This paper reports on the experience of developing and applying a shallow parsing scheme, “chunking”, to unrestricted Italian texts, with a view to the prospective definition of further, more complex levels of syntactic analysis. A text is chunked into structured units which can be identified with certainty on the basis of an empty syntactic lexicon. The chunking process stops at that level of granularity beyond which the analysis gets undecidable. We argue that a chunked syntactic representation can usefully be exploited as such for non trivial NLP applications, which do not require full text understanding such as automatic lexical acquisition and information retrieval. The first part of the paper illustrates in detail the adopted annotation scheme, by relating it to some specific issues of Italian syntactic analysis. In the second part, after giving some theoretical justification of the notion of chunking, we describe some applications of this technique of shallow parsing to robust syntactic annotation of texts.