L2 phonetics research | conference proceedings

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Flege, J. E., MacKay, I. R. A., & Schirru, C. (2019). Frozen in time: Italian immigrants’
comprehension of their L1. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.17757.46568

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.
 

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