How immigrant languages change cities: an Italian case study

Monica Barni, Massimo Vedovelli, Carla Bagna

Università per Stranieri di Siena, Italy


This speech presents the results of a series of studies conducted within The Excellence Center of Research - Permanent Language Observatory for the diffusion of the Italian Language among foreigners and the immigrant languages in Italy of the University for Foreigners of Siena. The research of these studies aims to describe and to propose interpretive models of new phenomena that characterize the language situation in Italy.

The Italian linguistic space, during the period starting from the political unification of the Italy (XIX century) until the middle of the fifties of the twentieth century, has been traditionally characterized by a tripolar situation: a) the pole of Italian and its varieties, b) the pole of Italian dialects and their varieties, c) the pole of minority languages of historic settlement.

Starting from the end of this period onwards, an extremely rapid process of the diffusion of Italian spoken commonly by the vast majority of the population began to take place, involving an actual linguistic revolution which has lead to the birth of an effectively common and shared language.

In recent years a second linguistic revolution has swept across Italian society and continues to do so: on account of the flow of immigration from abroad, Italy, once before a country of emigrants, has witnessed the entry of languages and cultures of immigrants as well. They amount to 3.5 million people (5.6% of the population) with at least 600,000 young people present in the educational system. These new immigrants speak at least 130 different languages. The immigrant groups who have settled across the country (in big and small cities) have implanted their languages in local communities, creating immigrant languages in the national linguistic space and in local linguistic spaces.

Such immigrant languages are not only present in domestic contexts, but also in public ones. Languages leave behind traces in urban linguistic landscapes through street and store signs, posters, and other public writings, creating a plurilingual environment where mixed language texts have taken significant space.

The purpose of this report aims to provide a model of sociolinguistic analysis used in order to describe the situation which has been created; it deals with a factor of

Neoplurilingualism along which is added the traditional language dynamics in this new perspective.

One can compare the presence of immigrant languages, their solidity, vitality and visibility with the attitude of Italians, whose language insecurity does not only concern competence in widespread foreign languages, but also Italian as well.

The data gathered in these studies, points out how the vitality and the visibility of immigrant languages non only depends on the presence, the social implantation and the attitude of foreigners towards their languages, but also on the social and linguistic space in which they are entering.

The data analysis allows for the description of forms, ways and dynamics of plurilingual and traditional Italian, permitting the elaboration of hypotheses concerning its evolution in relation to profound social change which characterize Italy today.

Session: Paper session
Linguistic Landscape 2 / Contact
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 06