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A New Language, A New World

Italian Immigrants in the United States, 1890-1945

Nancy C. Carnevale

Publication Year: 2009

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. 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.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

It’s a pleasure to acknowledge the many people who have supported my work in various ways. I have to begin by thanking the nine Italian immigrant women I interviewed in the early 1990s who inspired this project, some of whom have passed on in the interim. I am grateful to them for their honesty, their trust, and their courage in sharing their stories with me. ...

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Introduction

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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. ...

Part One

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1. The Italian Languages in Italy and America

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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. ...

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2. Linguistic Boundaries in American History

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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; ...

Part Two

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3. "He could not explain things the way I tell it": The Immigrant in Translation

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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. ...

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4. The World Turned Upside Down in Farfariello's Theater of Language

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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, ...

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5. The Identity Politics of Language: Italian Language Maintenance in New York City, 1920-40

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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 ...

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6. Language, Italian American Identity, and the Limits of Cultural Pluralism in the World War II Years

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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.” ...

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Epilogue

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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 ...

Notes

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pp. 185-236

Index

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pp. 237-243


E-ISBN-13: 9780252090776
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252034039

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Statue of Liberty - Ellis Island Centennial Series

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Italian Americans -- Social conditions -- 19th century.
  • Italian Americans -- Social conditions -- 20th century.
  • Italian Americans -- Languages.
  • Italian Americans -- Ethnic identity.
  • Immigrants -- United States -- Social conditions -- 19th century.
  • Immigrants -- United States -- Social conditions -- 20th century.
  • Immigrants -- United States -- Language.
  • Sociolinguistics -- United States -- History.
  • United States -- Ethnic relations -- History -- 19th century.
  • United States -- Ethnic relations -- History -- 20th century.
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