I didn’t plan to write about linguistics (my initial plan was to write about the CertIBET and the assignment I still have to write) but I read this article on The Guardian, which you can find here https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/feb/24/elena-ferrante-on-italian-language-identity
Elena Ferrante is an Italian novelist (Neapolitan Novels among others), whose work has been considered as influential, and who keeps her identity a secret since 1992. The Guardian managed to get some words from her (we are not even sure she is a “she”, she might be an invention from several writers), on one particular theme: what makes her Italian. Being half Italian myself, I was, of course, hooked.
‘Yes, I’m Italian – but I’m not loud, I don’t gesticulate and I’m not good with pizza’
That’s the headline: thank you very much for this amount of clichés, but last time I checked, a lot of Italian people were like this. Being French doesn’t mean you wear a beret, while you are playing accordion with a baguette under your arm. Being English doesn’t mean you drink tea all day long, wearing tweed and muttering “sorry” every damn minute. I could do that with every citizenship, I guess.
The baseline of the article was no better : “Being Italian, for me, begins and ends with the fact that I speak and write in the Italian language.”
What about multilingual people? Do we switch nationalities every time we switch languages? I asked myself if nationalities were depending on the language or if it was just an accessory, despite the fact a language is shaped by history, geography, culture (I am paraphrasing Ms Ferrante with these words). Do we have a linguistic nationality? But what about our own choices?
I grew up equally between France and Italy, therefore I prefer to express myself in English. What does it make me? Schizophrenic?
Actually, I do understand why Elena Ferrante use her native tongue (I hate using that expression) to justify her citizenship. I would have said something else to justify it: it’s where you have been born. I don’t feel French (I already wrote about this on a previous article) nonetheless it’s written on my passport.
“When I say that I’m Italian because I write in Italian, I mean that I’m fully Italian – but Italian in the only way that I’m willing to attribute to myself a nationality” : I am always suspicious when people are bragging about their nationality, by the way. It’s not something you can brag about: you don’t choose being American, Italian or French.
Personally, I avoid people who are proudly wearing a pendant shaped in a country, any country. It is as stupid as bragging about being tall, or being blonde or having freckles. It is not a choice you have made. Using linguistics to justify your citizenship could be seen as a way, but why justifying the citizenship in the first place? It doesn’t, and shouldn’t, matter.