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One’s own identity through others’ eyes – from auto-image of the Italian language culture and civilisation to hetero-image in the Croatian context


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Dubravec Labaš, Dubravka. (2019). One’s own identity through others’ eyes – from auto-image of the Italian language culture and civilisation to hetero-image in the Croatian context. PhD Thesis. Filozofski fakultet u Zagrebu, Department of Comparative Literature.
(Poslijediplomski doktorski studij književnosti, izvedbenih umjetnosti, filma i kulture) [mentor Roić, Sanja and Vrhovac, Yvonne].

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The theoretical basis of the analysis of cultural signs, self-images and heteroimages in the Italian language textbooks in this research study was Leerssen's theoretical and research approach aimed at studying national characterizations in (Western European) literature. Leerssen's imagological analysis of national images includes three levels: vocabulary, grammar and rhetoric. The general aim of this research was to use three levels of imagological analysis (vocabulary, grammar, rhetoric) to determine to what extent national stereotypes are present among the cultural signs that appear in the textbooks of Italian as a foreign language which are currently used or were at some point used in language classes at the Department of Italian at Zagreb University, which binary oppositions are most frequently present in the discourse of the Other or the self, as well as what type of discourse – factual reporting or stereotyping – is prevalent in the narratives of the native and the foreign in these textbooks. The specific goals, whose realization depended on the previously mentioned general aim, were to compare the selfimages derived from the textbook with the heteroimages of the students who use these images in classes, to compare the foreign and the native space and to get to the image, i.e. the notion of Italians and Italy presented in the textbooks by local authors which were used in the language classes in the Italian major program starting from the end of the 19th century and going to the mid-1990s. Another specific aim was to determine which female and male fiction writers were present in name and text, as well as to determine the ratio between the female and male authors in these textbooks. The research included a questionnaire which was answered by 171 students at the Italian language and literature program at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, as well as the analysis of 17 textbooks and accompanying workbooks grouped together by their year of publication (Groups 1, 2, 3). The research has confirmed the hypothesis that among the cultural signs stereotypes about Italians and Italy were present, but at the level of vocabulary the analysis has shown that in the representation of “Italianism“ attributes of national characterization were less frequent than other cultural signs. The vocabulary of cultural signs also indicates that these signs were chosen on the basis of their rhetorical potential, i.e. their ability to affect the audience. Furthermore, as a rule the same cultural aspects and topics are not repeated in a textbook, but rather the same topic is approached form different aspects (e.g. the topic of immigration includes text about the immigration in Italy, texts about the time when Italians immigrated, positive and negative reactions to immigration, literature and films about immigration/migration). Therefore the same stereotypical utterances are rarely repeated in a single textbook, so the frequency of particular cultural signs, stereotypes being one of them, is low within a single textbook. However, since each topic featuring culture is in itself a matter of choice among a multitude of others, the topics included should be considered “marked, highlighted“ in comparison with the ones that are not present. Almost two thirds of the students who participated in the research confirmed that there were stereotypes on Italians in the textbook they use, but less than a third gave examples. The analysis of the grammar and rhetoric of the discourse on the self in the studied textbooks has revealed that the discourse was mostly factual and the point was not to emphasize what is different from the foreign, but rather to highlight what is perceived as italianissimo (very Italian), in the sense of the absolute superlative which does not allow for another element of comparison. Findings on foreigners (non-Italians) at the level of grammar shoe that binary oppositions that underlie utterances on foreigners are different from those on Italians, especially so in Group 3, where differences between home and foreign and more pronounced, and the heteroimage is construed from the aspect of the home culture. At the rhetorical level of utterances on foreigners stereotyping is the dominant mode of talking about others in all three groups, and the effect of the typical is a somewhat more frequent strategy of stereotyping than pseudopsychological characterization is. Most factual utterances appear in Group 1, and the fewest in Group 3, in which the effect of the typical is visibly prevalent. The analysis also confirmed the hypothesis that in the studied textbooks space would also be in a way represented stereotypically, meaning that in representing space the dominant image is the one derived from the cultural and historical identity of several cities or regions, with male authors being much more present both in name and text than the female ones. The results of the questionnaire given to students showed that dominant images of Italians were those related to temperament and character, as well as physical characteristics. Results concur with what Pageaux (2009) pointed out, namely that in national stereotyping two type of discourse co-occur, the descriptive (Italians are loud) and the normative (Italians can't speak foreign languages) kind, but among the attributes of national characterization there are very few prejudices, i.e. negative attitudes based on belonging to a group different from one's own. The image of space that derives from the textbooks is stable and there are no great oscillations in relation to the time of publishing. The cities of Rome, Milan, Venice, Florence,Naples and Turin, and recently Bologna, feature most prominently in the textbooks, whereas Tuscany and Sicily are the most prominent regions, followed by Campania, Lazio and Liguria. The stability of this image is confirmed by the students' answers in the questionnaires. Comparison of the images of home space found in Group 3 textbooks and foreign space found in students' questionnaires leads to the conclusion that these two almost fully match in the case of cities, whereas they are somewhat different in the case of regions. By comparing the heteroimage of the nation and space form Group 1 and 2 textbooks to that from students' questionnaires, it can be observed that this image oscillates, but some types of characterization are stable. What is stable is the perception of Italy as the cradle of arts, the land of great artists, opera, sun, blue sea and bright sky. Similarly, the image of Italians as open and hospitable people and Italy as a country that many foreigners visit does not change. In a diachronic perspective it is also clearly visible that some cultural signs and attributes of national characterization appear or disappear, or some characteristics change into their opposite. The research has also shown that the very territory of Italy is partially represented in the textbooks, stereotypically in terms of the North-South division, and that such representation matches the students' perception. Since Italian major program language classes are mandatory courses for future teachers, mediators between cultures and interpreters of cultural signs, more attention should be dedicated right from the beginning to widening the perception of the space covered by Italy, of its geographical and regional diversity as well as cultural differences stemming from this diversity, with a view to avoiding possible misunderstandings in some future communication, as well as avoiding further perpetuation of stereotypes. By comparing the image of Italian literature reconstructed from the textbooks to the image from student questionnaires we may observe that students' answers can be related to the entire study program in language and literature. Although part of the image of literature matches the image from the textbooks and most students have certainly read the literary texts as part of language classes material, it can't be conclusively claimed that these texts have significantly affected the reception of particular authors in this population. Recognizing and analyzing stereotypes can be a useful tool for building a more conscious relationship with a foreign culture, and imagology itself as a literary discipline can use textbook analysis as a potential for innovation in studying images of the Other, the modes of their spreading and their reception in non-literary contexts as well. Contemporary imagology is in the process of continual theoretical and methodological rethinking, and national stereotypes are not only found in images mediated through text. Since this research indicates that, apart from culture-civilization texts, stereotypical images may also appear in graphic additions to the text, in photographs and illustrations, these will also need to be taken into account in some future imagological research of national imageries, cultural identity and contemporary identity policies.

Item Type: PhD Thesis
Uncontrolled Keywords: self-images, heteroimages, Italianity, stereotypes, Italian language textbooks, imagology and second language acquisition, interculturality, cultural signs, imagological analysis, rhetorical potential
Subjects: Comparative literature
Departments: Department of Comparative Literature
Supervisor: Roić, Sanja and Vrhovac, Yvonne
Additional Information: Poslijediplomski doktorski studij književnosti, izvedbenih umjetnosti, filma i kulture
Date Deposited: 19 Mar 2019 09:33
Last Modified: 19 Mar 2019 09:33

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