The present paper examines the personal evaluations of social systems and the language maintenance experience of a group of tertiary students of Italian ancestry in Australia. In so doing, the paper seeks to complement the hard data of quantitative studies into the language and culture activation of groups of Italian-Australians by providing an insight into their life-world through an analysis of their life stories or topical autobiographies. The first part of the paper deals with the participants' evaluation of primary and secondary social systems, while the second part examines the personal statements of participants who comment on their past and present experiences with respect to their Italian language maintenance efforts. Among the themes uncovered by the analysis of the life stories are aspects of the ingroup solidarity and outgroup rivalry experienced by many the participants growing up in Australia's ethnically diverse society. Evaluations relating to language experience, on the other hand, highlight the difficulties many participants face in coming to terms with trilingual learning situations (English, Italian and an Italian dialect) which in some cases produces a kind of dialectophobia.
There is a relatively short literature of the family patterns and social relations among Italians in Australia which in the main dates back to the seventies and eighties. Among the more significant of these is Cronin's (1970) study of Sicilian social organisation, both in its «native» surroundings and after its transplantation to Australia. Cronin's examination of southern Italian family life and kinship systems shows that, at least among the first and second generations, the life patterns are reasonably consistent with the original Sicilian social structure. With regard to family systems and organisation, for example, Cronin suggests that there has been virtually no change in relations with members of the extended family, although a «clumping together» for a few years after migration is common (Cronin, 1970 p. 263). Within the nuclear family, there is evidence of some change toward egalitarianism in the husband-wife relationship and a concomitant separation of the world of adults from the world of children.
In another study of Italian settlers in Australia, Huber (1977) compares conditions and life patterns in Treviso (Italy), Griffith, Australia (settled before the second world war) and Sydney, Australia (settled after the second world war). Huber highlights the significance of social and economic factors in the development of patterns of settlement and suggests that people find it easier in another country if «old» customs and institutions can be maintained or adapted. In terms of the patterns of family relationships, Huber posits that, unlike the Trevisani in Italy, the immigrants live exclusively in nuclear households with at most one or two relatives nearby. Close primary relationships thus give way to loose networks of acquaintances, and although people attempt to set up ties through god parenthood, these seldom endure (Huber, 1977, p. 197).
With respect to language maintenance among young Italian-Australians , Smolicz's (1983a) study is particularly relevant. According to this study, 48 per cent of the participants interviewed indicated that one or both of their parents insisted on them speaking Italian or dialect at home and 72 per cent of the participants themselves favoured its use. However, 21 per cent were opposed to the idea of speaking either Italian or a dialect and another 7 per cent were indifferent to the idea. The rejection of Italian by a minority of the participants was confirmed by the examination of their language activation which showed a shift to English of about 10 per cent when talking to older relatives and 14 per cent in conversations with their mothers. There was an increasingly greater tendency to use English with fathers (22 per cent), parents' friends (22 per cent), siblings (82 per cent) and peers (87 per cent). In terms of Italian varieties used, Smolicz reports that just over 20 per cent of the participants spoke Italian, while about 28 per cent used a dialect and 14 per cent a mixture of Italian and dialect.
Such patterns of language activation with selected interlocutors have been largely corroborated by Chiro's (1998, p. 179) study of a group of tertiary students of Italian ancestry which included a number of third generation participants as well as a sizeable group who had only one parent of Italian origin. Though the levels of language shift to English are greater than reported by Smolicz (1983a), the more recent study shows that the participants also reported the smallest shift to English in conversations with grandparents (20 per cent) followed in ascending order by older relatives (25 per cent), mothers (47 per cent), fathers (48 per cent), peers (80 per cent) and siblings (89 per cent). It was suggested that the similarity in the participants' shift to English reported with both mothers and fathers should take into account the fact that 16 per cent of mothers in the survey group were not of Italian origin. This meant that participants tended to revert to English somewhat less in interactions with mothers of Italian background than with their fathers.
With respect to the variety of Italian spoken, nearly 32 per cent of the tertiary students of Italian ancestry claimed to speak exclusively a dialect within the family domain and another 29 per cent indicated they alternated between dialect and standard varieties (including regional and popular Italian). Only 24 per cent of the participants stated they spoke exclusively Standard Italian at home (Chiro, 1998, p. 165). This coincides with Smolicz's (1983a) study which also interviewed students in order to assess their command of Standard Italian. Results showed that only 42 per cent of the participants were able to speak Italian with any degree of grammatical accuracy and still fewer were assessed as having an adequate speaking vocabulary. It was the interviewer's opinion at the time that as many as 34 per cent of the participants could not use enough Italian to express themselves adequately. As Smolicz (1983a, p. 327) concludes, such results clearly indicate that dialect is the mother tongue for most students studied and Italian is for them not the second but a third language (after English).
This study also cited evidence that both the negative attitudes and lack of access to viable Italian linguistic and cultural stocks were factors in explaining the use of English among participants, at the expense of Italian systems. According to Smolicz (1983a, p. 331), the interviews revealed rather dramatically the extent to which some of the students felt ashamed of their parents' language. The fact that the minority language was restricted to communicative use with parents and older people in the home domain might well have led the participants in the study to regard it as a language of age and local parochialism, if they did not actually despise it as an inferior «kitchen» variety. Such shame could have arisen either from a feeling of frustration at not being able to express themselves as adequately in Italian as in English, or from a knowledge that dialect in Italy was often interpreted as a marker of lower socio-economic status and poor education. Commenting on this situation, Smolicz (1983a, p. 32) observes that the students who chose not to speak Italian may have been intimidated by the interviewer, a tertiary educated native speaker of Italian and may have interpreted her use of standard Italian as a sign of snobbishness or affectation.
Australian language demography studies conducted by Clyne (1982, 1991) highlight the precarious viability of a number of Australian community languages other than English (CLOTEs), including Italian. Moreover, these studies provide support for the contention that there exists a significant language shift differential between various ethnolinguistic groups in Australia. More recently Clyne and Kipp (1997a) have compared the responses on language use in the 1996 Census with those taken in 1986 and 1991. The results of this study show that the rank ordering of the rate of language shift to the use of «English only» in the home is, with very few exceptions, the same as in the previous two surveys. According to Clyne and Kipp (1997a, p. 471) the key indicators of language shift are the cultural distance of the ethnolinguistic minority group to the dominant Anglo-Australian culture, the significance of language in the cultural core value system of the group (Smolicz and Secombe, 1989), exogamy and the age profile, together with the immigration history of the minority community. In each case, the authors found that the second generation shifts considerably more than the first. Among Italian-Australians the inter-generational shift is very substantial even in families where both parents are Italian-born. Indeed, second generation Italian-Australians from endogamous families show a shift three times as high as that of their parents (Clyne and Kipp, 1997a, p. 462).
Many studies undertaken over the past two decades have substantiated the demographical evidence of Clyne's studies. Bettoni (1988, 1989, 1991) and Bettoni and Rubino (1996) have stressed the importance of generation as a factor contributing to the language shift of Veneto and Sicilian speakers in Sydney, Australia. This latter study found that in the home domain the languages of most frequent use are English, followed by dialect and Italian. Furthermore, dialect is the prefered language of use among older first-generation Italian-Australians who are well integrated into the Italian-Australian environment. Previous studies of students of Italian background (Smolicz, 1983a;Smolicz and Secombe, 1986; Chiro & Smolicz, 1990, 1993, 1997) have similarly reported a substantial decline in the use of Italian among the children of Italian immigrants with various interlocutors in the home domain, even, though to a lesser degree, with their elders.
It is the aim of the present paper, therefore, to balance such evidence of the precarious viability of Italian language and culture systems in Australia by providing a more humanistic insight into the attitudes, feelings and assessments of a group of tertiary students of Italian ancestry. The first person narratives of this group of young Italian-Australians will serve to highlight not only themes and topics which are of relevance to minority language and culture maintenance in an ethnically diverse context but also aspects of their personal experience which are considered most crucial to the lives of the participants themselves.
The study group
The study group consisted of tertiary students of Italian ethnic origin attending either the Flinders University or the University of South Australia and included both students who were enrolled in Italian classes at University at the time of the survey and those who were not. It was believed that this latter group might demonstrate some divergence from the cultural patterns as activated and evaluated by the group of students intending to make a career from their studies of Italian and, as such, would provide an interesting point of comparison.
It was decided to study tertiary students, the majority of whom at the time of the survey were in their late teens and early twenties, because they represented a concentrated and accessible pool of participants who belong in terms of their migration «vintage» mainly to the second generation (II) but who included also a number of «young» first generation participants (Ib) and a smaller group belonging to the third generation (III). As young adults, it was believed that they would be in the process of making life-choices about the extent of their participation in the Australian community in general and in the Italian community in particular. As such, they were expected to provide valuable insights into concepts concerning the maintenance and transmission of ethnic languages and cultures in plural societies.
Indeed, from the point of view of humanistic sociology, research on a young adult age group is preferable to that conducted with younger children, because a general maturity is required when participants are asked to reflect on their past experiences and evaluate aspects of their Italian heritage Roman">1. When compared with school-age children, tertiary students have a greater experience of the possible sense of the marginality of their position between the world of the home and that of «outside» society.
The methods employed derive from the principles of humanistic sociology according to which cultural and social phenomena are more fully understood if they are studied from the point of view of the participants (Znaniecki, 1963, 1968; Smolicz, 1979, 1983b; Smolicz & Secombe, 1981). As Smolicz and Secombe (1989) have pointed out, such explanations and perceptions provide a cultural and linguistic context so that the researcher may better understand the meaning which participants give to a particular cultural activity or situation. Data of this sort may help illuminate what minority ethnic group members «think and feel, what hurts them, what they need and what their attitude is toward the other (ethnic groups), the nation and the State» (Grabski, 1982).
In the present study, this involved an analysis of the attitudes, assessments and evaluations of those who participate in the life of a particular cultural group as recorded in a collection of life stories or topical autobiographies. All participants were asked to write personal statements relating to their educational experience, place of birth, language usage, and ethno-cultural activities (concrete data). In addition, they were asked to indicate their attitudes and beliefs on issues relating to their experience of growing up in Australia as a member of an ethnolinguistic minority group, the influence of Italian cultural values on their attitudes and activities, the importance of language and culture maintenance, as well as an assessment of their cultural identity (cultural data).
Of the 51 participants who contributed personal accounts, 35 were written by participants who at the time of the survey were taking Italian classes and 16 were written by those not taking Italian at university. The responses provide a store of valuable information about the participants' personal experience as they themselves have chosen to reconstruct that experiece by focussing on those episodes in their lives which appear to them at the time of writing as particularly significant. Such written records have helped to uncover a constellation of factors associated with language and culture maintenance.
It should also be noted that the extracts of the life stories quoted in the following sections are reproduced verbatim. None of the original texts, in either Italian or English, have been corrected for orthographical, lexical or morpho-syntactical irregularities. Indeed, examples of non-standard and sub-standard uses of both English and Italian abound in the written comments. This is considered an indication of the kind of «semi-lingualism» which Skutnab-Kangas (1984) has applied to describe the «condition of those children who function but are not really proficient» in either their home/ancestral language or the national language.
Participants' evaluation of Italian social systems
In general terms, the personal statements of participants regarding the ethnicity of their closest friends point to the development over time of ethno-specific primary social group patterns. The concentration of Italians in specific local government areas of Adelaide, Australia has influenced the primary social systems of their children to the extent that many of them attended primary and secondary schools, especially Catholic, in which the Italian ethnic group represented, if not the majority, a substantial and visible presence. Indeed, the experience of growing up in communities where Italian-speakers are under-represented appears to be the exception among the study group. In addition to structural factors, many participants draw attention to cultural issues such as parental attitudes, ingroup solidarity, cultural identity and social categorisation as deciding factors in their choice of friends.
Childhood experiences of friendship groups
Many of the participants' recollections relate to their early experiences of friendship groups at a primary school age. For the most part, it appears that the ethnic configuration of such groups as emerged at this time was largely the result of the ethnic mix of the general school community. Several participants (cf nos. 7, 138, 168 and 169) recall having made friends with children of Anglo-Australian background at primary school and suggest that ethnicity or cultural differences were of no consequence. While these participants attended culturally diverse schools, ethnic categorisation did not occur since, as nos. 7 and 168 suggest, they were young children and only interested in playing together and having fun. Similarly, participant no. 179 relates the positive environment at her school where she had mainly Anglo-Australian schoolfriends, «despite» her Italian background.
7 (IIF1)Roman">2.Io frequentavo una scuola dove gli studenti erano divisi in rispetto di origini. La metà erano di origini Anglo-sassone e la metà d'italiani. Ma a questo punto non ci preoccupavamo delle nostre origini, eravamo tutti bambini e la cosa più importante era di divertisi e non importava con chi. Mi ricordo che la mia amica più vicina era un'Ungherese, ma ancora giocavamo con tutti, non credo che essisteva mai preguidizio tra noi.
138 (IIF2) My primary school had a mixed bag of cultures and I would say that about forty-five percent of the students were a mixture of Greek and Italian background. Yet I remember that in the early stages of school my friends were predominantly of Anglo-Australian families, I remember my best friend in prep was Veronica and in grades one, two and three I frequented the schoolyard with Karen and Heather.
168 (IIF2) When I attended primary school my italian origin was not a problem, even though I had friends with Australian origins. I think one of the main reasons for this was that we were too young to care about minor issues of where our parents were born, and the values which they held. Most of our values had many similarities so there was no major problems. (...) towards the final years of my primary schooling, I became close friends with the Australian girls and my Italian values did not bother them, as theirs did not bother me.
179 (IIF2)My relationship with teachers and students during my early schooling experiences were quite positive. The maggiority of my friends were anglo-australian and regarded me in the same way as everybody else, despite my ethnic background. Students at school were all very friendly and sociable, holding no apparent prejudices against ethnics.
Other participants recall having made schoolfriends with children from a variety of cultural backgrounds. As in the previous group who had made friends with Anglo-Australian children, this group of participants (cf nos. 65 and 118) also commented on the non-confrontational nature of their primary school experience wherein ethnic rivalry, if not totally absent, was not regarded as a major issue. As no. 118 points out, at that stage of her life she was unaware of what prejudice meant and the problems which could arise because of it.
1 (IIF1) Avevo amici di tutte le nazionalità che frequentavano la mia casa, anche gli amici dei miei fratelli venivano a casa. I miei fratelli avevano, anche, gli amici di altre nazionalità, solamente uno dei miei fratelli aveva più amici italiani, non perchè era obligato ad averli ma perchè si trovava bene fra loro.
14 (II1/2F1) Day by day, my relationship with teacher grew and I began to make friends, which, I have kept in contact with all through-out my school days. I had no troubles with making friends, and most were from mixed ethnic backgrounds.
65 (IIF1) Many of the children in these suburbs attend xxxxx Primary or my old primary school, St xxxx. As the school was therefore (and is) fairly multicultural, I encountered few cultural problems during my primary school years. The children in my class ranged from Irish, Polish, German, Greek, Italian, Maltese and Anglo-Australian backgrounds. Other classes also included Hungarian, Spanish and Aboriginal children. For the most part of my seven years there my friendship group consisted of an Australian, an Italian, a Maltese and me, however all of my classmates were fairly good friends.
118 (IIF2) I clearly remember my first day at school and settled down immediately. (...) I didn't have a language problem and although I never went to kindergarten I could express myself just as well as the other children. My friends in primary school were all of different nationalities and this didn't bother me the slightest. One must though remember that at this stage I wasn't aware of what prejudice was and means and problems that arise because of this.
On the other hand, a number of participants whose primary school friends were of Anglo-Australian background reported feeling insecure about their cultural differences. For example, participant no. 59 recalls the occasion all her attempts to «blend in» with her Anglo-Australian school friends came undone when her teacher asked the class to write and illustrate what their families had done the previous weekend. The fact that she innocently described her family's annual custom of slaughtering a pig to make sausages brought home to the child the cultural gap which existed between herself and her friends. According to participant no. 89, the majority of whose school friends were also of Anglo-Australian background, her «European» appearance was the main distinguishing feature which set her apart from her friends, in spite of her efforts to «hide my cultural background and act as an Australian». The «ethnic» appearance of participant no. 114, who was the only Italian child at her primary school, contributed to the racial taunts which she says did not bother her.
59 (IIF1) I went to a small catholic primary school chosen by my parents when I was younger which had only a few Italians. My friends were mostly Australian so I used to try and blend in with them which was hard considering our difference in backgrounds and there was a big difference. Not just in language but the way they were at home and especially what they did with their families. For example when I was younger I thought all families were like mine and did the things we did until one day we had to draw a picture and write about what we did on the weekend. Well, my weekend had been very exciting because we had gone to my aunties house and killed the pig (which we make sausages etc out of) so naturally I drew a dead pig on the table with all of us gathered around it. My teacher who was luckily Italian laughed but my parents were really embarrassed.
89 (IIF1) As a child, I was very concious of the fact that I was very European looking. I remember in primary school trying hard to hide my cultural background and act as an Australian. The majority of my friends were Australian, and thinking back, perhaps this was another way to help me feel a part of Australian life by associating with Australian people. However, no matter how hard I tried, I always felt a little bit out of it, and never quite a part of the group.
114 (IIF2) It was only in high school that the cultural differences between myself and the other students began to emerge. During primary school there never seemed to be a difference between me and the other students and all my friends were Australian because I was the only Italian at the school. The only distinction was that I looked a bit more ethnic that the other kids and this would spur on some people to call me wog and other wonderful names but this really didn't bother me. However when I got to high school this seemed to change. I suppose it was because everybody was trying to be like everybody and do all the same things and I felt like I couldn't because certain regulations were put upon me by my parents.
The recognition of cultural differences and the existence of ethnic rivalry between the children was also highlighted by the next group of participants, who, unlike nos. 59, 89 and 114, chose to associate with children of Italian or other ethnic background with whom they could identify. Both nos. 4 and 51 suggests that they were never accepted by their Anglo-Australian classmates because the ethnic children were thought of as being «strange». It appears also that the formation of all Italian or mixed minority ethnic friendship groups provided its members with a sense of solidarity and security. This is particularly evident in the statement of participant no. 21, who describes the heightened awareness of ethnic differences and the use of Italian in her group of friends as an ethnic «marker». In the case of participant no. 86, who has never had friends of any background other than Italian, such notions of cultural difference and ethnic solidarity have been reinforced by parental attitudes towards her choice of friends.
4 (IIM1) Anche quando andavo alla scuola giocavo sempre di più con i bambini italiani che con i bambini australiani. Loro pensavano che noi eravamo strani. Questo succedeva di più quando ero piccolo adesso non ci sta questi probleme.
21 (IIF1) My close friends were all Italian, one was my cousin. We would speak in Italian when we did not want the other children to hear. Also, if we felt threatened by the other children, then we would stay close together and keep to our group of friends of whom I was the leader.
51 (IIF1) The peers I became mostly acquainted with were of italian, maltese or greek backgrounds and the australian students did not fully accept us as equal beings, even though we all shared common traits and rarely displayed or made use of our differences. Most of the teachers were also anglo-australian and appreciated our cultural differences, but made more of an effort to transform us into becoming well adapted in the Australian society, by giving us work on it's history and culture, rather than discussing the interests, beliefs and values of other countries and the importance of maintaining a multicultural nation. In this respect, I believe my primary school did not supply an atmosphere whereby everyone was completely satisfied or treated equally, in terms of culture, but was, on the other hand, very effective in developing the skills and intellect of children, to the best of their ability.
86 (IIF1)In the past, my parents never really worried about my choice of friends. All the friends I had were of Italian background. I do not recall ever having any friends that were Australian. Until this day, I still haven't got an Australian friend but a few years ago I did make friends with a girl named Heidi who had a multicultural background. Heidi is now my closest friend. The fact that she has a multicultural background does not bother me or my parents. In fact my parents like her the most out of all my other friends. It really does not bother my parents about the backgrounds of my friends as long as they're nice. But I must admit, sometimes I do hear them criticizing the way that Australians bring up their children. So I guess in a way they would remain happy if my choice of friends continues to be those of Italian background. Often when I meet somebody new, my parents always ask, if that person is Italian.
Ingroup solidarity and outgroup rivalry
In the accounts of several participants (cf nos. 7, 23, 32, 59, 65, 82, 83, 89, 102, 114 and 184), the ingroup solidarity and outgroup rivalry, which was a minor issue during their primary school years, became a regular feature of their high school experience. Many of the participants who had Anglo-Australian friends in primary school found that they gradually drew apart in subsequent years. Participant no. 7 describes how she fell out with her Anglo-Australian friends on the occasion of the World Cup which highlighted within the school the ethnic loyalties of the various groups.
Participant no. 32, who had maintained friendships with Anglo-Australians for a number of years during high school, describes both the conflict of values she experienced within her friendship group and the scorn of the Italian group because she associated with «Anglos». Similarly, no 65, who describes herself as «practically Australian anyway» recalls the difficulties she experienced having to defend her parents' attitudes and values from the criticisms of her two Anglo-Australian friends who could not comprehend why she was not given the same freedom to go out as they had. Participant no. 114 also describes the conflict of cultural values and the embarrassment she felt at having to explain her parents' strict norms of conduct to her Anglo-Australian friends.
7 (IIF1) A prima non ero influenzata e le miei più vicine amiche erano Australiani. Ma poi nel secondo anno c'era il World Cup di Calcio. Io ero una tifosa di calcio, mi alzava con tutto la mia famiglia a tutte le ore della notte per guardare le partite. E con grande orgoglio ho seguite le partite fino al finale. E certo alla scuola c'era un grande chiasso «L'italiani sono i megli» e le bandiere incominciavano a svendolare. Durante questo tempo ho notato un cambiamento con le mie amiche, invece di tifare per l'italiani per dispetto tifavano i tedeschi. Io era l'unica italiana nel gruppo e rimasi molto deluso.
32 (IIF1) As I had Australian friends for most of my secondary education, it was difficult for me to explain why I could not do certain things, such as go to a sleep over birthday. There was always conflict between Italian and Australian girls. I was always disliked by the Italian girls because of who I chose to be friends with (ie Australian girls). In my final year at school I became very good friends with them because there were no questions or explaining, as they too were brought up with the same cultural background. I would not change any of these experiences even though at times they were painful. I feel at ease with Italian or Australian people, and do not take any offence at their values, despite the fact that they differ from my background.
65 (IIF1) Although best friends with two Australian girls, it was a constant struggle between our two cultures. They could not quite understand my culture and its traditions. They could not quite understand my family's values and principles. Most times it did not bother me, because I understood their culture (as I am practically Australian anyway) and that eased the situation. However it made me mad that they could not accept my culture totally. They were not prejudiced but they constantly questioned the things I did and said and I knew from the looks on their faces that they thought I was a little weird. Sometimes their words would give me the idea that they thought my parents were stupid and that hurt. So I struggled on defending my culture and my family. By year twelve again the situation was getting better and if we can keep in touch now that we have left secondary school, I am sure things will get even better.
114 (IIF2) It was at this stage my parents got stricter and I wasn't allowed to do a lot of things that my other Australian friends could do. So sometimes I would make excuses why I couldn't go to certain places because it was too long a story to explain the attitudes of my parents and I felt embarrassed. Also these diverse cultural values were a bit hard for Australian people to comprehend. I think this is why I adopted Anji another Italian girl as my best friend. As she was in the same situation we could really relate to each other and help each other out. Although there were other Italian students at the school we didn't all hang out together therefore had many Australian friends. Anji was the only Italian girl I really got to know that is why I have no negative attitudes to Australians.
Participants no. 6, 23, 59, 82, 83, 89, 102, and 156 suggest that the realignment of students according to their respective ethnic groups occurred because they were able to identify with shared experiences, similar cultural values and norms of conduct. As was succinctly put by a participant of «mixed» ethnic ancestry:
50 (II1/2F1) I changed my circle of friends – I thought what the hell I'm Italian and nothing is ever going to change that. Hence began the gradual reconciliation of myself with my heritage.
According to no. 6, the Italian-Australian students at her school shared an understanding of the importance of the family. Furthermore, she claims she was not comfortable talking to non-Italians about her family life for fear that they might categorise her as a «typical Italian» girl or «giussyRoman">3.as described by participant no. 82. She concludes that the incomprehension which exists between the two groups is inevitable given that they have experienced different upbringing with different values and attitudes. Participant no. 102 describes the reinforcement she experienced through her association with Italian-Australian friends and suggests the solidarity was like belonging to a family. Similarly, participant no. 82 ascribes her positive secondary school experience to the number of Italian-Australian children at the school and the fact that many of the teachers were also of Italian origin and were thus able to relate to ingroup values such as family, religion and language. According to participant no. 156, the fact that over the years she has associated mainly with other Italian-Australians was not imposed on her by her parents, although she claims her parents are happy that her closest friends are Italian.
6 (IIF1)Era una cosa naturale per noi, gli italiani, di parlare delle nostre famiglie. Era facile per me di parlarne perche` sapevo che avevo in comune con gli altri, che erano italiani, una certa comprensione dell'importanza della nostra propria famiglia. Invece, quando mi trovavo a parlare con gli altri, mi sentivo un p˜ scomoda perchè ero sicuro che non capivano perchè parlavo anche di i miei zii, cugini e nonni e perchè ero così intima con la mia famiglia. Avevo paura che mi pensassero di essere una ragassa, tipica italiana con maniere proprie italiane. Mi dispiace che questo esisteva, ma era naturale ed inevitabile, di avere diversità in cultura. Era, ed ancora è, impossible per gli australiani a pensare proprio come italiani e per gli italiani a pensare proprio come australiani. Eravamo crescuti diversamente, i nostri genitori ci hanno cresciuti con diverse morali ed idee, ed era difficile di sempre capire come l'altro pensava.
23 (IIM1) I made a small number of friends, who were of ethnic background. It was easier to make friends with them as they welcomed me as part of their group. It was also easier as they mainly played my favorite sport-soccer4. I felt more comfortable with ethnic children, as, unlike the Australian, didn't try to alienate me. The Australian children tended to be prejudist towards me as, not only I was Italian, but I also couldn't speak proper English and had little time for me.
59 (IIF1) I then went to high school and my circle of friends changed. I went from having all Australian friends to having all Italian friends. I went to xxxxx College which was known for having a large majority of ethnics especially Italians. What was bad about this school was that the Australians and Italians were divided and they all stuck to their same minority groups. They even sat on different ovals. The Australians sat on the back oval and all the Italians sat on the front oval. By hanging around with Italians I began to become a little racist against Australians and we'd put them down as they often did with us so therefore I was beginning to think like my parents. I have to admit though that I find it easier to get along with ethnics, especially Italians because you have more in common and you also tend to have the same family problems and you can compare and sympathise with one another.
82 (IIF1) Despite being from an Italian background, I found very little problem with all my teachers and friends during secondary school. This was partly due to the fact that many staff members were Italian and that the school population consisted of a sufficient number of Italians in each year level. Although I was comfortable with all, I found it easier to get along with those of my nationality or who could really relate to my background, because it was easier to communicate with them. With the teachers for example I found I had more in common. Many of them were parents and brought up their children like me. If they weren't, their parents brought them up having similar values such as the importance of the family, religion and language. They too, could speak Italian and so it eventually became a custom to say «Ciao» and «come stai» instead of «hello, how are you?» I found it was also easier to begin conversation with these staff members.
Despite having many friends of all nationalities, the majority of my friends are Italian. This is because, if I want to speak my language or discuss the soccer, I can do so openly, without being referred to as a «giussy», or biased towards my nationality. We never judge each other and also have the same tastes in music, fashion, music, hobbies and men. According to those of other nationalities the type of man we consider good looking would be considered a «Mario», one who loves himself, merely due to love of cars, fashion sense and love of soccer.
83 (IIF1) La prima scuola che sono andato era xxxxx (non e cattolica) e dopo sono andata a xxxxx College. Nella scuola elementare non ho mai avuto dei problemi ma nella scuola alta ho avuto problemi. Nel mio gruppo siamo tutti italiani ma solo una e Australiana. Le mie amiche sono come la famiglia perchè stiamo sempre assieme e noi ci aiutamo sempre. A scuola facevamo tutti assieme anche andavamo a casa assieme. Tutti noi eravamo come sorelle. Noi non ci abbiamo incontrati il primo anno di scuola ma fra le cinque anni ci abbiamo incontrati e state insieme.
89 (IIF1) High school was a different story. My friends were all from Italian backgrounds, and I felt really at ease with them. We could all identify with each other, and if someone wasn't allowed to go out with us, we all understood and did not hassle them. I also had Australian friends at high school, and once again, I never quite felt a part of their group, because they were allowed to go out all the time and stay out until all hours of the night.
102 (IIF2) Io andavo ad una scuola private, xxxxx College, e non c'era tante italiani, solo una manata negli diversi anni livelli. Le mie amice erano italiani e abbiamo fatto tutte cose assieme. Per tutte le cinque anni nella scuola secondaria noi eravamo come una famiglia. Quando una era disturbata nella nostra circola d'amice, noi facevamo tutte cose per l'aiuta. Penso che questa riflette le nostre famiglie perche anche noi aiute i membri delle famiglie e gli amici quando loro sono disturbato o desiderano qualche cosa. Le altre ragazze alla scuola non c'erano tutte male. Ma quelle che chiamavano a noi nome, non mi piaceva. Quando io ho veduto scritto sulla mura qualcosa contro gli italiani, mi sempre diceva qualcosa contro gli australiani. Ma non era una ragazza sola che diceva queste cose, era sempre un gruppo di ragazze. Non potevo mai far finta di non sentirle, perche mi arrabbiava e dovevo rispondere a loro. perchè loro trattono a noi diverso, non lo so. Sempre dicono che Australia e la patria di loro, ma la storia dice che l'Australia è degli aborigeni.
156 (IIF2) My choice of friends has never been interfered with by my parents. My closest friends are Italian and for the most part of my life they have always been Italian. I didn't purposefully choose them, it just happens that they are Italian. I find that people with ethnic backgrounds are attracted to each other because they have similar backgrounds and can relate to each other. Naturally I think my parents are happy that my closest friends are Italian, they don't come right out and say it, but I can tell what they are thinking. I say my closest friends are Italian because my friends in general have a huge mixture in backgrounds; Australian, Italian, Maltese, Scottish, Greek, Hungarian and Philippino. The majority are Italian, obviously.
The description of positive and harmonious relationships within school environments reported by participant no. 82 contrasted with the comments of the following three participants. For example, participant no. 48 recalls trying to imitate the standards of values and norms of conduct of her Anglo-Australian friends which led to conflict with her parents. However, the open hostility of her friendship group towards «wogs» for a time created a sense of internal conflict with feelings of shame and embarrassment for her cultural identity. Participant no. 168, on the other hand, describes the resentment of the Italian-Australian students caused by the attitudes of their school principal whom they suggested acted in a prejudicial manner towards them. In a detailed assessment of her high school experiences, this participant also described the gradual acceptance of her cultural identity as she abandoned the idea of being more like her Anglo-Australian friends and being ashamed of her parents' attitudes and values. It was when the rivalry between the ethnic groups became an open issue at the school that she reassessed her cultural identity and cultural values. She refers specifically to the confrontation with the school principal and an example of the open hostility between «ethnics» and «Anglos» which took place among the boys in a heated rugby match. Similarly, no. 184 believed one particular teacher at her school favoured the Anglo-Australian students in his class and ignored the Italian-Australians who reacted by becoming disruptive.
48 (IIF1) When I started high-school this was when a lot of trouble commenced. It took me quite a long time settling down and my friends at first were all of Australian background. I couldn't believe how different their morals and values were compared to mine. Most of them smoked and were allowed to go out at night, things I could never do. Personally I think this was when «peer group» pressure began as they constantly pushed me to do things I didn't want to do. My mother and father didn't like my friends and said that I was changing and becoming more like them. Although I admit now that they were a bad influence I never admitted it to my parents. I also remember them talking about other Italians stating comments like; «I had a fight with a stupid wog on Saturday night». As soon as I heard this I pretended I missed what they had just said as I was ashamed and embarassed being Italian when I was with them. After remembering that I was Italian they would say «sorry» stating I was different from the rest of the Italians.
168 (IIF2) Being from an Italian origin did not bother me until I reached high school. I can recall at one stage, I wanted to be from an Australian background because my friends, at that time, where from Australian background, and I was the only one who was not. When I reached year eleven, I realised that I was lucky to have parents from Italy, and I didn't hide any feelings or values that my parents had. I think, one of the main reasons for this was the other girls had vertially the same values. In most Italian families, they are all very close, unlike many Australian families. Our family is very big, and when we are all together it is great. I know some Australian families miss out on that.
The problems started in year eleven. I became closer with the italian girls as I could relate to them, because of our values. By this time the Australian girls and Italian girls grew apart. They had their values and we had ours. Problems also began with the school principle. While at school, she always treated the Italian girls as if we were inferior. There was a big fight concerning this problem. This continued until the end of year eleven. However, when we reached year twelve it changed immensly. The principle became less favourable to the Australian girls, because she realised that they made mistakes also.
After some time I made friends with a group of Italian and Greek girls, who shared the same ideas I did. Their limitations were similar to mine and I found that I was much happier with them. There was no peer-group pressure and I felt much more comfortable and at ease. As I moved into Matric I noticed that although some prejudice still existed it wasn't as bad as the previous years. I had a mixture of friends who were Italian, Greek, Lebanese and Australian. The ethnic boys in my year level although having Australian friends let themselves go at lunch times. During this time on the main oval a Rugby match was played between the Greek and Italian boys versus the Australian boys. It became a very rough game and also dangerous at times, and this was when teacher's interfered.
184 (IIF2) My preference was xxxxx High rather than a private school, because all my friends were going there. At xxxxx High, Australians mixed with other Australians and ethnics with other ethnics. Rarely did you ever see a mixture of both. The majority of the school was made up of multicultural children. When I first began high school I made friends with other Italian students, and lost touch with the Australian friends I made in primary school. I was only still friends with my Turkish friend from primary school. In my years at xxxxx High I had a good relationship with my teachers except one who didn't treat us fairly. He was my drama teacher, Mr xxxxx. He was Australian and disliked ethnics, and showed it. I remember whenever we were discussing suggestions about what to do in the play, he always dismissed any suggestions we made, as no good. If an Australian made a suggestion he always mentioned it as good or would give it some thought or consideration. This made all us ethnic students dislike him to the bone. We would deliberately make mistakes during rehearsals to constantly annoy him. Mr xxxxx was very much a perfectionist and very impatient. The more mistakes we made, the angrier he became which pleased us. As grades we all received C's and the Australians received either B's or A's.
Participants' experience of secondary social systems
While the majority of participants of the present study indicated they did not belong to either Italian-Australian or Anglo-Australian social clubs or organisations, several referred in their personal statements to activities which encompassed secondary social systems. Of these, by far the most common activity among this group involved the attendance of Italian church services and religious festivals. For example, participant no. 21 provides a detailed statement of the importance of such religious and socio-religious activities to her life and that of her family. Clearly, in the experience of this participant, the Italian-speaking activities associated with Sunday school catechism classes and other family occasions are closely related to the maintenance of Italian language and culture.
21 (IIF1) Sunday morning was church morning. My father always made sure I was aware of that. I enjoyed the Italian mass and not once did I want to go to the English mass. Sometimes I would play the organ, but that was not until I was about eleven. Sr xxxxx who was the organist, would encourage me to play for the mass every once in a while.
My parents are linked closely with the church ie my mother sings in the Italian choir and my father plays mandolin, I was involved also. The nuns would prepare small sketches and poems, songs in Italian for the group of Italian children in the St xxxxx's Parish of which I was part of. We would hold concerts for both father's and mother's day (Italian of course). I enjoyed going to rehearsals especially because I knew that Sr xxxxx would always give me the lead role, and the longer and harder poems to recite because she was aware of my capabilities as a small eight year old. All of this went on because I wanted it to. My parents never forced me to go. I felt such immense joy to be able to show everyone and for them to be able to hear how well I spoke Italian. By the end of each concert I felt so proud of myself and my parents always made sure they let me know how proud they were of me also.
As a teenager I still found myself being involved in concerts and even more so in Italian festivals, and multicultural festivals where I would dance in traditional costume. I was also involved in an Italian Arts group called «Le Belle Arti». I was involved in the music side of things, I played keyboard. The first production I was involved in was «Cavalleria Rusticana». I thoroughly enjoyed having had such a musical, exciting life where I was involved in many things, entirely of my own free will. I really do miss that part of my life, St Anthony's feast day, the concerts, the dances. They all enriched my Italian cultural values.
Other participants (cf 51, 82 and 182) have also highlighted the link between Italian church services and cultural maintenance. Participant no. 147 describes the importance of the celebration of feast days associated with the patron saints of the various Italian communities in South Australia. In particular, she draws attention to the combination of religious and secular activities which were a memorable part of her childhood experience and integral to the customs and traditions of her community.
51 (IIF1) In my youth, especially during my primary schooling, attending both the australian and italian mass every Sunday became quite an essential aspect in my life. (...) My brothers and sisters also participated in the church services held in close vicinity to my home and school locality. My parents did not regularly attend. They believed it was only necessary to go to the italian mass on special occasions, such as Easter, Christmas, Palm Sunday etc., but were pleased that their children made a greater effort to retain a part of their culture. xxxxx church and school were both practising in catholicism and were in close conjunction with one another. Thus, the school represented many students by actively involving them in church activities, such as singing hymns, doing folk dances, reading prayers and taking up the body and blood of Christ, and I always participated voluntarily, as I found great interest and thoroughly enjoyed preparing for the religious celebrations.
82 (IIF1) The church services we attend are also Italian. In fact, the only time I can remember going to an English service, was when I attended Sunday School ready to have my Communion and Confirmation and when I went to school masses. When younger, I was accustomed to going to Italian mass because I had to follow my family and therefore had no say. Now however, I go to Italian Mass, since I feel more comfortable. I know the hymns, the people and therefore prefer the atmosphere which exists. I also find myself going to Italian mass, because of the religious customs we have. Being an Italian descent we still celebrate the names' day or «l'onomastico» something which isn't celebrated very often any more. Due to these factors, I feel that religion is another of the core values of my family and that will continue to be important in my life.
147 (IIF2) The culture brought by the old italians including my grandparents has stayed strong throughout the years and has affected our lives. We emigrants have always maintained a very strong link with our traditions and feasts. Special feast days are held to honour special saints just as they were back in Italy. The day begins with a procession, which is an occasion for prayer and inner quite. However it is also a time for unity and co-operation. Following the procession is a feast with a great deal of food and games for the children. The evening would finish in grand style with the fireworks. An example of these feasts and traditions affecting my childhood is the feast of La Madonna Montevergine. After my first holy communion when the feast day came I would dress in my communion dress and participate in the procession with my grandmother. For her it was a great honour to have her grand-daughter involved. I never minded walking due to the fact I had my cousin and next door neighbour walking next to me.
182 (IIF2) I began school at xxxxx, which is the base parish for the Scalabriniani priests. This meant that Italians from everywhere came to church on sunday. The 10.00 am mass was not only the time to worship, but also a time to gather socially. In my seven years at xxxxx the majority of the students were Italian and the Australian children there came from an Irish and Scottish background. We all got along fairly well, perhaps it was our faith that bound us together.
The following participants, on the other hand, described their participation in a number of diverse activities which included special family and community functions (cf no. 32) and youth groups (cf no. 65). Another two participants referred to their childhood experiences associated with local Italian community associations several of which actively promote the maintenance of Italian regional folk dancing and singing groups.
32 (IIF1) Outside school, in my cultural and social life my ethnicity was reinforced by attending weddings, birthday celebrations, easter and christmas etc. Sometimes when children had to contribute, that is at Sports Day Italian parents were often asked to cook some kind of food, for example lasagna. I think Australian people became accustomed to some of the Italian dishes, this was comforting because it represented a sense of belonging.
65 (IIF1) Outside of school, I am a member of a youth group with mainly Italians in it but a few Australians. We are all really good friends and it has helped me become more open minded and accepting of others. I have no specific preference for either Australian or Italian friends, but when I am with my Italian friends there just seems to be a bond between us which just is not there with the Australian friends. Even simple things like being able to say a joke in Italian strengthens that bond. It just does not happen when you translate that joke into english.
75 (IIF1) Un esperienza che non mi dimentico mai è le volte quando insieme i figli dei paesani abruzzesi al Adriatico Club, essendo tutti giovani abbiamo partecipati in certi balli tradizionale abruzzese. Non ho avuto scelta su questo. Avevo soltanto sei anni e i miei genitori gli piacevano che noi ci partecipavamo con gli altri cugini e questi figli di paesani. Abbiamo (...) eseguiti per il pubblico e per le feste italiane e anche per le scuole. Quando rifletto su di questo penso che ho stato molto fortunata e sono contenta che ho avuto l'opportunità di dimostrare la nostra cultura agli altri italiani, australiani e tale.
156 (IIF2) I enjoy being in an Italian crowd or even just an ethnic crowd, it's more fun and interesting. We sometimes go to the xxxxx Club with family friends and I have made some good friends through the xxxxx Club. My relatives, family friends and the Club may have influenced me in some way, but not in a major way because I haven't noticed it.
Participants' evaluation of language activation
The participants' statements on the activation of Italian and English language systems provided a rich source of information about both their early language learning experiences and their more recent language use. Most importantly, through such comments the participants share insights about their life experiences which would otherwise remain unknown. In addition many of the participants have succinctly provided a diachronic account of the language ecology which existed within their family environment and which has undergone changes over time. Among other themes covered, several participants highlight the effect on language learning of such biographical factors as the parents' regional background, age at migration and occupation, as well as the age and order of siblings.
Childhood experience of language learning
The following extracts convey an idea of the general language learning experience of the participants at an early age. Such participants recount that as pre-school age children, an Italian variety (dialect or standardised or a combination of the two) was the language most commonly spoken within the home domain and amongst friends and relatives. Indeed, participants 2, 4 and 24 indicate they attended primary school for the first time with a no knowledge or restricted competence in English. As no. 75 notes, English began to be spoken at home only when the older children either within the nuclear family or the extended family began to attend the Australian school system. On the other hand, no. 135 is conscious of having been the eldest child in the family and not having experienced any language other than Italian during her pre-school years. However, when examining the language learning experience of participants, it is well to consider the life experiences of the individual. As is evident in the comments of participant no. 99, who migrated to Australia with her parents as a seven year old, such experiences are unique and cannot necessarily be repeated.
2 (IIF1) Quando ero piccola a casa abbiamo parlato solo italiano, ma era una combinazione del calabrese e vero italiano. Sentivo solo italiano ogni giorno. È quando ho dovuto incominciare la scuola ho dovuto imparare l'inglese dall'inizio. Ho avuto qualche problema abituarmi all'inglese ma più e più ho incominciato a parlare inglese a casa e meno l'italiano.
4 (IIM1) Mia esperienza che mai dimentico fu la mia prima giornata di scuola, e io poco contento ho piangiuto tutto la giornata. Piano piano se ne andata la paura molto difficile perchè a fino a quel momento io parlavo solamente l'italiano a casa. Adesso parliamo più inglese che italiano a casa. Io penso se i miei figli si mai imparano l'italiano. Le maestre pero, conoscevano la mia situazione e mi hanno aiutato molto in quel primi anni.
24 (IIF1) Il mio primo anno di scuola non è stato facile, perchè parlavo solo l'italiano e tutt'ora dopo trent'anni che i miei genitori sono qui in Australia, si parla esclusivamente l'italiano a casa.
75 (IIF1) Sono andata all'asile per il primo anno senza conoscere bene la lingua inglese, cioè non la potevo parlare correntemente. (...) La prima lingua che ho imparato era l'italiano perchè vivevo in un ambiente italiana, con i miei genitori e parenti parlando italiano con me. I cugini maggiori mentre mi parlavano mischiata con un po' d'italiano e l'inglese, allora la lingua (l'inglese) l'ho imparata da loro e anche dall'asile naturalmente.
99 (IbF2) I was born and lived until the age of six in the small town of xxxxx, province of Benevento, known for its sulphuric spring water. My father originally came from a nearby Town, xxxxx but grew in xxxxx. My mother was from a different region all together, a village called xxxxx, province of Campobasso in the Abruzzo e Molise region. My mother's dialect was very different to ours (the dialect spoken in xxxxx) many of the words spoken were incomprehensible. My brother and I would often ask her to speak in her dialect and explain the meaning to us, we found this fascinating. My mother came from an upper class family, had a higher education than my father whose parents were farmers, and consequently could speak the proper Italian, and insisted to do so in the house this had a positive influence on both my brother and myself as we grew older and started school in the city of Naples.
135 (IIF2) Apart from being shy, I think language may have been another factor concerning the way I was in my first years. I, being the first child didn't have older brothers and sisters to teach me English. I spoke what my mum and dad spoke, Italian dialect. I would say for certain I knew more Italian than English when I first entered school and one of the reasons for the communication problem at school as I have mentioned earlier could of been because of this.
As is clear from this last statement, the number of factors which might affect the ecology of language systems activated within the family environment are numerous and interrelated. It is interesting, therefore, to examine the personal statements for the participants' own perceptions of some the contextual or situational factors which they consider influenced their language and culture maintenance. For example, nos. 49 and 51 both point to the impact of the age differential between siblings according to which younger participants with elder siblings were able to enter the local school system with greater confidence in their English language ability. Participant no. 75, on the other hand, points to the difficulty of maintaining the home language even when it is the expressed preference of her parents. She also points to the difficulty she has experienced in switching languages when moving from the English-speaking world to the inner sanctum of the home.
49 (IIF1) Da quando ero piccola, a casa sempre parlavamo l'italiano. Sono cresciuta parlando sempre questa lingua. Questa lingua è la mia seconda lingua. perchè ancora oggi parlo l'italiano a casa. Quando ho cominciata ad andare a scuola, sapevo parlare un po' l'inglese, perchè mio fratello più maggiore, gia andava a scuola. Lui è cinque anni più grande di me. Quando lui ha cominciato di andare a scuola, le cose erano diverse. Nessuno attorno lui parlava l'inglese, tutti parlavano l'italiano, e così quando è arrivato a scuola lui, parlava soltanto l'italiano. Ma per me, le cose erano diverse, e più facile. Anche se non parlavo l'inglese perfetto, la lingua la conoscevo. Ma la mia seconda lingua, che sarebbe l'italiano la conoscevo meglio del inglese, quando ho cominciato di andare a scuola.
51 (IIF1) Both my parents spoke italian as a dominant language at home, but as I was influenced by my brothers and sisters and the environment in which I lived, I had more knowledge and was more capable of speaking and understanding english, as I spoke it fairly fluently at home. This does not mean that there was a language barrier between the parents and the children, as after nearly twenty years in Australia, my parents as italian immigrants, could manage and speak english quite well and we, as children were growing up to learn italian as a second language.
75 (IIF1) Riguardo alla lingua parlato in casa, certo che i miei genitori preferiscono che si parla italiana, e posso vedere come loro lo pensano. Per˜ non è tanto facile cambiare la lingua alla casa senz'essere consapevole, quando hai parlato l'inglese tutto la giornata.
A family's particular situation and biographical details such as their parents' age at migration or period of residence in Australia appear critical to the language development of some participants. For example, nos. 7 and 32 describe the support which they received from parents who had the opportunity to learn English even when such parents continued to speak their mother tongue amongst themselves. As no. 21 points out, the opportunity to learn English for some parents and the introduction of this language into the family environment was often associated with their occupational experience. Other participants (cf nos. 33 and 135) highlight the gender specific nature of such work related opportunities to learn English whereby many mothers who remained as housekeepers did not have this possibility to learn the language of the host society.
7 (IIF1) Tutte e due i miei genitori parlano inglese, e così le miei prime parole erano nella lingua inglese, ma quasi sempre tra loro parlano italiano, e così cominciai a conoscere la lingua italiana. Chiaramente mi ricordo i primi anni di scuola come mia madre mi aiutava con l'inglese, ascoltandomi quando leggevo e più mi aiutava anche a scrivere, e così diventai più brava alla lingua inglese.
21 (IIF1) Growing up as a child in an Italian family was exciting and full on activity. I found myself speaking a lot of Italian to my father and a mixture of Italian and English with my mother. I think that was because both my parents speak well in English as they own an Engineering business but my father feels more comfortable speaking in Italian, especially at home where he is relaxing. That diversity did not bother me at all because I have been speaking Italian since I was a small child. As a small child of three, we used to live with my grandparents. Both my grandmother and grandfather spoke Italian to me and apparently, as I have been told, I would converse with them in Italian. When I was four my parents built a house of our own, we then moved out.
32 (IIF1) I shall begin from my childhood memories and experiences. Life was divided culturally from the age of five years and onwards. Up until the age of five I could have easily mistaken that I was in Italy because family and friends were of an Italian background, and perhaps because of the language and cultural background. (...) Because my mother spoke English, it (starting school) was not such a trauma, but I did however notice a difference in the way children conducted themselves, eg attitudes, the language, habits and customs.
33 (IIF1) When I started school I would have been termed a true bilingual child. Both my Italian and English were «fluent». As time progressed however English certainly dominated my speech as my mother tongue (Italian) was rejected in school by teachers and students. The need to speak Italian to my mother also lessened as she too had picked up a fair amount of English to help with my fathers business.
135 (IIF2) Starting school was not such a smooth transition for the eldest (my sister), who had more problems dealing with the language. Italian was basically the only language spoken in our house for the first five to 10 years during which time my parents gradually learnt more and more english. My father actually learnt more quickly as he dealt with people each day, but as my mother basically isolated herself from the community she learnt very little. My sister and brother spoke english to each other and apparently spent much of their spare time watching our small black and white TV – while the conversation between my parents and my sister and brother was usually in italian.
The uniqueness of the new environment in which many parents sought to establish their young families is a feature of the following extracts. For example, participant no. 120 draws the reader's attention to the inter-dependence and sense of isolation of many immigrant families which undoubtedly fostered an ecology conducive of language and cultural maintenance. The description by participant no. 182, on the other hand, highlights the quasi-communal experience of the participant living in a peripheral local government area where concentrations of Italians and other migrants settled in order to pursue their market gardening activities.
120 (IIF2) Up until the age of five I was pretty isolated from much of the world around me. Besides mum and dad the only other people I knew were my aunt and uncle and their children (who are older than me) and a few of my parents' friends; I knew no other language, besides Italian, and I didn't know other customs or cultures, and I suppose at the age of five I didn't really care too much about it; as long as mum and dad loved me then that was all I cared about.
182 (IIF2) Growing up in our street was a wonderful experience, especially birthdays when you would get a wonderful mixture of different foods to eat. Our next door neighbours grandmother who lived with them was grandmother to all of us, and on her pension day when Mr Whippy came around she bought ice-cream for all the children. At home we spoke Calabrese, my mother also spoke reasonably good Italian as she had been to school till grade 4. My fathers' Italian wasn't as good although he had been to school to grade 3. When all the children in the street played together we spoke english. The Australian people living in our street were very friendly I never came across the racism of which my husband and others talk about. Everyone had the others' children over to play, and produce from the gardens were shared. My mother didn't speak english at all well so communication was with words picked up, sign language and a lot of Italian thrown in. When I started at school and had to learn to read, my mother was the one who helped me and when after going through the book and finding words she couldn't say, she would ask our neighbour and then read with me. The one thing that I vividly remember is that education was very important to my parents.
Current language use in the home domain
In terms of the activation of Italian language systems, many participants chose to describe the current language use within the home domain. The statements of a number of participants (cf nos. 23, 82 and 135)highlight the complexity of language systems activated within the family environment. They point in particular to the co-existence of diverse language varieties of Italian and Australian-English and the occurrence of code-switching as well as code-mixing. They also underscore the bilingual and trilingual experience of the majority of participants in the present study, many of whom are able to switch from dialectal to standardised varieties of Italian to English and Italianised forms of English according to the situation and the interlocutor.
23 (IIM1) My home language has always been Italian. My parents speak to each other in their dialect, but speak to us in Italian. It is their belief that it is important for my brother and I, to learn how to speak the «pure» Italian language. Although my home language is Italian, my dominant language has become English. I use Italian only in speaking to my parents, other elder Italians and to Italian teachers. English is the language I use to speak to my brother and everybody else, including Italian friends and colleagues.
82 (IIF1) Both my parents are capable of speaking standard Italian, and as a result I have been brought up speaking it as well. At home we also speak a regional Italian, based on the Roman and Neapolitan dialects. As a result, often my speech includes words with endings either added or missing. For example, andiamo would be «anamo» in Roman and «iammucine» in Neapolitan. Many dialect words are added into our speech also, though I am able to distinguish them from the Italian. When mum says «mondasine» and dad says «a paranonza» I know they are really referring to an apron – il grembiule. This often makes it easier for me to write, as I know what words not to include.
135 (IIF2) Obviously when I entered school our home language was Italian dialect but today it's a different story. I would say we now speak both English and Italian equally maybe even a little more English. For me personally, my dominant language now I think is English, although I still speak Italian to my parents, my grandparents, my uncles and some of my aunties the most part of my life I've been at school and there I speak English also at work (I work part-time in a supermarket) English is spoken however sometimes Italian ladies assume I'm Italian and automatically start speaking to me in Italian. Their usually wanting to know where something is kept in the store or if we have a particular thing they are looking for.
The following statement (no. 59) is particularly effective in detailing the interplay of human and structural factors which influence day-to-day language activation in the home environment of many immigrant families. The factors affecting language maintenance can never be reduced to the mechanics of situational and contextual variables. Even an apparently simple speech act is also a holistic experience which incorporates the personality of the individual as well as the interpersonal relationships between speakers. As such it demonstrates the ineluctable nature of the humanistic coefficient. The extract also highlights a number of themes, such as the frustrations associated with learning Italian when the language of the home is a dialect, the influence of parental attitudes and behaviours and the use of language as an ethnic marker amongst peers.
59 (IIF1) At home my parents speak a combination of Italian (dialect) and broken English but my sisters and I always talk english even to them. That is how it has always been, they speak to us in Italian and we reply in english. Sometimes though my parents many not understand something so we have to repeat it in Italian. I have never been forced to speak to them in Italian but they have encouraged me and often used to suggest I learn Italian but I was never really interested. It is not until recently when I chose Italian as my major subject at University that I have slowly started speaking Italian to my parents. I don't like to though because I get very frustrated and discouraged talking to them in Italian because they are very critical and pick on every wrong word or incorrect pronunciation I say and it puts me off. They either say I'm speaking wrong or not in proper Italian ie their dialect. This is one thing I have found very hard is trying to work out proper Italian from dialect. That is why I'm also finding learning Italian very difficult because I get my parents dialect confused with proper Italian. The only people I really feel comfortable talking Italian with is my Italian friends because their Italian is just as bad as mine and we only use it when we are around non Italians who can't understand what we are saying so we use to our advantage. My friends though also speak in dialect and so I don't feel like I'm talking wrong or incorrectly.
Indeed, the positive picture described by participant no. 82 with respect to the use of dialectal varieties appears to be an exception. A number of statements (59 above, 44, 46 and 86 below) reflect the sense of frustration of many other participants who tend to view the vernacular spoken at home as something of a handicap when confronted with the task of learning standard Italian at school. They complain of the educational disadvantage of dialect speakers and particularly the difficulty of distinguishing dialect forms from standard Italian in academic contexts. Participant no. 141, a dialect speaker, suggests she dropped out of university studies of Italian feeling that she could not compete with other students who had studied the language throughout their primary and secondary education
44 (IIF1) Problemi con la lingua ne ho avuto. All'inizio non potevo distinguere fra l'italiano perfetto e il nostro dialetto. Per me tutte due le lingue rappresentavano l'italiano perfetto. Infatti ci sono delle grandi differenze di cui non mi sono resa conto finchè non ho frequentato la scuola secondaria
46 (IIF1) Quando ero bambina, la vita era sempre felice. Parlavo italiano – mia madre dice, che lo sapevo parlare benissimo. Comunque questo ha cambiato quando la mia zia è venuta d'Italia. Ho comminciato parlare il dialetto di Calabria, perchè lei abitava nella casa accanto. Questo interruzione ha cambiato la propria vita, cioè il dialetto che parlo è un svantaggio per me quando parlo il standard italiano, perchè mi confondo con le due lingue.
86 (IIF) The Italian that me and my family use at home is the dialect of Benevento. I feel comfortable speaking it to my grandmother but not to other relatives. Sometimes, when I do speak dialect, I tend to mix the Italian I learnt at school with the dialect.
141 (IIF2) I think that my parents have also regretted the fact that I did not learn Italian at school. Whilst I tried much later in life at a tertiary institution to further my limited knowledge of the Italian language, it became increasingly difficult to compete with students who had been exposed to the «standard» variety for twelve years.
The consequences of speaking a «low» social variety (dialect) as a first language, as opposed to the «high» national language variety (English) or even a «high» cultural variety (Italian), is evident in the following extracts. For example, participant no. 2, who was studying Italian at university at the time of the survey, claims she is embarrassed to speak something she considers a hybridised and clearly inferior variety of Italian. Participant no. 182, on the other hand, describes the frustration associated with the experience of learning what is in effect a third language at school (standard Italian) because she is unable to get any assistance from her dialect-speaking parents. Such frustrations affected her parents also as they failed to understand why their child should be experiencing learning difficulties and criticised what they considered was an inferior schooling system which compared poorly with the one in their home country. In another example, no. 73 draws attention to the embarrassment of her dialect-speaking parents who find they are not always able to help their daughter with her Italian lessons because they are afraid of making mistakes.
2 (IIF1) Quando io ho probleme con l'italiano vado a mia mamma per aiuto. Adesso pratichiamo un po' d'inglese e l'italiano. Parlo un po' d'italiano a casa ma è più come una combinazione d'inglese e l'italiano. Non so perchè ma mi vergogno di parlare l'italiano a casa.
73 (IIF1) A xxxxx tutti l'italiani e greci stevano ad un posto, dove l'australiani non ci andavano, ma durante le lezione l'australiani, italiani e greci si parlavano. Gli italiani con chi io stevo intorno, tutti studiavano italiano ed ogni tanto parlavamo italiano. Dopo andavo a casa e cominciavo a parlare bene l'italiano. I miei genitori mi aiutavano molto quando mi serviva aiuto, e ancora mi aiutano ma si mettano paura incaso che fanno gli sbagli.
184 (IIF2) Whenever I had problems with the school work I either went to the teachers or to my cousin for help. I thought if I had trouble in Italian I could turn to my parents for help. My parents couldn't even help me with my Italian work, as they only knew how to speak and write their dialect, not proper Italian. When I reached Year eleven and twelve, my parents thought that the schooling system wasn't very good here. Their reasons were because we were at school too much, and when we weren't we were either doing homework or studying. They thought the Australian schooling system should be more like the Italian system.
The difficulties experienced by participants in having to deal with such trilingual situations have led many of them to reject their home language and rely on communicating almost wholly in English, even when other interlocutors within the home domain are not proficient in the language of the host society. The notion that the dialect spoken in many of the participants' homes is sub-standard and has contributed to their gradual shift to English is also stated explicitly in the comments of no. 114 who was «bribed» by her mother to continue studying Italian.
114 (IIF2) In my family the main language we speak is English and if Italian is spoken in our family is often a dialect which is a mixture of Napoletana or Abruzzesi. I seem to have some inferior complex about speaking Italian at home. I just hate speaking Italian to my parents at home so I avoid using it altogether. Although I will readily speak Italian to other people. So the whole family except my dad will talk English as he is less fluent. Even when I am spoken to in Italian I answer in English and only my mother will speak Italian to my father all the time and occasionally to me and my brother and sister.
However when we are different types of people we speak either English or Italian depending on who they are. For example when we are with my mothers side of the family we speak English except to nonno and nonna but when we are with my fathers side of the family we speak only Italian as this is the language which dominates their lifestyle. My father is the only one who hassles me about speaking English at home because he can't understand it to well. While my mother doesn't say anything about this she gave me money until year 12 to study Italian so I would become a fluent speaker and could communicate better with the elder Italian generation.
Furthermore, participant no. 141 stresses the difficulties she experienced as a dialect-only speaker who was unable to fully participate in conversations with older Italians who did not speak her dialect. This participant also voices the perception expressed by many others that Italian vernaculars are somehow inferior to «proper» Italian. She goes on to suggest that perhaps the younger generations of Italian-Australians will in fact be less disadvantaged when they come to learn Italian at school since they will not have to contend with the interference of dialectal forms.
141 (IIF2) Both my parents are from the South of Italy. As a teenager I always felt that our dialect was inferior to the «proper» Italian which our family and friends spoke. Although I did not feel this with my extended family and family friends from the same region as my parents for obvious reasons, this was not the case in other areas of my life. For example, my school friends were mainly Abruzzi, Veneto and Triestini. I literally did not understand my school friends' parents much to my embarrassment. Though they all encouraged me to speak my dialect it was difficult for me, especially when I had to repeat myself and this caused me further embarrassment. My mother and father could converse in «proper» Italian with my friends and their families and this made things worse. Imagine being the only person in the room who could not grasp the entire conversation, just «bits and pieces».
I do feel that the Italian language will rapidly decline as far as the second generation is concerned. I know plenty of people who find it difficult speaking dialect to their parents. For people who are not living at home, we all share the same concern. My experience is that I am finding it more and more difficult to speak dialect to my mother. I find that sometimes I speak more in English than in Italian. Maybe there is an answer to this problem. Perhaps my cousin (whose parents speak only English at home) can learn Italian at school. He would not have the «native mother tongue» (dialect) of the mother and father to contend with as well as learning English and «standard» Italian.
The declining use of any form of Italian and the gradual shift to English which has occurred over time with changing personal and family circumstances is made clear in the statements of the following participants. While for nos. 2, 38 and 135 the major change to their linguistic habits occurred with the commencement of school, no. 35 attributes this change to the relocation of her family from a small rural community, which had a close association of many Italian families, to a relatively more impersonal suburban existence. In the case of no. 89, the major event which led to her shift to English was the death of the grandmother with whom she conversed in standard Italian and Calabrese dialect. The fact that many of her older relatives have become able to make themselves understood in English has removed this barrier to the use of Italian varieties within the family environment. This participant also alludes to the pragmatic response of many younger Italian-Australians who, uncertain of their command of any Italian varieties, resort to English when spoken to in Italian. Lastly, no. 179, who recognises that her proficiency in standard Italian is poor, points to the inadequacy of the Italian language curriculum during her primary school years. She also suggests that the attitude of her school friends, who found learning a foreign language «different» and «ridiculous», may have contributed to the decision to discontinue her language studies.
2 (IIF1) Non ricordo tanto degli anni quando ero una bimba e dopo nel 1973 mia mamma ha avuto mio fratello xxxxx. Quando ero piccola a casa abbiamo parlato solo italiano, ma era una combinazione dal calabrese e vero italiano. Sentivo solo italiano ogni giorno. È quando ho dovuto incominciare la scuola ho dovuto imparare l'inglese dall'inizio. Ho avuto qualche problema abituarmi all'inglese ma più e più ho incominciato a parlare inglese a casa e meno l'italiano.
35 (IIF1) After having moved to the city English became more dominantly used in our home. There may have been various reasons for this transformation. It may have been that we came into more contact with people who have English speaking backgrounds particularly my father who now works with people who speak English.
38 (IIF1) Quando aveva comminciato la scuola parlavo l'inglese con facilità e il mio dialetto relativamente bene. Mentre passavano gli anni a scuola ho continuato d'imparare l'inglese e il mio italiano progressivamente deteriorava. Prendevo buoni voti per tutte le mie altre materie, ma trovato alcuni problemi in Italiano.
89 (IIF1) Over the years, my Italian usage has decreased. I have found that with the recent death of my grandmother, whom I spoke standard Italian and Calabrese to, I am hardly speaking Italian at all any more. Many of my relatives can speak English, even if it is only basic, so I tend to speak in English for the majority of the time and use a few words of Italian every now and again. A common practice is also for my relatives to speak to me in Italian, and for me to answer them in English! It is a sad fact of life, however I believe the Italian language is dying out. It can be clearly seen within my relatives, the older we get and the more generations that emerge, the less Italian that is spoken. I would like the language to be preserved, however living in Australia with english speaking people, it is becoming harder to keep the Italian language alive.
135 (IIF2) I detected the shift in language when I started school I didn't have any choice but to learn the English language and fast. Slowly as my primary school years went by I spoke more and more English. My brother was influenced by me and started speaking English and at this point English became easier to speak.
179 (IIF2) My use of proper Italian was therefore not good. Up until grade 5, languages were not provided at my primary school. However when they finally were offered, I then began learning Italian for a total of two years. Having studied the language for that length of time, I only acquired the basics because lessons were only once a week for half an hour. My friends did not regard learning a language during lesson time as unfair or strange. In fact they often enquired about what we had learned and found this to be quite interesting. When I first began learning the language, I did feel different to other students because of the fact that they would regard learning a language as ridiculous.
Participants no. 14, on the other hand, recognises that she does not frequently activate Italian language systems and draws attention to the differential between her ability to understand the language and her ability to speak it. Rather than code-switching or code-mixing, the solution adopted within her family circle is interlocutor-specific code use whereby Italian-dominant relatives speak to the participant in Italian while the English-dominant participant responds in English. Interestingly, however, she does not attribute this solution to a lack of Italian language competence on her part but on the extra time and concentration which is required to converse with her relatives in Italian. On the other hand, no. 51 explains that her limited use of Italian («only when it was absolutely necessary») is not because she is ashamed of speaking the language but because of her lack of fluency. Furthermore, she points to the need to mentally translate each Italian utterance from English and regrets that she has had to learn Italian as a second language rather than as a natural part of her linguistic development.
14 (II1/2F1) I admit that I don't speak much Italian but I am most time surrounded by older Italian relatives who speak Italian most of the time. My understanding of Italian is much more advanced than my actual ability to speak Italian because I don't practice enough. When speaking to my Italian relatives, the conversation usually involves both English and Italian. My relatives speak to me in Italian and I speak in English, because they can understand English. I am quite capable of conversing in Italian but it takes much more time and concentrating. There is only one relative I have to speak to in Italian and that is because she doesn't understand English.
51 (IIF1) I dominantly spoke english to my peers, teachers, family and relatives and only used italian in my classes at school, and italian mainly in front of family friends, my parents and when absolutely necessary. I felt somewhat restrained to speak foreign languages in front of others, not because I was ashamed, but I didn't believe I was competent enough and it was difficult to express my thoughts without first having to translate them into english. This became a problem for me, as I was growing up to learn italian as a second language, rather than naturally developing these skills and knowledge over time, in an environment where they were predominantly put into use.
However, not all participants reported a declining use of Italian language varieties in the home domain or experienced difficulties in coming to terms with bilingual and trilingual situations. As is evident in the following statements, the importance of positive language attitudes may be a critical factor. For example, no. 82 attributes her success in learning to speak standard Italian and seeking to pursue a career as a teacher of the language to parental encouragement and growing up in a «language rich» family environment. Participant no. 21, who is also well aware of the social status associated with the use of different Italian language varieties, suggests her success in learning standard Italian is due to her parents' programmatic decision to exclude dialect varieties from the home domain. Finally, no. 83 decries the various stages of her linguistic development whereby she has experienced highs and lows in her proficiency and confidence in using Italian. She also claims to have overcome the embarrassment of speaking Italian in front of others and is thankful that her parents insisted she continue to study the language throughout high school.
82 (IIF1) In all, I feel that I speak a lot more Italian than many people of my age group living in my area. This is because, ever since I was young, my parents used it and encouraged me to also. As a result, I was surrounded by the language. The factors lead me to doing so well with Italian at school, and helped me to make up my mind about wanting to pursue it as a part of my career.
21 (IIF1) The fact that I have been studying Italian since I was 8 means that my ears have been accustomed to hearing proper Italian. I have never heard my father speak his dialect. My mother used to speak her dialect with my grandmother when she was alive. My grandmother also tried not to speak her dialect with me because both she and my parents had the view that they wanted their children to speak the popular Italian because it «sounded» more intellectual instead the dialect was seen as the language of those that had very little education or were from the lower class in society.
83 (IIF1) Quando io ho cominciato la scuola elementare, io potevo parlare inglese ma potevo parlare italiano più meglio. Italiano era la mia prima lingua. Prima aveva timidezza per parlare italiano ma adesso non mi interessa chi mi senta. Voglio andare in Italia per parlare italiano più meglio. Quando ero alla scuola alta io non volevo studiare italiano ma nell'ultimo anno io mi sono accorto che io voleva tenere le lingua dei miei genitori. Ho capito che è importante per avere un altra lingua. Miei genitori mi hanno fatto studiare l'italiano ma sono molto contenta perchè hanno fatto questo perchè adesso voglio imparare italiano.
The extent to which a minority ethnic language is being maintained in a culturally plural society is clearly linked to the social context in which the group finds itself. The context of the Italian community in Australia's major capital cities is marked, firstly, by a relatively high concentration of the group (Hugo, 1990; Clyne and Kipp, 1997b) and, secondly, by close primary social relations which are historically a characteristic feature of the Italian group not only in Australia but also in other Anglo-Saxon based societies, such as the United States (Campisi, 1948; Banfield, 1958;Gans, 1962; Vecoli, 1964, 1974; Child, 1970; Covello, 1972; Tomasi, 1972; Gambino, 1972, 1973; and Gross, 1973).
The pattern of close family ties, a social value which differentiates the Italian group sharply from the norms prevailing in mainstream Australian society, exerts an apparently contradictory effect on the language maintenance efforts of Italian-Australians . On the one hand, it would appear that the existence of viable social networks provides a necessary forum for the use of Italian language varieties in everyday situations. On the other, the contrast between the social and cultural value systems of the Italian minority and the Anglo–Australian majority is so pronounced that the participants to the present study were faced with the difficult decision of whether to maintain a language system which only serves to differentiate them further from a dominant majority which already perceives them as different on account of their physical characteristics, family values and lifestyle norms.
A similar comment could be made with respect to the Greek community in Australia, which nevertheless shows much greater language maintenance than the Italian group at first and second generational levels, and in both endogamous and exogamous family situations (Clyne and Kipp, 1997a). The difference between the two communities can be accounted for, at least in part, by the complex linguistic situation within the Italian group, as exemplified by the ambiguous stance which Italian-Australian families have adopted toward their home dialect as opposed to Standard Italian and English. As reported in many of the life stories in this study, the perception of the low status of dialect varieties has undermined their vitality even at the primary level within the family itself. This is shown by the fact that young Italian-Australians use their home language principally in conversation with their grandparents and older Italian relatives and friends. It would appear that this concession is undertaken out of respect for the aged members of their social network who have difficulty speaking English and whose first language is generally an Italian dialect. The position of Standard Italian, as a high status alternative to dialect, is, in turn, weakened within the family domain by a lack of confidence in its utility in the mainstream «job market» of Australian society.
As has been noted in previous studies (Chiro and Smolicz, 1993), the Italian language in Australia lacks the support of other ethno-specific cultural values, such as religion, which is enjoyed by some groups, such as the Greeks, Serbs and Ukrainians, who can rely on the unswerving linguistic and social support of the Orthodox Church. While the Catholic Church and some other religious denominations have generally extended Italian language services to those parishes with high concentrations of Italian speakers, it is nonetheless a matter of choice whether one attends the Italian mass or the English mass, there being no overt pressure either to use Italian in the church or to limit one's choice of marriage partners to one's own ethnic co-religionists (Smolicz, 1995).
The present study has revealed the generally positive experience of the participants who activated Italian secondary social systems, for example, through church and community participation and attendance at Italian classes at university. These structures represent a resource in which, over a period of fifty years, hundreds of Italian community groups around Australia have invested considerable energy and money in developing. Unfortunately, the municipal, parish or regional focus of many of these clubs and associations is reflected in the low participation rates of younger Italian-Australians and represents a potential which has not been fully utilised in terms of language maintenance support.
In conclusion, while the language loss experienced by the Italian community in Australia over the past two generations is considerable, the Italian group occupies an intermediate position with respect to other linguistic communities. As Clyne and Kipp (1997a, p. 458) have reported, the rate of language shift to English of the Italian group is exceeded by that of many other ethnolinguistic groups in Australia, including Dutch, Germans, Maltese, Hungarians and Poles (Smolicz, 1992). On the other hand, the language shift is bettered by the more recently arrived immigrant groups from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Taiwan, the Peoples Republic of China, Lebanon, Turkey, Hong Kong, Chile and Korea. Of the community groups which share a similar immigration «vintage» as that of the Italian-Australians , only Greek-born persons have managed to maintain a lower shift to English.
Clearly, while family ties and primary social networks continue to feature strongly as core cultural values of Italian-Australians, it is unlikely that the Italian group will disappear in the short term from Australia's ethnocultural map. The presence of Italian-Australian concentrations with their businesses and sporting, social, religious, media and educational institutions has forged a unique identity which has altered to some extent the urban and cultural ecology of most Australian capital cities. Furthermore, the relatively recent advent of government and community sponsored Italian radio and television programming and global communication networks means that the Italian language in Australia has never before experienced such levels of structural support which extend beyond the limits of the Italian community itself. Indeed, a consolidation of Italian language and culture resources of this sort may yet produce among third generation Italian-Australians an «ethnic revival», even though research data from the present study are not encouraging, at least in the respondents' generation.