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Language contact is one of the fundamental possible causes for language maintenance and language shift. When speakers of different language varieties interact closely, it is common for their languages to influence each other. This is known as language contact. There are two acknowledged types of language contact, intimate contact and cultural contact. It is evident that the contact between Popular Italian, the language of the Italian migrants in Australia, and English in its Australian form is characteristic of cultural contact. There are, however, a number of factors which influence whether language maintenance or language shift will arise from being in contact with the other language. Factors including assimilation, alienation and isolation all contribute to either language shift or language contact, as well as a variety of social, political and economic factors. The attitudes toward the ethnic language also have a profound impact upon whether language maintenance or language shift will be the outcome from language contact. It is also understandable that language contact will almost inevitably result in language maintenance and language contact throughout a few generations.
Before going any further, it is necessary to discuss what is meant by Ðlanguage contact. It occurs when speakers of different speech varieties interact and generally their languages have some bearing on one another. Usually one is a dominant language and the other is generally a minority language. The dominant language therefore generally has more influence over the minority language. The minority language usually suffers considerable pressure from the dominant language, especially if it is not regarded as a prestigious language. According to Leoni (1995:19),
ÐIt is clear that, in a situation of languages in contact, the social prestige
attached to one language at the time of its contact with another will have
a significant bearing upon the amount and type of linguistic exchange
which occurs between those languagesÐ .
Thus it is evident that the minority language will almost certainly undergo some linguistic changes. However the linguistic exchange between those languages is reliant upon a number of different factors, including but not exclusively,
ÐÐ…their geographic proximity, the similarity or diversity of their origins, the
extent and nature of the relationship between them, the more or less inherent
structural vulnerability of one language as compared to another, the amount of bilingualism amongst the speakers, (Ð…) and the acceptability and adaptability
of the potential transfers (Leoni, 1995:19).
Even so, the type of contact which occurs between the two languages, either intimate or cultural contact, has an effect on the type of transference which occurs.
Cultural contact is often referred to as Ðcultural borrowing. Cultural borrowing arises when linguistic interference is present, which is not caused by bilingualism or by geographic proximity of the two languages. Klajn (1972 in Leoni 1995:20) identifies cultural borrowing as ÐÐ…the linguistic consequence of the diffusion of the cultural products of the source nation. Hence no degree of bilingualism or linguistic proximity generates any interference or linguistic change. Therefore cultural contact, or borrowing, can be defined ÐÐ…in terms of distant intercourse which in turn produces linguistic changes in two or more languages (Leoni, 1995:21). Subsequently, the language of food is heavily borrowed from Italian; Ðtortellini, Ðlasagne, Ðpizza, Ðpasta and so forth. Whereas in the language of electronics, words profoundly borrowed from English include such words as Ðcomputer, Ðprinter, Ðtelevision, Ðvideo and the like. It is clear, then, that the borrowed words come from a particular language or culture. When one hears one of these words, they generally know which language the word has been borrowed from. This type of borrowing is clearly not characteristic of the borrowing which occurs between Popular Italian and Australian English.
Intimate language contact on the other hand, has a much closer contact between the two languages concerned, compared with cultural contact. The languages are spoken more or less side by side, in the one society, which allows more interaction between the two languages. Bloomfield (in Leoni 1995:21) states that intimate contact Ðoccurs when two languages are spoken in what is topographically and politically a single communityÐ…. More often than not, there exists a dominant and minority language amongst the two. Language borrowing, from one language to the other, functions primarily from the upper to the lower language. Bearing this in mind, it can be seen that the contact between Australian English and Popular Italian is representative of intimate language contact. Both languages are spoken within the one community, often side by side. It is also evident that English is unmistakably dominant over Popular Italian, spoken by the Italian immigrants in Australia. It can be seen that Popular Italian has incorporated into its lexicon various transfers from English, Ð…which would allow them to adequately express uniquely Australian concepts and realityÐ… (Leoni in RM 8:74). For example dol, which comes from the English word Ðdole, is now widely used instead of the Italian Ðsussidio di disoccupazione. This confirms that the contact which occurs between English and Popular Italian is in fact representative of intimate language contact.
The result of the contact of the two languages can be the replacement of one language by the other. This most frequently occurs when one language has a higher social position or prestige than the other which can also lead to language endangerment or extinction. This is the process referred to as language shift. A language however, shifts from one to the other for several different reasons, including economic, social, political and demographic factors. The most obvious reason for a language to shift is that the community sees an important reason for learning the second language. Going the other way, the community may not see an important reason for maintaining their own language, which again causes language shift to occur.