Tracing regional linguistic heritage in first and second generation Italian trilinguals in Australia

About the project

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Radici Italiane in terra Australiana (Italian Roots In Australian Soil: IRIAS) is our name for the project presented on these pages.

Both personal curiosity and theoretical interests led us to investigate, document and identify, from a scientific perspective, which linguistic and cultural elements of people’s Italian regional origins remain resilient, and which elements may change over time, in the first and second generations of Italian families that migrated to Australia. Six decades after the beginning of mass migration of Italians to Australia we are investigating what remains constant, what has changed, and what has been acquired in the languages and dialects used in these families, and how these languages contribute to the identity of Italo-Australian individuals and families across generations.

The Italian community in Australia, a major component of the European emigration that has taken place beginning in the years following World War II but continuing up to the present day, has a long tradition in Australia, involving integration into the new homeland balanced with persisting connections to Italian cultural and linguistic roots. This tradition is to us most evident in the linguistic domain, in what today may be considered the Italian-Australian variety of Italian, incorporating English lexicon, idiomatic expressions and discourse markers in their and Italian (and/or dialect). Just to offer a couple of simple examples we encountered while interviewing our informants, an Italian-Australian speaking in Italian or Dialect may say the word “dama” instead of the Italian diga (incorporating the English word dam), or ask for “tomati” instead of pomodori (adapted from English tomatoes). Or the melding of words may occur the other way around, that is, English words may become Italianised when they speak English, such as “gama” instead of gum (tree). But such mixed words are not so frequent – much more pervasive is the effect of accent, or speaking the words of one language with “colouring” from the way that consonants and vowels are pronounced in the other language. The sound of the languages these people speak influence each other and very often with extremely evident and audible consequences, whether they are first or second generation Italo-Australians, and whether they are speaking Dialect, Italian or English. When we speak a second or third language, we often unconsciously transfer some of our mother tongue’s most notable sound characteristics (phonetic, prosodic etc.) onto our later-learned language(s). This leads us to identify a person speaking English with an Italian accent, or Italian with a Dialectal accent and so on. However, because of the prolonged use of the English language in the Italo-Australian community, their Italian and Dialect may be affected by English as well: this is why the members of their respective communities in Italy may identify them as “foreigners” when they travel back to Italy.

These few and simple examples highlight why, in a broader sense, the Italo-Australian community is very suitable for our research interests in the field of linguistics.

We are investigating how the heritage Dialect and the Italian spoken by the members of the first and second generation members of the Italo-Australian community may have changed, and conversely what aspects may have been preserved. How are these languages kept alive? How does using these languages contribute to the sense of identity within the Italian community in Australia? What may the Italian emigrants who left their country during the last century, now more than 60 or 70 years old, remember of their heritage language? How do their children born and raised far away from their parent’s homeland speak nowadays? Do they continue to keep alive their parents’ heritage language/languages, even down to how its consonants are pronounced?

These are only some of the questions the project and the research group is addressing, using a set of audio recordings we have made of more than 50 Italo-Australians speaking conversationally and producing words in Dialect, Italian and English. To do this we focussed on a group of families with Italian origins from the region of Veneto (originating from the provinces of Belluno, Treviso and Rovigo) and from the region of Calabria (originating from the province of Reggio Calabria) headed by at least one parent (or both parents) from those provinces, who arrived in Australia during the 1950s and 1960s. The project includes first and second generation Italo-Australians whose linguistic origins (Italian language and local Dialects) are rooted in the two selected Italian regions and who learned their Dialect as their first language but also know and use, where required, English and Italian.

The participants enrolled in our project were speakers recruited from the two generations, now living in the metropolitan area of greater Sydney as well as some from Wollongong and Canberra. The project has been made possible thanks to the collaboration and support of the different Italian associations, clubs and friends active in the area of Sydney.

To gather our research material, we audio recorded our participants over a semi-structured and spontaneous oral interview/conversation in the three languages separately (in their Italian Dialect, in Italian and in English). Moreover, we asked our participants to answer a written questionnaire on their language history and patterns of language use.

During three separate recording campaigns, which took place from the end of 2011 to the beginning of 2016, we were able and delighted to interview 30 first generation and 27 second generation speakers whose ancestral roots are in the four Italian provinces chosen as target areas of origin for this research.

We are currently transcribing and coding, at various levels, the collected interview recordings, and have begun analysing the first waves of the processed data. Stay tuned and follow our updates on the homepage.

Disclaimer

Creative Commons License The content published on the Italian Roots In Australian Soil (IRIAS) website by Galatà, V., Avesani, C., Best, C., Di Biase, B. & Vayra, M. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://irias.filefaustralia.org/.

Please cite as: Galatà, V., Avesani, C., Best, C., Di Biase, B. and Vayra, M. (2017). Italian Roots In Australian Soil (IRIAS). [online] Available at: http://irias.filefaustralia.org/

Grazie

We are grateful for assistance from the following organisations and people, without whom this project would not be possible: FILEF, CoAsIt Sydney, ItSoWel Wollongong, Italo-Australian Club Canberra, Sydney's emigrants' associations from Belluno, Rovigo and Treviso, “La Fiamma” bi-weekly newspaper and all the participants who took part in the project.

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