Italians in St. Louis

Emigration to the United States represents an important chapter in Italian – and American – history, with 4 million of emigrants that left Italy for the United States during the mass emigration era (1890 – 1920).

The linguistics situation of Italian Americans whose ancestors originated in Northern Italy has not been studied in much depth, probably because immigration from those regions was numerically much inferior compared to that from the south. However, in St. Louis and the nearby towns in Illinois there is a strong presence of Italian Americans whose roots come from the former Mandamento of Cuggiono (province of Milan). Between 1880 and 1920 the emigration phenomenon from this area was particularly intense, as described in Mormino 2002, so that in 2003 the city of St. Louis proclaimed the 19th of July “Cuggiono day”.

The aim of my investigation is to study the status of the Italian language among Americans of Italian descent in St. Louis and the surrounding area. What is their knowledge of the Italian language? What attitude do they have towards it and towards the dialect? Is Italian an ethnicity marker? When did the language shift happen?

To solve these questions I created a sociolinguistics questionnaire and travelled to St. Louis in June 2017 where I discovered that there is a huge community with roots in Sicily.  With the help of local Italian associations and clubs, I was able to interview – and record – 56 people, whose ancestors immigrated both from Northern Italy and Southern Italy.