Abstract: Identity and the Italian Language in Switzerland

I will be studying the relationship between language and identity within the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland.  Italian is one of four national languages in Switzerland, but less than ten percent of the country’s population speaks it.  I am interested in the way the Italian language shapes the community of Ticino, the canton which represents the bulk of the nation’s Italian speakers. Both in the everyday scope and at the national level, German and French are most prominently used, with Italian often appearing only in the context of formalities, and I would like to study the difficulties of and attitudes towards the status of Italian as a secondary language.  Out of necessity, nearly everyone in the Italian-speaking region also speaks and regularly uses Swiss German.  I will examine the difference between the ways in which Swiss German and Italian contribute to the collective identity of the people in Ticino: whether or not having a language that is unique within the rest of Switzerland has created a stronger sense of sub-nationalism within the canton, and if so, what efforts exist to preserve the use of Italian in Ticino.  Not only am I interested in how this region differs culturally from the rest of Switzerland, but also in how the Swiss culture and the prominence of French and German have influenced the language and created variances from the Italian spoken in Italy.

I will use a comparative analysis approach that employs a mixture of qualitative methodology and site visits/field work to identify in how Italian-speaking Swiss culture differs from the cultures of other Swiss regions.  Most of my work to determine the extent of bilingualism (use of Italian and Swiss German) in Ticino will stem from observations of the use of each language in different aspects of daily life.   In order to analyze the efforts made to preserve the Italian language in Switzerland, I will research the level of Italian present in the canton’s education system and any organizations, institutions, and events that celebrate and promote the use of Italian and Switzerland.  From this analysis, I will draw conclusions about the sustainability of this secondary language in such a multicultural nation. For The first four weeks of my project will consist of preliminary research conducted remotely.  The last three weeks of my project will be conducted in Ticino.

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