Academic journal article Italica

Changes in the Speech Act of Complaint in a Migration Context: Italo-Australians vs Italians and Anglo-Australians

Academic journal article Italica

Changes in the Speech Act of Complaint in a Migration Context: Italo-Australians vs Italians and Anglo-Australians

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

In the literature on languages in contact in migration contexts, an area that has not received due attention is the process of pragmatic transference from the language of the host country (L2) to the migrant language (L1). Much more attention on the other hand has been given to the reverse process, that is, the impact of the communicative norms of L1 on the way migrants use the host language. (1)

Some of the reasons for this lack of attention to pragmatic transference from L2 to L1 are the following. Firstly, in various countries of mass migration (e.g., United States, Australia), linguists working in the area of the host language are--understandably--more numerous than those studying migrant languages. Secondly--and more importantly--, the way in which migrants communicate in the L2 is a more visible and public phenomenon experienced in the host society at large when compared with their use of the L1 in more private sites. In particular, the way migrants speak the L2 can have profound implications for the image that they project of themselves--either as individuals or as a group--and as regards the attitudes that this can foster in the native population and/or other migrant groups. Thirdly, studying the impact of the host language on the pragmatics of the migrant language may be problematic. For starters, in order to explore a particular speech act in a cross-cultural perspective, we need to know how it is realised within its own culture. Yet, contrastive pragmatics databases are still few and limited to few languages (Clyne 1994, 6) as well as to few speech acts. Furthermore, in the host country, migrants use their languages in a reduced range of contexts, hence the exploration of particular speech acts, especially in a naturalistic setting, can be quite challenging. Moreover, in order to analyse changes in the pragmatic behaviour of L1, ideally migrants should be observed while interacting in their home country rather than in the migration context. Yet, again, this can be difficult. (2)

In view of these considerations, it is not surprising that the study of pragmatic transference in migrants' L1 is still a largely underexplored area (Clyne 2003, 238), where we have an abundance of observations but few systematic studies. With regard to Australian studies, for example, Clyne (2003) reports on two major areas that have been investigated. The first area concerns the changes occurring in the systems of address, for example in the choice of pronouns, with the Australian informal way of address affecting a number of languages, such as German (see also Clyne 1991, 189-190), Italian (Bettoni 1981), Croatian (Hlavac; see also 2006) and Vietnamese, particularly among the second generation. The second area concerns changes that occur in the modal (discourse) particles, for example in German, Dutch and Hungarian, due to the impact of the Australian English particles. Other observations regarding the Australian context are found in e.g. Tamis (1991, 190), who notes the impact of English formulae on the Greek realisation of the acts of greeting, invitation and thanks; and Wierbzicka (1991), who observes that second generation Polish migrants tend to transfer from English into Polish the more indirect way of realising requests. At the international level, of particular relevance to this article is Frescura (1995), one of the few studies that has explored an act, namely complaints, both in a cross-cultural perspective (Anglo-Canadians vs Italians) and as realised in L1 among Italo-Canadian migrants.

The study presented here is an attempt to partly fill this gap. It analyses the speech act of complaint, which occurs when "the speaker (S) expresses negative displeasure or annoyance--censure--as a reaction to a past or ongoing action, the consequences of which are perceived by S as affecting her unfavourably" (Olshtain & Weinbach 1993, 108). More specifically, the study explores complaints as realised in Italian by Italian migrants in Australia, and compares them with the way the same act is performed in Italian by Italians in Italy and in English by Anglo-Australians. …

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