Italian Language Maintenance in Sydney: New Perspectives for the Fourth Generation?

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It is an established fact that there has been significant language shift in the second and third generations of Italians in Australia. Tracking this shift and using it as a context for analysing language maintenance (LM) among the current descendants of post-war migrants forms the main objective of this research. This thesis seeks to develop an understanding of the range of language experiences among the broad Italian community in Sydney and also to map the effect of these experiences on the dispositions that they bring to the language maintenance project within extended families. The research that forms the basis of this thesis was designed to shed light on modern-day situational realities among the communities of Italian language speakers in Sydney. The research investigated in depth what a particular group of 𝘐𝘵𝘢𝘭𝘰-Australians think of the affordances and hindrances for the maintenance of their home or heritage language. It was considered important to explore the ways in which attitudes inherited from previous generations or from the wider society have affected language maintenance among the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those Italian migrants who came to Australia in the 1950s and 1960s. It was also considered essential to understand the ways in which these later generations negotiate their identity (-ies) within contemporary multicultural Australia. The methodology employed for this study was case study with an ethnographic approach. This in-depth approach enabled an understanding of what Italian language maintenance means to the participants in the study and to their extended families. The conceptual framework of this research looks at the ways in which language maintenance is perceived by the Italian community through the lenses of identity, communities of practice and intergenerational practices. Multiple data sources included reference group discussions, survey and interviews to tertiary students, interviews with family members and family observations. The aim was to uncover silent opinions and overlooked individual searches for identity and positioning(s). Through this framework, this research successfully gained insights into the attitudes and dispositions of different generations of Italo-Australians towards their own language practices in the vibrant Italian speaking community on Sydney.
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