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A New Language, A New World

A New Language, A New World: Italian Immigrants in the United States, 1890-1945

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    A New Language, A New World
    Book Description:

    An examination of Italian immigrants and their children in the early twentieth century, A New Language, A New World is the first full-length historical case study of one immigrant group's experience with language in America. Incorporating the interdisciplinary literature on language within a historical framework, Nancy C. Carnevale illustrates the complexity of the topic of language in American immigrant life. By looking at language from the perspectives of both immigrants and the dominant culture as well as their interaction, this book reveals the role of language in the formation of ethnic identity and the often coercive context within which immigrants must negotiate this process. _x000B__x000B_Carnevale provides the context for understanding the linguistic history of Italian Americans by presenting a brief overview of the politics of language in Italy, with its racialized split between North and South, multiple dialects, and class divisions. During the Age of Migration, Italian immigrants encountered a similarly contested linguistic terrain in America, where immigrant languages in general were devalued and knowledge of the English language served as a criterion for full membership in a racially constructed society._x000B__x000B_Exploring a range of issues faced by Italians once they reached the United States, Carnevale considers the immigrant perspective on translation in both a literal linguistic sense and a figurative translation of self-identity. Italian Americans found a familiar voice in the popular entertainer Farfariello, whose comic songs incorporating the Italo-American idiom expressed problems of immigrant life as problems of communication--often between the sexes--suggesting the centrality of language in the immigrant imagination. And with the rise of fascism in the Italian homeland, the Italian language took on even more conflicted meanings in America as Italian Americans were regarded with suspicion and scrutiny._x000B__x000B_Grounded in a diverse array of archival sources, this study deepens our understanding of linguistic transformations in America and what they mean for ethnic identity and the process of assimilation. The story of Italians living with a new language in a new world forms only one piece of America's larger linguistic history, a history that has been integral to American conceptions of nation, race, and ethnicity.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09077-6
    Subjects: History, Linguistics, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    The first time I traveled with my family to Italy to see the village and the people that my parents had left behind when they emigrated in the 1950s, I was eleven years old. It was 1973. My older brother was a teenager and my younger brothers were eight and nine. My parents, not yet forty, were still in their prime, though my father had been ill. The family thought it would do him good to spend some time breathing his native air; thepaesaniin the United States were always touting the superiority of the air in Italy over...


    • ONE The Italian Languages in Italy and America
      (pp. 21-42)

      Italian immigrants who came to America during the era of mass migration brought with them a long and complicated linguistic history that would inform their experiences of language in the New World. Language was a central preoccupation of the literate classes that predated the establishment of the Italian state by several centuries. As the title of this chapter suggests, there was no single Italian language in Italy or in America. The Italian peninsula was and is home to numerous dialects. What came to be known as Italian is the Florentine dialect that eventually achieved the status of a language. For...

    • TWO Linguistic Boundaries in American History
      (pp. 43-76)

      Although the use of English is an unproblematic assumption in the telling of the nation’s history, language has long been a contested subject. As the title of a study of Native American experience with language reminds us, English is “America’s second tongue.”¹ The importance of language in national life extends beyond communication alone; linguistic domination goes hand in hand with cultural and political domination. In America as elsewhere, language can be “a site of struggle over power, meaning, and representation.”² However, groups outside of the mainstream have been included through language as well as excluded. Language has served as a...


    • THREE “He could not explain things the way I tell it”: The Immigrant in Translation
      (pp. 79-113)

      Sometime between 1907 and 1910, a teenaged girl from northern Italy who spoke an obscure dialect arrived at Ellis Island. According to one of the interpreters, the young Fiorello La Guardia, the girl hesitated in replying to the questions of the immigration inspectors. None of the interpreters spoke her dialect; most likely, she had some difficulty understanding her interlocutors. She was sent to the hospital where she was examined, probably at least partially disrobed, by an unattended male doctor. La Guardia described the effect of such examinations on the girl: “Imagine this girl who had always been protected, according to...

    • FOUR The World Turned Upside Down in Farfariello’s Theater of Language
      (pp. 114-135)

      Italians, like other immigrant groups in the early decades of the twentieth century, had their own theater that ranged from Italian language productions of Shakespearean dramas to Sicilian puppet shows.¹ Comic theater, however, was the most popular Italian form. The undisputed leading performer of the Italian American comic stage was Eduardo Migliaccio, also known as Farfariello (literally, “Little Butterfly,” but with the added connotation of a little devil, i.e., a womanizer). Farfariello mined the immigrant encounter with the American way of life for his comic character sketches known asmacchiette coloniale.He played the Bowery theaters of the Lower East...

    • FIVE The Identity Politics of Language: Italian Language Maintenance in New York City, 1920–40
      (pp. 136-157)

      In the 1920s, at the height of the Americanization movement that placed a premium on the proper and exclusive use of English by immigrants and their children, two concurrent efforts to encourage New York City’s Italian American students to learn Italian were underway. Some of the city’s leading Italian Americans were advocating for the inclusion of Italian as a modern language option in all junior highs and high schools. They also sought to increase the enrollment of Italian American students in Italian language courses. At the center of this language-maintenance drive was the well-known Italian American educator, Leonard Covello. At...

    • SIX Language, Italian American Identity, and the Limits of Cultural Pluralism in the World War II Years
      (pp. 158-178)

      In 1940, while America was nervously watching events unfold in Europe, an Italian American trumpeter from New Orleans was creating a sensation over the airwaves. Along with the big band sounds of Glen Miller and Benny Goodman’s swing, Americans listened to Louis Prima sing the praises of “Angelina, the waitress at the local pizzeria.” “Angelina” sold millions of copies and with it, Prima formally began his career as a performer of lighthearted depictions of Italian American life.¹ This song, like many of Prima’s so-called novelty hits performed during the war years and beyond, was distinguished by its use of Italian,...

  7. Epilogue
    (pp. 179-184)

    In June 2007, proposed legislation that would have constituted the most sweeping change in immigration policy in decades died in the Senate after a pitched battle between supporters and opponents of the bill. The clamor for immigration reform has been fueled by a heightened concern for security in the post-9/11 era that has drawn particular attention to securing the national borders. The economic dislocations and uncertainty caused by globalization constitute another source for the sense of urgency attached to passing new immigration legislation. However, much of the debate around the proposed legislation reflected familiar fears of the country becoming overrun...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 185-236)
  9. Index
    (pp. 237-244)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 245-248)