Languages, borders, identities: focusing on the Mediterranean area

Federica Da Milano (Milano)


The panel will focus on the complex notion of ‘border’, first of all from an etymological and cross-cultural point of view (what are the origins of the term, what are the differences among the terms border/boundary/frontier and how are these notions considered in different cultures?): “En français et dans les langues latines, la notion fait référence au vocabulaire militaire, à la notion de face-à-face violent (l’affrontement). En anglais au contraire, c’est au champ sémantique du lien que la boundary fait appel (to bind, relier). Si l’on pense au terme allemand de grenze, on ouvre encore un autre plan de l’imaginaire frontalier, le mot dérivant d’un terme polonais proche signifiant la borne, c’est à-dire un ancrage matériel ponctuel pour soutenir une ligne qui n’existe que comme construction mentale” (Amilhat-Szary 2015). More specifically, the analysis will be devoted to the intriguing relationship between borders and languages, with a particular interest to Euro-Mediterranean borders. Migration in the Mediterranean region is a widely debated topic: border controls and management, migration and development, human trafficking and human rights and the clash or convergence of civilizations are among the themes presented daily in local and international newspapers and on television news. Europe forms a ‘migration space’ with the south shore of the Mediterranean: this is a concept that was first defined by geographers, indicating persistent and continuous relationships developed between zones of departure and arrival. Amid this fairly well-defined territory which justifies the term ‘Euro-Mediterranean migration space’, the Mediterranean is also one of the largest dividing lines in the world, creating divisions from an economic, political, social, cultural and demographic point of view, despite dialogues and proximities. Among other things, borders are relevant in the construction of identity: from a linguistic viewpoint, the elements that express personal reference and the ‘here and now’ of a subject are called deictics. The act of referring to another individual leads us straight to the core of multimodal interaction: it is the first indicator of an individual cultural identity. Person reference is a subject that stands at a central intersection between various behavioral sciences, such as linguistics, sociology, psychology and philosophy. However, the empirical study of person reference in natural conversation has been often neglected, particularly from a cross-cultural perspective, that might throw much needed light on the relation between culture, social structure and language use (Da Milano 2016). Personal pronouns, and more generally deictics, are often used in the textual genre of first person linguistic narratives: a special focus will be devoted to first person narratives of migrants, looking at the construction of identities of people that cross the borders and live in between languages, cultures, worlds. The concept of moving language borders is described by Erfurt (2003: 6): “Migranten überschreiten Dialekt- und Sprachgrenzen. Bei massenhafter Migration enstehen außerhalb des ursprünglichen Verbreitungsraumes der Sprache neue Räume der Mehrsprachigkeit, wobei die Grenzen von Varietäten verschoben oder infrage gestellt werden (…)”. Moreover, as De Fina (2003) suggested, a focus on immigrants and their identity can help defeat overgeneralization and stereotyping and show the complexity of immigrant realities and experiences.


Self and the Other across the boundaries

Federica Da Milano (Milano)

Dissolving borders: storytelling and the experiences of unaccompanied minor migrants in the Mediterranean

Anna De Fina (Washington, D.C.)

Performing projection: border culture deep in the Mediterranean, an exercise of dislocation

Anne-Laure Amilhat-Szary (Grenoble)