Abstract. This study examined the comprehension of Italian by immigrants from central or southern Italy who had lived in Canada for an average of 38 years. Most “Early” learners (individuals who arrived in Canada before age 12 years) and some “Late learners” (who arrived later in life) comprehended standard Italian very well, but other Late learners did so poorly or not at all. The comprehension test scores obtained for Late learners were affected little by length of Canadian residence, but increased as a function of years of schooling in Italy prior to immigration. Frequency of Italian use in Canada also predicted comprehension test scores but, surprisingly, the relation was inverse: the more frequently our participants reported using Italian, the more poorly they comprehended standard Italian.
All of the Italians recruited for this study spoke English, and for many English had become their primary language due to the fact that the Italian-speaking community in Ottawa is small. It appears that most Early learners and some Late learners had also learned standard Italian, or an Italian lingua franca approximating standard Italian, as a second dialect (D2) after arriving in Canada. Other Late learners may have obtained low scores because they did not learn a D2. This we attribute to their speaking Italian in Canada primarily with persons who spoke the same (non-standard) form of Italian they had learned as young children prior to arriving in Canada. At the end of this presentation we outline further tests that might be administered to a subset of the Italo- Canadians already tested to confirm or disconfirm this interpretation of the results.
Comment: We would appreciate feedback on this work in progress.