Accessible Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton September 21, 2018

“It sounds like the language spoken by those living by the seaside” – language attitudes towards the local Italo-romance variety of Ghanaian immigrants in Bergamo

Federica Guerini

Abstract

In this article, I focus on the position of Bergamasco, the Italo-romance variety spoken in the Province of Bergamo (Northern Italy), in the linguistic repertoire of the local Ghanaian immigrant community. I argue that Ghanaian immigrants do not speak Bergamasco since the local people refrain from speaking Bergamasco to them. Bergamasco can be regarded as a we-code (Gumperz, John. 1982. Discourse Strategies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.) of the indigenous community, whereas Italian – in most cases, a simplified variety of standard Italian – is the default choice when communicating with immigrants. The lack of input in combination with negative attitudes and a lack of motivation to acquire the dialect triggers a self-reinforcing dynamic, making the incorporation of Bergamasco into the linguistic repertoire of Ghanaian immigrants unlikely. Excerpts from a sample of face-to-face interactions and semi-structured interviews involving a group of first-generation Ghanaian immigrants reveal that Bergamasco tends to be perceived as a sort of “secret language” deliberately used by local people to exclude immigrants and other outsiders. This stereotype originates from and is reinforced by lack of competence on the part of the migrants, but is devoid of any foundation.

Acknowledgements

The present article is the revised version of a contribution originally presented to the “Dialects and migration in Europe” panel at ICLaVE 9 (Malaga, June 6-9, 2017), organized by Peter Auer and Unn Røyneland. My thanks are due to the panel organizers, who offered me the opportunity to engage in an invaluable discussion with other scholars investigating immigration and its impact on language attitudes and choices, as well as to the panel discussants and audience, whose feedback greatly improved the quality of this work. I am also grateful to Florian Coulmas for his comments and his advice on a first draft of this article. Needless to say, any shortcomings contained in these pages are my sole responsibility.

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Published Online: 2018-09-21
Published in Print: 2018-10-25

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