My name is Sam Esser, and I’m a rising senior studying Politics & Philosophy and Italian, with a minor in Linguistics.
For the fellowship I will research different contributions to the development of modern, standard Italian. The research mentor I’m working with is Professor Lina Insana. In Italy, in addition to a standard language, there are also regional and local dialects. Italian dialects developed informally from different sources and can vary to the point of not being mutually intelligible. In many cases Italian dialects would be better described as local languages. Over time, from the nation’s formation in 1861, there has been a gradual shift in spoken Italian from dialects to a more standardized national language. Today, most Italians speak some version of standard Italian that may be influence by a dialect, but few speak exclusively in dialect. I will be looking for different contributing factors to this shift, initially focusing on the time just after Italy’s unification, that are political, economic, educational, and cultural. I hope to find patterns among the various contributing factors that can begin to explain the situation in Italy. The different factors that I discover and the patterns that become apparent in the development of standard Italian could be a good starting point for similar research about other countries and languages. For example, there have been right-wing, nationalist political movements throughout much of Italy’s history, if there is a correlation between these movements and the development of a standardized language, the correlation may exist in other countries. I was drawn to this topic largely because it is a particularly good opportunity to combine the different areas that I have been studying up to this point; I have not been able to do research before that relates directly to each area that I study.
Sometime after I graduate in the spring, I would like to go to school for a master’s degree, and I think the research that I do with the Brackenridge Fellowship would be decent preparation. Although I don’t have specific goals in terms of my future career, I would like whatever work I do to be somewhat interdisciplinary, like the research I’m doing now.
Outside of what I study at Pitt, I also enjoy going to museums, biking, and watching movies. I look forward to learning about what everyone else is working on this summer.