«English Koraa Y[epsilon]de Twi Mixe!» Is the Variety of Akan Spoken by Ghanaian Immigrants in Italy Developing into a Mixed-Code?

By Guerini, Federica | International Journal of Linguistics, March 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

«English Koraa Y[epsilon]de Twi Mixe!» Is the Variety of Akan Spoken by Ghanaian Immigrants in Italy Developing into a Mixed-Code?


Guerini, Federica, International Journal of Linguistics


Abstract

This paper illustrates the results of qualitative analysis of a sample of face-to-face interactions and of formal interviews (a total of 27 hours of recordings) involving a selected group of Ghanaian immigrants in Northern Italy. A distinguishing feature of the variety of Akan spoken by the above-mentioned immigrants is the systematic insertion of English 'chunks' (e.g. single words or phrases), which do not appear to fulfill any pragmatic or discursive function. Community members show a considerable degree of awareness in this respect and display ambivalent attitudes towards this 'mixed' variety of Akan, which appears to be spoken not only by those immigrants who speak it as a lingua franca (and who may not have completed the corresponding language acquisition process), but by Akan native speakers as well. It is argued that the variety of Akan spoken within the Ghanaian community in Bergamo is currently going through a transitional process that leads from code-switching to the development of a mixed code, as illustrated in Auer (1999).

Keywords: Akan-English code-switching, Language contact, Immigrant communities, mixed-code.

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

1. Introduction

The immigration process from Ghana to Italy began towards the end of the 1970s, but it gained some consistency only in the following decade. It is an interesting example of immigration flow from a country with hardly any previous historical, linguistic, or cultural ties to the destination state. Ghanaians in Italy almost doubled in the last decade. In January 2010, the Ghanaian citizens recorded in Italy amounted to roughly 44,000 individuals;(Note 1) however, given the large number of undocumented immigrants, the figure is probably underestimated. The Ghanaian community in Bergamo and its province is presently composed of around 1800 individuals. (Note 2) The data attest to a traditional migratory pattern, characterised by the arrival of single men, who are later followed by other members of their families. The immigration into Italy of entire families is quite uncommon, for many couples choose to leave their children in Ghana during the whole period of their residence abroad, so as to be able to settle down, find a full-time job and make the best (in terms of working opportunities) of their experience as immigrants.

The practice of leaving the younger members of the family in the home country makes the Ghanaian community in Bergamo a rather peculiar social group, mainly composed of first-generation immigrants of working age who have been living in Italy from a minimum of a few months to a maximum of nearly twenty years (for more details, cf. Guerini, 2006, pp. 53-60 and Guerini, to appear).

On considering the Ghanaian community from an occupational point of view, it turns out that the majority of its members are employed in small-size to middle-size local companies in the textile sector, as well as in the service industry. In general, Ghanaian immigrants work as employees in private enterprises rather than as freelance professionals; official data, however, inevitably disregard a significant degree illegal work carried out by those immigrants who have not yet been able to regularize their visa status. Most Ghanaian women have got a full-time job that enables them to provide a major contribution to the family's economy. Illiterate women normally work as maids or nannies in private houses, whereas women with a higher level of literacy tend to hold the same occupations as those held by men in the community.

The present paper illustrates the results of qualitative analysis of a sample of face-to-face interactions and of semi-structured interviews (a total of 27 hours of recordings, collected between September 2001 and October 2002) involving a selected group of Ghanaian immigrants living in the province of Bergamo. (Note 3) The languages shared by the immigrants involved in the research are: i) Akan (a language belonging to the Kwa branch of the Niger-Congo phylum, in its various dialect forms), ii) English and iii) (a learner's variety of) Italian. …

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