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Sociolinguistics Symposium 19: Language and the City

Sociolinguistics Symposium 19

Freie Universität Berlin | August 21-24, 2012

Programme: accepted abstracts

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Abstract ID: 1433

Part of Session 158: Language biographies and migration experiences in urban contexts (Other abstracts in this session)

The use of narratives and survey methodologies in the study of the role played by young migrants in mediating between languages and cultures, and of the construction of their identities

Authors: Rossato, Linda; Antonini, Rachele
Submitted by: Rossato, Linda (University of Bologna, Italy)

Compared to other European countries, mass immigration is a relatively recent phenomenon in Italy (Bevilacqua 2001/2002; Tapia 2000). Until thirty years ago, Italy was a country of major emigration (Braun 1999). Following the economic growth and the demographic decline in the 1990s, Italy witnessed a substantial influx of immigrants who tended to settle in the regions experiencing high economic growth.

Over the past few decades, governments of countries with a longer and more established tradition of immigration, e.g. the US and the UK, have been helping immigrants cope with the language and cultural problems they encounter when interacting with the institutions of the host country, by enacting special policies devised to assist them in this respect and which include the use of multilingual information material, the employment of community interpreters, cultural advocates and so on (Hall and Sham, 2007). In Italy, the measures implemented are scarce, and so far the country has not been well-equipped to deal with the ever growing request of language services for the new migrant population.

The role played by children in helping their families interact with the host country had never been investigated in Italy until the start of the research project In MedIO PUER(I) in 2007. This study was launched to contribute to the relatively scarce literature produced at both national and international level (cf. Tse 1996; Orellana 2009; Hall 2004: Antonini, 2010). A multi-method approach was adopted to observe the phenomenon from the widest perspective possible, and to cope with the multifaceted complexity of the multiethnic Italian school landscape. Data were collected in a time-span of three years, at different schools across the region Emilia Romagna, where the school population shows comparatively high proportions of first- and second-generation migrant children (Caritas-Migrantes 2011). The methodologies used ranged from interviews with providers of public services (Cirillo and Torresi forthcoming; Cirillo, Torresi and Valentini 2010); to focus group interviews with former child language brokers (Bucaria and Rossato 2010); questionnaire surveys among primary and post-primary teachers and pupils, and schoolchildren’s written and graphic narratives about language and cultural brokering activities.

For the purposes of this paper, the experience of immigrant children and adolescents serving as language brokers in Italy will be presented via examples of written and graphic narratives, as well as the results obtained by the questionnaire surveys. The present paper attepts to illustrate a)how these linguistic and cultural mediation practices are affecting the children of immigrants' life stories, b)how these children have come to play a fundamental role in the adjustment process of their peers to a new language and educational system and c)how the brokering activities may have positively and/or negatively impacted the identity construction process of these children.

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