Language and Identity in Vittorio Alfieri’s Vita

Elena Borelli

MHRA Working Papers in the Humanities (2009), pp. 1-12, doi:10.59860/wph.a58ad0d

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A contribution to: Translation, Adaptation, and Transformation

Edited by Jennifer Shepherd and Jessica Gildersleeve

MHRA Working Papers in the Humanities 3

Modern Humanities Research Association


Abstract.  In this essay I read Vittorio Alfieri’s autobiography, his Vita, with a focus on his linguistic transition from his original French/Piedmontese bilingualism to Tuscan monolingualism, which he narrates there. I address the traditional depiction of Alfieri as a ‘man of Italy’, which his linguistic choice seems to reinforce. Specifically, I argue that he acquired Tuscan as a foreign language and he viewed it as being prestigious precisely because it was foreign. Moreover, I read his Tuscanization in the context of Alfieri’s own views on languages and the role they play in the construction of his identity. My reading of his Vita is supported by the historical context in which it was written, namely that of eighteenth-century Piedmont, and by Elio Gioanola’s psychoanalytical interpretation of Alfieri’s dichotomous self. I suggest that Alfieri’s adoption of Tuscan was not a return to his true origins but rather reflected his desire to construct a new identity for himself. Tuscan is the language of the ‘other’, that is, the illustrious literary canon to which he strives to belong. Furthermore, the transition reflects Alfieri’s peculiar duality between his negative ‘self’ and the positively perceived ‘other’. Alfieri’s linguistic journey as described in his Vita represents both his conquest of ‘otherness’ and the acquisition of a monolingual identity.

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