- freely available
Languages 2019, 4(4), 86; https://doi.org/10.3390/languages4040086
1. Introduction: Literacy in New Migration and the Status of the Research
|‘We are eat.’|
|(2)||Light verb construction|
|‘We do cook.’|
|‘To like for go out.’|
|‘I like to go out.’|
- ICs involve overgeneralisation of functional forms belonging to closed lexical classes; learners identify these forms in the input as elements conveying grammatical meanings and overextend them to non-target contexts.
- This means that, when ICs emerge, learners must have already entered a “grammatical” phase of second language acquisition.
- Both literate and low-/non-literate learners develop ICs while working on acquiring new structures; this shows that not only literate but also low- and non-literate learners are able to subconsciously identify functional words in the input.
- Learners may favour this due to the specific status of function words, which are more transparent than bound morphemes both at the phonological and at the semantic levels.
- In general, non-literates show a stronger tendency to select lexical-syntactic sub-patterns.
2. LESLLA Studies
- the cognitive perspective, inspired by the findings of psycholinguistic experimental studies on phonological awareness and working memory (cf. the research conducted by Tarone and colleagues since the early 2000s);
3. The Path(s) of Development of L2 Italian
|‘I speak three languages.’||(ItaStra LESLLA Corpus)|
- Different columns represent different paths of developments that are related but not necessarily dependent on each other; in other words, it may be the case that one path develops more slowly than another, as in the case of the acquisition of person markers. These markers emerge immediately after the first aspectual opposition perfective vs. non-perfective, but they stabilise much more slowly than temporal-aspectual markers (Banfi and Bernini 2003, p. 95).
- It follows from 1 that a category should be considered acquired even if the form in which it is encoded does not perfectly reflect the target form; e.g., io era ‘be:IPFV.3SG, I was’ (target form: io ero) reflects the acquisition of the imperfective past tense of ‘to be’, but not that of the grammatical person. In other words, the acquisition of a grammatical category does not correspond automatically to the acquisition of the whole target morphology.
- Even within the same column, a category first appears in individual forms, rather than involving the entire paradigm; e.g., the imperfect tense generally emerges as individual forms of ‘to be’ (era, ero) and only later it spreads to other verbs (Andorno 2006).
|speak:INF||Italian||a little,||not all|
|parlo||poco||italiano,||non molto||(target form)|
|‘I speak Italian a little, not much.’||(ItaStra LESLLA Corpus)|
4. Previous Studies on Interlanguage Constructions
4.1. Non-Target Analytical Constructions
|‘He had a car.’|
- pseudo-present verbal forms, as ha in 6 (other examples are: ero sono ‘I’m was > I was’; era si chiama ‘he was he is called > it was called’; avevo credo ‘I had I think > I thought’);
- infinitives, e.g., sono studiare ‘I am to study > I study’;
- unanalysed constructions, e.g., sono sto facendo ‘I am I’m doing > I’m doing’, siamo non ha fatto ‘we are (he) didn’t do > we didn’t do’;
- nouns, e.g., siamo partenza ‘we are departure > we leave/are leaving’, sono paura ‘I am fear > I’m afraid’).
|‘I went home.’|
4.2. Non-Target Subordinating Markers
5. The Italian LESLLA Corpus: Participants and Data Collection12
- Group 1: no literacy (not able to read or write isolated words in any writing system).
- Group 2: low literacy (recognition of letters, in the Roman or other alphabets; slow deciphering of a few isolated words; writing his own name).13
- Group 3: literacy.
- Session 1 included a preliminary interview, aimed at collecting biographic and sociolinguistic information, and the ItaStra literacy test.
- Session 2, took place a few days after and included: a) a wordless video (adapted from the web) which learners had to retell; the video showed in parallel the actions carried out by two persons, a man and a woman, during a day; and b) a set of images on paper representing daily events that learners had to select to talk about a day in the past. The tasks were aimed at eliciting data on the presence of the verb and the encoding of temporal-aspectual and person information.
- Session 3 was carried out after about six months. Learners were asked to talk about their life in Palermo, focusing on an event or a person. This task aimed at eliciting the same linguistic phenomena as Session 2 after a certain timespan.
- Session 4 took place after another four months and included a conversation about the learners’ life between the third and the fourth sessions and the retelling of Chafe’s film The Pear (Chafe 1980).
- Session 5 took place after another three months and included tasks performed in Sessions 1 to 4, namely a semi-guided conversation, the retelling of the video used in Session 2, the retelling of The Pear film.
6. Data analysis and Results
6.1. Sessions 1 and 2
|‘I then washed myself.’|
|‘He raised the curtain.’|
|si||è||lavato||i denti||(target form)|
|‘He brushed his teeth.’|
|‘What did the girl do?’|
|ha||preso||anche||un libro||(target form)|
|‘She ate; she also took a book.’|
|‘I didn’t keep working.’|
|‘I have not worked anymore.’|
|non||rimarrò||qui||per sempre||(target form)|
|‘I will not remain here forever.’|
6.2. Session 3
|ho||passeggiato||con||un mio amico||(target form)|
|have:1SG||walk:PST.PTCP||with||a my friend|
|‘I went for a walk with my friend.’|
|domenica||poi||ho||letto||un po’||(target form)|
|‘Sunday, then, I also read a bit.’|
|adesso||studio||al CPIA||(target form)|
|‘Now I study at the CPIA.19’|
|(18)||MD3||poi||un altro scuola||ma|
|poi||un’altra scuola||ma||(target form)|
|‘Then another school, but I can’t remember the name.’|
|a Palermo||non||è||facile||vivere||(target form)|
|‘It’s not easy to live in Palermo.’|
|‘I do not like to watch it.’|
|vado||a scuola||vedo||persone||(target form)|
|‘What do you do in Palermo?’|
‘I go to school, I see people.’
6.3. Session 4
|‘Three persons go to play.’|
|‘They go forward.’|
|‘He looks at this woman.’|
|‘These persons look at this child.’|
6.4. Session 5
7. Discussion and Conclusions
- identify in the input functional elements that convey (or are supposed to convey) grammatical meanings;
- understand which segments of the utterances they produce do need morphosyntactic information, that is, that the verb must be associated with grammatical meaning and that inter-clausal linking must be syntactically marked.
Conflicts of Interest
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There is no national registry of the levels of literacy, education and languages of migrants already living in Italy or who have been arriving in recent years by sea. The data provided by Ministry of the Interior only refer to age, gender, country of birth (D’Agostino 2017). Some data derive from the annual reports of the System of Protection for Asylum Seekers and Refugees (SPRAR 2017, 2018), according to which 23.7% of 19,263 migrants attending Italian language courses in 2016 and 19.5% of 22,452 migrants in 2017 were taking pre-literacy classes.
Low interaction with speakers in local communities has been widely observed in (sociologically- and sociolinguistically-oriented) migration studies that highlight the segregation experienced by adult migrants who are typically grouped in specific urban areas (cf. inter alia Blommaert 2015; Vertovec 2007; see also the study recently carried out in the context of the European Union reported in Tintori et al. 2018). In Italy, in the case of newcomers, segregation also involves hosting centres, a housing reality certainly multi-faceted—but typically with little connection to the local communities (D’Agostino 2017). Low interaction with native Italian speakers and, hence, low exposure to the target language also emerges from migrants’ own narratives collected for this study (interviews included various questions about linguistic exchanges and languages used in diverse contexts of interaction), as well as previous research conducted at ItaStra (De Fina et al. forthcoming).
The lack of studies is surprising when one considers the magnitude of the phenomenon in question: while research focuses mainly on literate students, 44% of the 7111 world’s languages (www.ethnologue.com) have no writing systems and, as already mentioned, in large areas of the world primary literacy is not guaranteed even in other L2s (e.g., post-colonial languages). There is thus a problem of representativeness of the learner sample on which second language acquisition theories rely, as the majority of learners investigated belong to a minority of learners that Henrich et al. (2010) called WEIRD (western, educated, industrialised, rich and democratic) population. The need to treat literacy as a variable in second language acquisition was recently reiterated by Tarone (2014) as an indispensable update of the very notion of interlanguage, as formulated by Selinker (1972).
As an anonymous reviewer observed, there could be a contradiction between migrants’ low interaction with native Italian speakers and the description of their second language acquisition as “naturalistic”, as this term does imply interaction. It should be noted, however, that exposure to the target language is not a monolithic notion and a wide range of interaction situations make up the migrants’ naturalistic context of acquisition. Among these interaction situations, it is worth mentioning the low quality of the input in the hosting centres or, later, at work, where persons in charge, professionals and volunteers make extensive use of highly simplified and poor versions of the target language (this may reflect an intentional foreigner talk choice, as well as the inherent speakers’ sociolinguistic stratum). In addition, input comes also from other non-native speakers, both in the hosting centres and at work, as in such multilingual microcosms Italian increasingly becomes a lingua franca. The exposure to different varieties of Italian may dramatically affect the morphosyntactic outputs of learners’ interlanguages (cf. Flege and Liu 2001; Piske et al. 2001; Piske and Young-Schoten 2008).
Other research, however, suggests that segmentation of the speech stream in words first relies on (unconscious) phonological analysis of the signal in prosodic units such as moras, syllables and feet; this is independent of literacy and implies phonological competence and prosodic sensitivity (Carroll 2004).
The label “basic form” (i.e. form of Basic Variety) refers to verb forms that are used in an unanalysed way, although they may have a morphological facies (in this case, for example, the form resembles a third person singular in -a); cf. Table 1.
In L2 Italian, forms do not involve morpheme deletion, as in L2 English (*he speak): words are generally morphologically complete, even though the learners may not yet be able to segment them. The formal coincidence of the basic form with forms of the present tense in the target (third person, but also first and second) may depend on the widespread presence of these forms in the input (Banfi and Bernini 2003, p. 100).
Cf. Implicationality also emerged from other large empirical studies such as the ZISA project (Zweitspracherwerb Italienischer und Spanischer Arbeiter), a cross-sectional exploration of the acquisition of German as a second language by 45 immigrants with Romance linguistic backgrounds (cf. Clahsen et al. 1983).
Bernini (1989) is based on eight learners with various L1s (three Tigrinya speakers, three English speakers, one German speaker, one Malaysian speaker). Banfi and Bernini (2003) is based on 20 learners of the Pavia project (Giacalone Ramat 2003a) who have the following L1s: Albanian (one), Arabic (Moroccan, one), Chichewa (two), Chinese (five, different dialects), English (three), French (one), German (four), Tigrinya (three).
This study involved eight learners, namely one German, one Tigrinya and six Arabic speakers.
All participants gave their informed consent for inclusion before they participated in the study. The study, ethically conducted in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki, was approved by the Department of Humanities of the University of Palermo in 2016 (81933, 24/10/2016).
The presence in Group 2 of MD, who declared 10 years of school experience, is because he attended the Quranic school (Q in Table 2), where education is specifically aimed at memorising the Quran in Arabic (that is, a foreign language) through oral repetition. It is worth noting that MD did not include Arabic among the languages of his repertoire.
This explains possible inconsistency between data in the categories of “Early literacy” and “Late literacy”, as in the case of BD, MC, MF, MLG, MT and MTR who were non-literate in their L1/early learnt languages, but able to read isolated words in Italian.
I considered the past participle to have been acquired when it started to alternate with basic forms to convey the perfective vs. non-perfective opposition. I considered the interlanguages as still basic, where the only participle that occurred was finito ‘finished’, which is a lexical means to express the completeness of the action denoted by the uninflected verb it occurs with (e.g., finito dormire ‘literally: finished to sleep’, cf. Banfi and Bernini 2003).
In Italian, a present form of ‘to be’ and the past participle of a lexical verb form the perfective past tense passato prossimo, such as mi sono lavato ‘I washed myself’ in (8) and ha fatto in MT2’s utterance in (10); cf. Section 2.
On the formal level, this pattern resembles another construction in which fare is involved in the target language, that is, the analytical causative construction (e.g., ti faccio piangere ‘I make you cry’), but in the learners’ IC there is no trace of the causative meaning and fare only “verbalises” the subsequent verb.
CPIAs are the Territorial Centres for Adult Education that are part of the national educational system.
|Variety||Main lexical Categories||Functional Elements||Inflection (Tense-Aspect-Mood)||Inflection (Person)||Utterance Organisation|
|Pre-basic||no distinction first, second, third personal pronouns||some marks of negation (no, non) (some) conjunctions (e ‘and’, anche ‘also’, poi ‘then’) unanalysed existential c’è ‘there is’||none||none||pragmatic principles (topic/focus) interclausal links (juxtaposition, coordination)|
|Basic||N and V are distinct basic form of V (theme, unanalysed form of the present, infinitive)8||(some) prepositions (new) conjunctions adverbs||none||argument structure ➔ semantic-pragmatic principles (Agent-V-Object) (➔ syntactic principles: SVO) interclausal links (juxtaposition, coordination)|
|Post-basic||copula (some forms)||-to (past participle)||syntactic principles (SVO) prepositions governing Ns|
|perfective auxiliaries (essere, avere)||differences in the present tense||interclausal links (subordination: adverbial, i.e., causal ➔ temporal ➔ final adverbials)|
|imperfect (some forms of ‘be’: ero, era)||interclausal links (subordination: completive ➔ relative)|
|auxiliary stare ‘stay’ + gerund (progressive)||-v- (imperfect morpheme for thematic verbs)|
|conditional mood subjunctive mood|
|Phase 1||Ø + N (e.g., andato Napoli ‘gone Napoli > I went to Napoli’)|
|Phase 2||P + N (frequent overgeneralisation, e.g., l’amico per mia sorella ‘the friend for [target: di ‘of’] my sister’)|
|V + Ø + V (e.g., io vado lavorare ‘I go work > I go to [target a ‘to’] work’)|
|Phase 3||V + P + V (frequent overgeneralisation, e.g., questo è pesante per spiegare ‘this is hard for [target: da ‘to’] explain’); only in a very late stage this pattern becomes target-like.|
|Learner||Age||Country of Origin||L1 /Other Languages||Schooling||Early Literacy (L1/School Ls)||Residence||Courses in Italy||L2 Italian||Late Literacy in Roman Alphabet|
|AC||20||Nigeria||Ika; English, Pidgin Eng.||12 years||Group 3 English||18 months||6 months||pre-basic||-|
|AL||27||Nigeria||Urhobo; Bini, English, Pidgin||10 years||Group 3 English||18 months||5 months||basic||-|
|AO||24||Nigeria||Esan; English, Pidgin||12 years||Group 3 English||12 months||2 months||basic||-|
|BD||18||Guinea||Pulaar; Wolof, French||2 years (Q)||Group 1||11 months||5 months||basic||Group 2|
|CO||26||Nigeria||Ika; Igbo, English, Pidgin||12 years||Group 3 English||12 months||10 months||post-basic||-|
|GO||27||Nigeria||Esan; Yoruba; English, Pidgin||15 years||Group 3 English||16 months||9 months||post-basic||-|
|HL||25||Nigeria||Esan; English, Pidgin||-||Group 1||11 months||3 months||none||Group 1|
|ID||25||Ivory Coast||French, Kojaka; Bambara Malinki||12 years||Group 3 French||11 months||7-8 months||post-basic||-|
|LO||25||Nigeria||Igbo; English, Pidgin||-||Group 1||11 months||none||pre-basic||Group 1|
|MC||18||Gambia||Mandinka; Creole||3 years||Group 1||21 months||10 months||basic||Group 2|
|MD||30||Senegal||Mandinka; French, English||10 years (Q)||Group 2 Arabic||11 months||10 months||post-basic||Group 2 French|
|MF||28||Mali||Bambara; French||-||Group 1||12 months||7 months||basic||Group 2|
|MJ||24||Nigeria||Igbo; English, Pidgin Eng.||11 years||Group 3 English||11 months||11 months||post-basic||-|
|MLG||25||Burkina Faso||Bissa; Mòoré, French||5 years (Q)||Group 1||11 months||6 months||post-basic||Group 2|
|MT||23||Mali||Bambara; French||-||Group 1||11 months||6 months||post-basic||Group 2|
|MTR||25||Ivory Coast||Bambara; Senufo, Wolof, French||2 years (Q)||Group 1||11 months||9 months||post-basic||Group 2|
|OT||23||Gambia||Mandinka; Wolof, English||12 years||Group 3||16 months||4 months||basic||-|
|RC||18||Bangladesh||Bengali||8 years||Group 3 Bengali/Eng.||13 months||9 months||basic||-|
|SM||27||Bangladesh||Bengali; English||12 years||Group 3 Bengali/Eng.||12 months||none||basic||-|
|YS||30||Senegal||Pulaar; Wolof, French||2 years (Q)||Group 1||10 months||5 months||post-basic||Group 1|
|Group 1||Group 2||Group 3|
|Group 1||Group 2||Group 3|
|Group 1||Group 2||Group 3|
|Group 1||Group 2||Group 3|
|Group 1||Group 2||Group 3|
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