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Variation of /ʎ/ in Toronto Heritage Speakers of Calabrian Italian: Support for the Effect of Language Use

This is the abstract of a TULCON14 presentation.

Eloisa Cervantes (University of Toronto)

This paper investigates the phonological variation in realizations of the phoneme /ʎ/ in the speech  of heritage speakers of Calabrian Italian. Past research has identified some of the linguistic  variation in heritage languages spoken in Toronto (including Italian) which may be predicted by  heritage speaker generation and/or Ethnic Orientation and its components, including Language  Use (Nagy, Chociej, & Hoffman, 2014; Nagy, 2018). 

14 transcribed interviews of Italian heritage speakers living in Toronto, Canada, were accessed  from the Heritage Language Variation and Change in Toronto (HLVC) corpus (Nagy, 2009- 2012) and a total of 308 tokens containing /ʎ/ were analysed to identify the realization of /ʎ/.  These were coded in ELAN for four linguistic and three social factors: the sound preceding /ʎ/,  the sound following /ʎ/, syllable stress, word type, and speaker generation as operationalized in  the HLVC corpus. Previously coded answers to the Ethnic Orientation Questionnaire (Nagy,  Chociej, & Hoffman, 2014) were available for most speakers, and two social factors, Ethnic  Identity and Language Use, were calculated from those responses and included in the analysis.  This was to test for their effects alongside generation as well as for observing the possible effects  of social and acquisition factors on Italian as a heritage language in Toronto. 

The results from multivariate analyses of these factors using Rbrul reveal that there are  significantly higher rates of [ʎ] and lower rates of English-like sounds ([l] and [j]) when values  for Language Use are closer to 2 (representing higher heritage language use), when the vowel  preceding /ʎ/ is a front vowel, and when /ʎ/ is in a content word. These findings support part of  the hypothesis by indicating that the variation of /ʎ/ in the Calabrian Italian spoken in Toronto is  predictable by language use, but not by speaker generation or ethnic identification. Ethnic  Identity and Language Use were indeed correlated with each other, but the relationship is not  significant. An additional analysis of homeland speakers from Calabria provides support in that  /ʎ/ is indeed undergoing change as a heritage language. The results of this study contribute to  research related to the phonological variation in Italian heritage speakers in addition to the  possible phonological and social impacts of heritage language contact with English. I also  discuss how these findings may be situated within past research and linguistic theory. Overall,  the results contribute to the wider discussion about the variation in heritage languages and to  what extent the variables that researchers study can be predicted by linguistic or social factors. 


Nagy, Naomi. 2009-2012. Heritage Language Variation and Change in Toronto. Research grant. Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). #410-2009-2330. Nagy, N. (2018). Linguistic attitudes and contact effects in Toronto’s heritage languages: A  variationist sociolinguistic investigation. International Journal of Bilingualism, 22(4),  429–446. 

Nagy, N., Chociej, J., & Hoffman, M. F. (2014). Analyzing Ethnic Orientation in the quantitative sociolinguistic paradigm. Language & Communication, 35, 9-26.