Convegno Internazionale di Studi – Pescara, 29-30-31 maggio 2014

Abstract Nagy

Italian varieties at home and in Toronto
Naomi Nagy

The Heritage Language Variation and Change in Toronto Project’s goal
( is to develop a multilingual corpus for inter-
generational, cross-linguistic, and diatopic (heritage vs. homeland varieties) comparisons in
order to test generalizations about the types of variable features, structures or rules that are
borrowed earlier and more often in language contact contexts, using a consistent methodology
across studies of different languages and variables. This paper examines Heritage Italian and
Faetar spoken in Toronto, with comparisons to homeland varieties. Our conversational data
comes from recordings of ~20 adults speaking (Calabrian) Italian and another ~20 speaking
Faetar. Data includes recorded and transcribed sociolinguistic interviews, a picture description
task and an Ethnic Orientation Questionnaire. Questionnaire responses are coded to develop
indices of language usage and attitudes. Multivariate analyses of linguistic variables incorporate
social factors (language use, ethnic identity, linguistic attitudes) along with relevant linguistic
constraints. We contrast immigration generations and investigate how social factors relate to
type and degree of language change.
For Italian, outcomes for two linguistic variables are described. We look first at variable subject
pronoun presence (“pro-drop”), a grammatical feature that distinguishes Italian and English.
Multivariate regression analyses show cross-generational stability in rates of pronoun use and in
the linguistic factors constraining the variation. Rates do not correlate strongly to measures of
Ethnic Orientation. The second variable is Voice Onset Time. In word-initial stops, we might
expect influence of English’s stop-aspiration rule on Italian short lag stops (or vice versa).
Acoustic measurements extracted from Italian conversational speech and subjected to ANOVA
show no difference from homeland (Calabrian) speech, no cross-generational changes, and no
systematic Ethnic Orientation effects, in striking contrast to results for Heritage Korean, Russian
and Ukrainian. In contrast to many reports on changes in lexical patterns in Italiese, these
investigations of structural components of Heritage Italian suggest that its structure is maintained
from one generation to the next.
The second variety examined is Faetar, a Francoprovençal isolate spoken in Apulia with a
sizable expat community in Toronto. Comparison of Faetar variable patterns between two
generations of heritage speakers and a homeland comparison sample also indicate a surprising
lack of contact effects. Patterns of lexical variation, pro-drop, and gemination will be discussed.

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