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“There Are Gains in the Losses”: Beyond ‘Authenticity’

Finding Relevance in the Imperfect Italo-Australian Vernacular

This presentation makes complicated the seemingly straightforward correlation

between language and community. I situate my discussion in Melbourne’s Italian

Museum, Museo Italiano where, in 2017-18, community members were invited to

share their experiences and perspectives to help find points of future relevance in

the Italian migrant story for the community museum and the community more


As participants walk through the exhibition, the use of a Standard Italian

incorporated as soundscape, for object labelling and in interpretive text throughout

the gallery becomes an unexpected point of contention and prompts in many, the

recollection of the use of language as a historic and political indicator for levels of

social standing and refinement, of being ‘more’ or ‘less’ Italian. Their comments

expose some of the ‘cultural baggage’ associated with learning, and indeed, leaving

language at school.

Thinking through these experiences, I ask, how might the addition of alternative

representations of language as fluid, dynamic and as a process of whole body

listening complement and enhance traditional attitudes to language as a skill to be


Ultimately, this presentation argues that transitions in language, if framed as the

result of changing social conditions and as a celebration of the diasporic experience

can potentially revitalise the value of community language learning: there is

relevance and hope in acknowledging the imperfection.

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