refers: "the good leader is gone" or "that talented leader is gone". Obviously, if the figure of the leader were a non-binary person, the matter becomes complicated, but there are standard linguistic solutions in this case too, as we have said. here.

Genre of English nouns referring to abstract things or concepts

The situation is different for names that refer to abstract things or concepts. In this case, Italian does not have a fixed rule for the attribution of grammatical gender to English nouns, but accepts various solutions.
Generally, the solutions adopted by the Italian are two and have a semantic basis, that is linked to the meaning of the loan in question. Here I will explain them briefly, but if you want you can deepen the theme on this article from the Accademia della Crusca.

  • Assignment of the gender of a Italian term that translates or includes the English loan. So, a station wagon will be feminine because the term is close to the concept of automobile.
  • Assignment of the masculine "by default". In many cases, in fact, the English loans are declined in the masculine because this is the gender perceived as the most neutral in our language. An example is “the spoiler”, which is masculine in spite of it anticipation both female.

If several solutions were used at the same time, the Italian language simply waits to see if, with time and use, a specific solution will impose itself on the others. This was the case Email, which was once used a lot for men too.

In general RPG groups, when we talk about spell, we often talk about the role-playing game Mage: The Ascension, one of the cornerstones of the World of Darkness
In general RPG groups, when it comes to spell, we also often talk about role play Mage: The Ascension, one of the cornerstones of World of Darkness

Spell is it used in the masculine or the feminine?

In this context, therefore, spell is a term that refers to a thing, so its grammatical gender in Italian can be, potentially, either male, both female. Usage alone will determine whether this loan (if it enters dictionaries, which is honestly rather unlikely!) Is masculine or feminine.
So let's see how our community uses this term.

The results of the survey on The Shipwrecked of Atlantis

As always, before writing this article I talked to the community, thanks to a survey on the group The Shipwrecked of Atlantis. As always, the survey participants will not give us data representative of the entire community, as they are too few. However, they're always a great place to start your research and start understanding why the community leans toward a certain choice.

42 people took part in the survey. Among these, the 57% they said to use spell al female, against a 33% who uses it al male. The use of both masculine and feminine, or other solutions are both at 5%.
According to those who participated in the survey, the use of spell in the feminine it would be due to the association of the English term with Italian magic, or the ability to do magic. Instead, who uses spell in the masculine it motivates its choice by associating the term with its Italian translation, that is Magic spell.
So let's see if the percentages of this survey are also reflected in the actual use of the term spell made by the community.

The use of spell in generic role-playing groups
The use of spell in generic role-playing groups
Spell in generic role-playing groups

First, I went to see how spell was used in general role-playing groups, ie I play role e Role-playing games - The GDR in Italy.
By combining the instances of this term in both groups (22 total cases), this loan is not really used much. The most particular thing, however, is that in these contexts spell is used in equal measure in both the masculine and the feminine: both cases, in fact, are at 32%. On the other hand, the use of is even more common spell which does not express its gender, attested to 36%.
You can see below some examples.

The mechanical half of spell management is only useful (M)
some use of a spell (M)
the spell control system seemed very flexible to me (F)
spell level launched (F)
every spell (?)
I am of the opinion that you would not do it with a list of spells (?)

What emerges, however, is that in these groups spell is a term used mostly al plural (the/the spell). This is probably due to the fact that, usually, in these environments we are talking about how an RPG handles spells in general, and not how a single spell works.
But how do those who play games where spells are an important part of the system use it instead? To make sure I have a lot of material, I went to investigate two groups dedicated to the major d20systems on the market.

The use of spell in the Dungeons & Dragons ® 5th Edition Italy group
The use of spell in the group Dungeons & Dragons ® 5th Edition Italy
Spell used by those who play Dungeons & Dragons

First, then, I went to browse the group Dungeons & Dragons ® 5th Edition Italy.
Here you immediately notice how spell is used especially for women (65% of the instances), against only 14% of the instances of the term in the masculine. In the rest of the cases found (21%) it is not possible to trace the type of loan.
We do not have the imbalance towards plurals seen before: the loan is always used equally both in the masculine and in the feminine.
Here are some examples:

If I cast a spell as a bonus action (F)
the ranger spells really cool and strong! (F)
You must have some spell to fight them (F)
if the spell is castable with a bonus action (M)
Here are some of my thoughts on the new spells (M)
This doesn't justify shitting other people's spells (?)
What spell did you choose? (?)

The use of spell in the Pathfinder GdR Italia group
The use of spell in the group Pathfinder GdR Italy
Spell used by those who play Pathfinder

Finally, I also went to have a look at the group of Pathfinder GdR Italy, also because, at this point, another curiosity arose: but who plays at D&D uses spell differently than those who play Pathfinder?
Well, from the data collected it would seem that there is a small difference: the users of Pathfinder GdR Italy they exorbitantly prefer (well the84% instances!) spell feminine. In second place we find the unspecified use, with 15% of the instances. The male use, therefore, covers only 1% of cases, with a single example, which I report below:

But then when I cast on a Slow Spell (10 rounds) a 12 Round Speed ​​Spell (F)
will specialize in the following spells (F)
each action depends on the spell you use (F)
How do you handle scrolls with very high level spells? (?)
UMD to access the spell (M)

Why is there such a difference between the group of D&D and Pathfinder?
Apart from pure and simple randomness (which in any case cannot be excluded!), This situation could derive frominfluence of some users. Indeed, in the group of Pathfinder, some of the most active users, including several admins, use spell feminine. This could have influenced the habits of the rest of the users, who could see these individuals as points of reference.
On the contrary, in the group of D&D we do not have figures as active and influential, at least as regards the discussions in which the term is present spell. Consequently, although female use is evidently a majority, there is not such an overwhelming majority.

The Prismatic Spray spell imagined by Clint Cearley
The Prismatic Spray spell imagined by Clint Cearley

Some conclusive words

Spell it is a term rather used in the Italian context of role-playing games, in informal written communication contexts on the web, and especially in those related to d20systems.

An overwhelming feminine

In general discussion contexts, it is not possible to say whether this term is used more in the masculine, or more in the feminine. In fact, we have too little data to get an idea. Comparing the examples found with the results of the survey, we can hypothesize that both uses are present on average, but that the female one is more widespread.
Instead, in the contexts of discussion on d20systems, spell it is generally used in the feminine, with only a small minority of uses in the masculine. Among all, the players of Pathfinder they would seem the group most likely to use spell feminine.

The direct translation, "spell", has little influence

Probably, those who use this term in the feminine do so for a semantic juxtaposition to the term magic; instead, those who use it in the masculine could compare it to its translation, Magic spell.
The fact that the direct translation of spell, Magic spell, does not exert a very strong influence on the type of loan is quite a thing unusual. In fact, usually direct translation (especially if present in the reference RPG manuals!) Exerts a lot of influence on the English loan genre.
Instead, in this case the feminine is preferred. Whether this is due only to the proximity of meaning with magic, or some other factor, it's hard to tell. But this case certainly shows us that the direct translation of an English term does not always automatically influence its grammatical gender in Italian.