Back in 2015, Dan Nosowitz spoke to linguists and other experts about how Italian-American culture and how words like capicola and mozzarella became gabigool and mutzadell:
Most immigrant groups in the United States retain certain words and phrases from the old language even if the modern population can’t speak it. But for people outside those groups, and even, often, inside them, it’s next to impossible to pick out a specific regional accent in the way a Jewish American says “challah” or a Korean-American says “jjigae.” How can someone who doesn’t speak the language possibly have an regional accent?
Yet Italian-Americans do. It’s even been parodied. On an episode of Kroll Show, comedian Nick Kroll’s character Bobby Bottleservice, a Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino–type, describes his lunch in this thick accent, eliminating the final syllable of each item. “Cap-uh-coal,” he says, pointing at capicola. “Mort-ah-dell,” he says, as the camera pans over a thin, pale arrangement of mortadella. “Coca-coal,” he finishes, as the camera moves over to a glass of Coke. “Capicola,” made famous in its mutation by The Sopranos, gets even more mutated for comedic effect on The Office, where it becomes “gabagool.”
“One thing that I need to tell you, because this is something that is not clear even for linguists, let alone the layperson—the linguistic situation in Italy is quite complicated,” says Mariapaola D’Imperio, a professor in the linguistics department at Aix-Marseille University who was born in Naples and studied in Ohio before moving to France. The situation is so complicated that the terms used to describe pockets of language are not widely agreed upon; some use “language,” some use “dialect,” some use “accent,” and some use “variation.” Linguists like to argue about the terminology of this kind of thing.
It’s a wild and fascinating story about how languages, dialects, and accents can get rearranged, merged, discarded, and rejuvenated through social interaction and migration.