Various studies have investigated the case of language shift among Italian immigrants in Buenos Aires in the early 20th century. Such research has explored both the internal and external linguistic factors which have led to the shift from Italian varieties to Argentine Spanish within the proportionally largest immigrant group in the Rio de la Plata. The present study, however, adopts a linguistic anthropology framework to demonstrate how the portrayal of Italian varieties in Argentine society has also contributed to this shift. Through the application of Jane Hill’s research on “mock” Spanish in the United States (1995,1998, 2008), this presentation highlights how the representation of Italian varieties in the sainete El conventillo de la Paloma indexes, and perpetuates, the immigrants’ inferior position in Argentine society.
This paper carries out a linguistic analysis on how El conventillo de la Paloma employs “mock” cocoliche; that is, the native Argentine’s imitation of Italian immigrant speech during their acquisition of Argentine Spanish, often for the purposes of eliciting humor. Drawing parallels with Jane Hill’s work on “mock” Spanish, this study reveals four characteristics of a “mock” variety as evidenced in the sainete’s mimicry of the Italian immigrant’s language: 1) the application of the morphology of the immigrant’s language onto the host country’s language, 2) the ungrammatical representation of the immigrant’s language, 3) semantic pejoration, and 4), blatant errors intended for mockery. The presentation points to how the use of a “mock” variety reflects society’s xenophobic discourses of exclusion that reproduce the marginalization of immigrant groups.
- Spanish American Studies