Communicative strategies in the Italian of Igbo-Nigerians immigrated in Padova (Northestern Italy)
Today, the Veneto region (Northeastern Italy) has the third-largest immigrant population in Italy. The high number of foreign workers reflects a high demand for labour in the many small factories in the region. Igbo-Nigerians are among the largest immigrant groups in the city of Padova.
The majority of immigrants have no previous knowledge of the Italian language on arrival and learn it with little or no formal instruction. This situation makes second language acquisition in the immigrant context a perfect locus for the study of learners' communicative strategies and their linguistic manifestations in the Italian speech.
The Igbo-Nigerians are particularly interesting because the acquisition of the Italian language represents the addition of a fourth or fifth language in their linguistic repertoire. The Igbo language is the official language in the south east of Nigeria. In addition to Igbo, English and Nigerian Pidgin English are also spoken. Early education in public schools is in local languages, while secondary and university education are in English. All Nigerians who have received formal education after primary school are bilingual in English and another indigenous language, or even multilingual if they speak Nigerian Pidgin English and/or other indigenous languages (depending on the level of contact with other ethnic groups and family background).
In multilingual countries such as Nigeria, educated people who are fluent in English but whose first language is an African language such as Igbo or Yoruba, often use English words or sentences into their conversations. This linguistic behaviour is very likely to be replicated in the use of Italian.
In the following excerpt informant B is telling the interviewer about the conditions in which immigrants live in Padova and how hard is to find an accommodation because Italians do not want to let houses to foreigners. On line 4 he uses the English verb generalize. The English verb is inflected thanks to the preceding Padovani 'Padovans'. There are no breaks or pauses before the use of the English verb, which shows that informant B is using the English insertion in a natural way as if it was inserted in the Igbo discourse.
Example 1 Translation
|1||... there are immigrants who do their job, who live in peace|
|2||clean at home, there is a group... another group|
|3||who does not want to live in peace, who break things, it depends on people,|
|4||but Padovans generalize|
In the next excerpt (2), informant C is telling the interviewer that she used to be part of a choir in Nigeria. Her proficiency in Italian is moderately good, taking into account that she had arrived in Italy only a year before the interview. I think this was due to the fact that she had no contact with other Igbo and shared a house with two Senegalese, with whom she was forced to speak Italian. In the example she asks me the Italian word for choir, thus flagging the use of the English word. She does not wait for my answer, however, but continues the conversation by providing the periphrasis che canta 'that you sing' for the previous word choir (line 3).
|Int:||ah, choir, choir, yah|
Example 2 Translation
|1||C:||... when I was in Nigeria, I don't know how to say it,|
|2||you know what a choir is don't you?|
|3||C:||choir, choir. Those who sing,|
|Int:||Ah, choir, choir, yah|
|C:||because I also sing in church, I used to go there to do,|
|C:||Yes, in church, but... I used to go there to practice,|
|4||Int:||To do rehearsals?|
|6||Int:||They are very nice|
|Int:||They are different from the Italian ones...|
|Int:||They are nicer than the Italian ones, for me|
|7||C:||Yes, sometimes others xxx from churches write an invitation no,|
|8||if they have a party in their church|
|9||they ask us to go and sing there... you know we sing...|
In the following excerpt the preposition per 'for' is used to express the topic (per Jamaica 'for Jamaica' = It. sulla Giamaica 'about Jamaica'). When asked about life in Jamaica, speaker O answers first in English, fulfilling the task of content answering, but not that of speaking in Italian. He then restates the same sentence in Italian and it is in this sentence that per appears. Speaker O's preferred language is English, his whole interview being full of English insertions and alternations. It is not by chance that the occurrences appear in an excerpt of a speaker making frequent use of code-switching into English and Nigerian Pidgin English. Note in line 3 an instance of the existential c'è 'there's' with a possessive function.
|2||O:||Ehh, I don't have to say much about Jamaica, |
|Int:||In Italian. |
Example 3 Translation
|1||Int:||How is life in Jamaica?|
|2||O:||Ehh, I don't have a lot to say about Jamaica, |
|3||I don't have a lot to say about Jamaica, |
|4||only that I like it as a country, but...|
In the following example, I asked speaker F how often he hears from his relatives in Nigeria. He told me that his relatives often call him, because in Italy phone calls are expensive. In line 3, he uses the existential form c'è 'there's' to express possession. This is a general strategy which Igbo have to express possession in Italian and it is persistent even in more advanced speakers' speech. Speaker F also makes use of code-switching and other contact-induced strategies; note the use of the conjunction anche preceding the possessive sentence.
Example 4 Translation
|1||Int:||Is it very expensive to call from Italy to Nigeria?|
|2||F:||Ehm here in Italy phoning is expensive, |
|3||and I do not have money to call.|