Italianità in the Internet: from cardboard suitcases to the web

A social history of the Italian language in German and French-speaking Switzerland
Project management

Sandro Cattacin, UniGE


Irene Pellegrini, Toni Ricciardi
Scientific partner: Bruno Moretti, UniBE

03.2016 - 02.2019
History, Interaction, Migration
Project Documents_ML

This project aims to present a socio-historical reconstruction of the processes, characteristics and modalities that the Italian language (in its varieties) has undergone in the context of its linguistic contact and integration with German and French-speaking Switzerland. In its dual role as an official language of Switzerland and as a historical immigrant language, the Italian language in Switzerland has a unique standing in comparison to other geographic situations; moreover, in today’s context of extreme individual and symbolic mobility, it represents a significant field of research for changes of territorial multilingualism in Switzerland.

The project particularly aims to observe, reconstruct and reformulate the various practices and modalities used by Italian-speaking persons when they enter into contact with northern Switzerland and when they adapt to the local linguistic territory, whereby they build a meaningful and permanent network of relationships. The socio-historical study adopts a diachronic perspective and aims to reconstruct the various language practices and the related implications. The project examines the time period after the Second World War up to the present day; the early phase was marked by a considerable influx of Italian immigrants to Switzerland, while the latter stage is characterized by digital communities, civil societies and active immigration in the Internet.

Based on a historiographical study, a survey on social issues (diachronic and synchronic) and an online questionnaire (digital ethnography), the project illustrates the transformation and the development of the modalities with which Swiss and foreign speakers of Italian communicate, enter into contact with their environment, settle into a new community and create a network in other language contexts.

Purpose – Expected results

From the perspective of the findings, this approach facilitates a better understanding of the observed changes in the spread of the Italian language and Italian language skills in general. The project’s focus on the spread of an Italian network in non-Italian-speaking Switzerland generates new insights into language preservation and promotion outside of a language’s traditional and geographic area; these insights are of potential value for the development of new didactic tools as well as for the creation of a new dimension in political debates concerning territorial hybridity.

Research diary
Interview on the project (and on publications in Italian in Switzerland), RSI, “Il Quotidiano”, 11.05.2018