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Italian in Transit and the GörliPark Corpus

The Görlitzer Park in Berlin
Photo: Marta Lupica Spagnolo

Marta Lupica Spagnolo

Italian in Transit

Multilingualism is widely recognized as a socially and scientifically relevant topic. However, the outcome (of fragments) of languages that are temporarily acquired on the move during a person’s lifetime remains largely unexplored. This project tries to fill this gap by investigating a continuum of multilingual practices based on the Italian language, for which the label ‘Italian in Transit’ is proposed (Lupica Spagnolo 2023).

Italian in Transit competences are acquired by multilingual migrants and refugees along their migration or escape routes in Italy and are occasionally reactivated after moving to other countries. As they develop in situations of intense language contact and are reactivated in extremely precarious communicative situations, Italian in Transit practices show similarities with both heritage languages and leaner varieties of Italian acquired without supervision in Italy. However, Italian in Transit is neither an in-group code nor a sociolinguistically dominant language in the new places of residence. This predisposes it to develop distinctive linguistic features, partly influenced by contact with other languages, partly accelerating grammaticalization processes in colloquial Italian, and partly determined by more general principles also at work in the pidgin and creole languages. These include, for example, the generalization of present infinitives to express durative, background events (Lupica Spagnolo 2023), specific patterns of code-switching and language choice (Lupica Spagnolo in press), and the variable realization of sentence negation through semi-innovative constructions.

The GörliPark corpus

My dataset, the GörliPark corpus, consists of twenty-three interviews conducted in Italian with multilingual migrants and refugees working as street vendors in a park in the city of Berlin, Germany.

The data was collected in several phases from October/December 2018 to November 2022. The conversations mainly focus on the participants’ language biographies and migratory experiences, as well as on their language uses in the German capital. The corpus has been transcribed using the software ELAN.

The interviewees are all male and mostly come from sub-Saharan West Africa, in particular The Gambia, Senegal, and Guinea. Because of the sociolinguistic situations in the countries, they lived in, and their intricate migration routes, their language repertoires are very complex (= superdiverse).

The majority of the participans have learned Italian  because they lived in one or more Italian cities over a variable period of time (from nine months up to nine years). However, two speakers have acquired Italian competencies after moving to Berlin. The Italian skills of the participants are highly variable both inter- and intraspeaker.  Nevertheless, an analysis of position and form of sentence negation points out that all participants (except for one) have overcome a pre-basic stage and speak basic up to post-basic learner varieties of Italian. In Berlin, the participants occasionally reactivate their Italian language skills for different communicative purposes.

The Görlitzer Park in Berlin
Photo: Marta Lupica Spagnolo

Il GörliPark corpus è costituito da interviste condotte in italiano con ventitré migranti e rifugiati che lavorano come venditori ambulanti in un parco della città di Berlino in Germania.

I dati sono stati raccolti in diverse fasi, dall'ottobre/dicembre 2018 al novembre 2022. Le conversazioni vertono principalmente sulle biografie linguistiche e le esperienze migratorie dei partecipanti così come sui loro usi linguistici nella capitale tedesca. Il corpus è stato trascritto tramite il software ELAN.

I partecipanti del GörliPark corpus sono tutti uomini e provengono principalmente dall’Africa occidentale subsahariana, in particolare, dal Gambia, Senegal e dalla Guinea. In conseguenza della situazione sociolinguistica dei paesi in cui hanno vissuto e dei loro intricati percorsi di vita, i repertori linguistici degli intervistati del GörliPark corpus sono altamente complessi (=superdiversi).

La maggior parte degli intervistati ha acquisito competenze in italiano perché ha vissuto per un periodo di tempo variabile (da nove mesi a nove anni) in una o più città italiane. Tuttavia, due parlanti hanno imparato l'italiano dopo essersi trasferiti a Berlino. Le competenze in italiano dei partecipanti sono molto variabili sia tra parlanti diversi sia nel corso di una stessa intervista. Tuttavia, un'analisi preliminare della forma e posizione della negazione di frase suggerisce che tutti gli intervistati (ad eccezione di uno) abbiano superato lo stadio prebasico e parlino varietà di apprendimento basiche o postbasiche di italiano. A Berlino, i partecipanti riattivano occasionalmente le loro competenze in italiano per scopi comunicativi diversi.



Please cite the corpus as follows. Per favore citate il corpus nel modo seguente.

Lupica Spagnolo, Marta (2023): Italian in Transit: Attempting a definition based on the distribution and functions of generalized present infinitives. Italian Journal of Linguistics 35/ 1, 159–184. [Special Issue Sociolinguistic perspectives on Italian Heritage languages communities, edited by Eugenio Goria and Margherita Di Salvo].


Other publications

Lupica Spagnolo, Marta (in press1): Italian in Transit: Superdiverse repertoires and code-switching in Italian-based multilingual practices in a Berlin park. In: Di Salvo, Margherita & Goria, Eugenio (eds.): Italo-Romance Heritage Languages: multiple approaches [Studies in Bilingualism], Amsterdam: Benjamins, [1–54].

Lupica Spagnolo, Marta (in press2): Italiano in transito. In: Serena, Enrico & Vedovelli, Massimo (eds.): Dizionario dell'italiano L2: insegnamento, apprendimento, ricerca [Collana ‘Studi di linguistica educative’, e-book]. Pisa: Pacini, [1].