Teaching Italian in Corsica: Fluid language boundaries and intercultural citizenship

Alexandra Mystra Jaffe

California State University, Long Beach, USA

WS161: Bilingual education recast in the wake of globalisation: researching the second/foreign language interface

The status of Italian and its teaching in Corsican schools has a varied history. In the early stages of Corsican language revitalization, two things made teaching Italian problematic from the perspective of Corsican language activists: 1) the desire to differentiate Corsican from Italian (avoiding the label “Italian dialect”) and 2) fear that any instruction of Italian would deflect resources and students from Corsican classes. Over the last fifteen years, interest in Italian has grown as Corsican language education has become more established, and as cultural and economic ties with Italy have increased. Since 2000, Corsican bilingual schools and programs (Corsican: French) have increasingly chosen Italian as the foreign language of choice for primary school instruction, in contrast with the overwhelming trend towards English outside the bilingual system. This choice of Italian reframes both the nature of foreign and minority language learning, situating both as tools for the development of plurilingual, intercultural citizens.

This presentation begins with an exploration of bilingual educators’ rationales for choosing Italian, and how these rationales relate to their models of language and identity. It goes on to explore how these issues play out in the classroom, examining theatrical/dramatic work in both monolingual (Corsican) and multilingual (Italian, Corsican, French) frameworks. The first set of data is drawn from the author’s own ethnographic research, and focuses on the development, rehearsal and performance of a Corsican elementary school play script from its origins as an Indian folktale told in French. This process reconciles the status of Corsican as a heritage language with the fact that it is learned as a second language by most Corsican children by positioning children as authors (giving them authority) and by giving them ample chance to master the spoken word (authenticity). The second set of data involves improvisational dramatic activities that play with linguistic form using Corsican, Italian and French. These practices implicitly relocate linguistic authority, and disconnect it from a single written or spoken norm. They also make way for new definitions of authentic speech that include the hybrid practices and mixed competencies that define this generation of schoolchildren.

Analysis of both discourse and practice related to the teaching of Italian in Corsican bilingual schools shows that choosing and teaching Italian as a foreign language is innovative at several levels. First, it places the issue of language boundaries at the center of the pedagogical project, allowing and reflecting on movement between and in the interstices of the codes in question. This fluid model is integrated with a “polynomic” perspective on the Corsican language, which locates linguistic identity in the diversity of socially legitimated usage. Secondly, it suggests a model of intercultural citizenship in which speaking partners make the most out of varying levels of productive and receptive competence in related codes. In doing so, the choice of Italian reconfigures what it means to speak Corsican. That is, Corsican is represented not just as the expression of local cultural identity, but as a bridge to participation and interaction with Europe and beyond

Session: Themed Panel (part 1)
Bilingual education recast in the wake of globalisation: researching the second/foreign language interface
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 02