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The Italian minority in Crimea: linguistic identity and cultural belonging

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Katherine McDonald.


In circumstances of fundamental transformation, what can maintain the sense of collective identity in an ethnic minority group that has experienced geographical displacement and disruption through deportation? How does a speech community that has suffered language loss choose between reviving its ancestral language or replacing it with the acquisition of a sociolinguistically more prestigious cognate language? How are linguistic identity and ethnocultural belonging negotiated and mediated by a minority community in the midst of a larger majority community?

This talk will explore these issues by looking at the case of the Italian minority living in the town of Kerch, situated at the eastern end of the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine. The community formed in the XIX and early XX centuries through a series of consecutive migrations mostly from the Puglia (Apulia) region, in Southern Italy. At the beginning of the XX century there were about 3,000 Italians living in Kerč’, and there were an Italian primary school, a mutual aid association and a catholic church, built with funds raised in the community. During WWII the entire Italian population was deported from the Crimea to Kazakhstan. Following de-stalinization, deported Italians started returning to the town and the process intensified after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The talk is based on interviews and ethnographic observation carried out among Italian deportees and their descendants in September 2012.

This talk is part of the Cambridge Endangered Languages and Cultures Group series.

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