The Clash of Languages in the Italian-Canadian Novel
By Licia Canton
In recent years, ethnic minority writing has played a major Pole in shedding light on the complexity of the Canadian identity. Italian-Canadians figure among the numerous communities active on the Canadian literary scene. In the last decade in particular the Italian-Canadian literary corpus, which traces its development alongside the growing Italian-Canadian community, has seen numerous publications, especially novels. This paper discusses language, specifically the tension arising from the Italian word invading the Canadian text, as a representation of hyphenated identity in the following Italian-Canadian novels: Frank Paci’s The Italians (1978), Black Madonna (1982) and The Father (1984), Caterina Edwards’ The Lion’s Mouth (1982), Mary Melfi’s Infertility Rites (1991), Nino Ricci’s In a Glass House (1993) and Antonio D’Alfonso’s Fabrizio’s Passion (1995). The novels trace the process towards defining an identity which is torn between two conflicting cultures, the Italian and the Canadian. The analysis of these narratives shows that the tension and the negotiation between the Italian and the Canadian components of the bicultural identity represented at the level of the events narrated are also at work in the texture of the writing. Language causes friction between the two cultures presented in the narratives: the question of identity is played out in the weaving of the words. In the Italian-Canadian novel, Italian elements are an impediment in the quest towards Canadianness. Although the new generation embraces Canadianness through education, friends and lifestyle, the presence of the old country remains through the influence of parents, customs and language. Otherness as represented by the old country can never be completely erased even in the second generation. The Italian component, therefore, is something of a weed which keeps resurfacing. The same occurs at the level of the writing. The novels discussed are written in English—Canadian English as opposed to American, British or Australian English—in a Canadian context and for a Canadian audience. The Italian word surfaces now and then thereby breaking the flow of the English-Canadian text. The presence of the heritage language in the English text is what Francesco Loriggio calls “the device of the stone” (39) or, to use Enoch Padolsky’s words, the “linguistic stone” (56). The Italian word within the English text is like a stone or a stumbling block. The presence of the “heritage” language within the “ethnic text” is a device used by the writer to illustrate the tension and negotiation at work in a bicultural identity. Italian may take up as little space as a word or as much as a sentence, but in each case there is a noticeable effect on the narrative. Italian surfaces in different forms to break the flow of the English text: as a translated or untranslated word; as a literal translation of a phrase or sentence given in English; and as an English sentence having a latinate structure. There are two major reasons for the Italian word “contaminating” the English text: the first is purely to give the text an Italian flavour—to mark l’italianità of the writing; the second, which I focus on in this paper, serves a specific function in illustrating the duality inherent in the Italian-Canadian identity. The Italian word is present when there is no appropriate English equivalent: this points to the difference and, in extreme cases, to the incompatibility between the two cultures expressed within Italian-Canadian reality. And, the Italian presence, either as a word on the page or in the nuances of the sentence structure, points to the fact that within an Italian-Canadian reality there exists a constant process of translation. The tension existing between elements of the Italian culture and the Canadian society in which the characters must constantly negotiate a space for their identity...
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5. Nino Ricci, “Recreating Paradise: An Interview with Nmo Ricci by Jeffrey Canton,” Paragraph Vol. 13, No. 13 (1991): 6.
10. Stephen Slemon, “Magic Realism: A Post-Colonial Discourse,” Canadian Literature No. 116 (Spring/ 1988) 17.
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