Language, Ethnicity, and the State: Minority

Language, Ethnicity,
and the State:
Minority Languages
in the EU
Ch7: When Language Does Not
Matter: Regional Identity Formation
in Northern Italy
By Jaro Stacul
• Both factual circumstances and opinions
about the importance of language for
nationalism vary
• Nations can no longer be defined
economically or linguistically
• Regional identity may become more
important in a Europe without borders
Regional identity in
Northern Italy
• 1990s Lega Nord -- regionalist political movement
predicated on economic success and local culture,
but not on language, since N Italy encompasses
many dialects while its public language is not
different from S
• Trentino province shares history and legal culture
with German-speaking South Tyrol -- both were
part of Austro-Hungary, and Habsburgs did not
enforce Germanization; both regions were
integrated into Italy
A ”European” region?
• Since the advent of EU, regionalism has
challenged the definition of the nation-state, and
the definition of who belongs to a regional group
has changed as well: anybody in S Tyrol can be a
S Tyrolean, whether or not they speak German
• It became advantageous to strive for a combined S
Tyrol + Trentino as a distinctive province of Italy,
and a region of Europe, and historical figures
previously associated with Austria have been
coopted for Trentino identity -- this was done
without using a language (German) as an identifier
Local identity and language
• Trentino has an array of various Italian
dialects, with islands of Ladin and German - in short, there is no linguistic unity in
Trentino, so regional identity must be drawn
from history and place
• However, local dialect is important in
regional identity
We and ”the Italians”
• In Trentino outsiders are referred to as ’taliani
(seen as intrusive, wealthy, corrupt), and traveling
south is described as ’going to Italy’
• Locals can become ”Italian” if they move or take
on ”Italian” ways -- this is not dependent on
• Widespread diglossia -- Italian H vs. dialect L -Italian H must be acquired to succeed
• Trentinos feel themselves to be ”Austrian” even
though they do not use German
We and ”the Italians”, cont’d.
• When language cannot be used as a distinctive
marker (as is the case in Trentino), ”territory
becomes the main focus of attachment”
• Attachment to dialect implies not a local identity
so much as a conceptual failure to join the nation
• ”The construction of political and regional
identities may take place without language playing
a pivotal role”
• Identities can be manipulated for political aims
• Europe now stresses regional identities, but also
multiculturalism and the obsolescence of national
• Varieties of categorization:
– Uniform nation-state vs. ethnolinguistic
minorities vs. new, transnational, regional
identities based on place