Heritage Language Variation and Change in Toronto
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Recent News

Michael Iannozzi, a grad student in Linguistics at UWO, who cut his research teeth as a HLVC RA, is featured in a fantastic article in the National Post about preserving his family's Italian dialect. Sound clips and delicious photos!

We organized a mini-conference showcasing recent research on heritage languages in (and near) Toronto: it's called Toronto Language Tapestry. See the write-up!

Heritage Languages in Toronto is on Wikipedia!

2016 was a busy spring for HLVC. Presentations at conferences included:

Lyskawa, Paulina, Valeriya Mordvinova & Naomi Nagy. Case marking variation in heritage Slavic languages in Toronto. Slavic Linguistic Society, Toronto, Sept. 23-25, 2016

Nagy, Naomi. Speakers' attitudes and innovations in Toronto's heritage languages. Sociolinguistics Symposium 21, Murcia, June 15-18, 2016.

Maddeaux, Ruth, Paulina Lyskawa, Emilia Melara & Naomi Nagy. (Why) is code-switching sometimes a predictor of contact effects? CVC 9, Ottawa, May 7-8, 2016

March 2016: After warming up at the Undergraduate Research Forum at U of T, The HLVC Project participated in Workshop on Innovations in Cantonese Linguistics (WICL) at the Ohio State University. We learned a lot about recent research in Cantonese, and are especially excited about the PyCantonese tool. We presented 3 talks from the HLVC project, listed in the WICL conference program. Here are some highlights:


Zahid Daujee, Sam Lo and Andrew Peters prep their talks

Naomi studies Cantonese during the conference dinner

Andrew presents on automated alignment

Holman Tse explains the Cantonese vowel space

Sam Lo and Zahid present on variation in Classifier use in Cantonese and Korean

Holman presents some more

Fall 2015: HLVC is very excited about the NWAV44 conference at U of T, which featured invited speakers talking about many relevant topics, a session on conservatism in heritage varieties, and these presentations from the HLVC project:

  • Heritage Faetar's verbs are good to the last (pro-)drop, Michael Iannozzi
  • Heritage speakers abide by all the rules, Evidence of language contact effects in Heritage Polish word-final devoicing, Paulina Lyskawa, Emilia Melara & Ruth Maddeaux
  • Is Heritage Language phonology conservative?: Evidence from variation and change in Toronto Heritage Cantonese vowels, Holman Tse

Naomi appeared on her first Chinese-language tv show: Timeline Magazine (Fairchild TV) as part of an episode on endangered language preservation and documentation. A unique opportunity to watch a digital Faetar lesson dubbed over in Cantonese! by Alice Ngan, Oct. 14, 2015.

Summer 2015: Maksym Shkvorets, a recently graduated Linguistics major, will be entering the Linguistics MA program at UofT and continuing his study of Heritage Ukrainian. He was a key player in our recent recognition by a research grant from the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies. Congrats also on his recent marriage!

Summer 2015: Samuel Lo, a Linguistics major, spent most of the summer in Hong Kong doing fieldwork to learn about Cantonese as currently spoken in the Homeland. This data will provide a comparison point for the Heritage Cantonese data being collected in Toronto. 11 speakers were recorded. Ariel Chan presented our recent analysis of Cantonese classifiers at a workshop in Hong Kong.

Summer 2015:HLVC gets media coverage in Corriere Canadese with an article by our own Paolo Frascà.

Summer 2014: Two undergrads and a grad student from the Italian Department, and a professor (the HLVC Project's PI)

spent 3 weeks in Calabria doing fieldwork to learn about Calabrese Italian(s) in the Homeland. This data will provide a comparison point for the Heritage Italian data being collected in Toronto. More than 25 speakers were recorded, producing the first sociolinguistic corpus of Calabrese speech. Below are some nice moments from the fieldwork.

Findings from the Calabrese part of the HLVC project also made it into PanoramItalia 4.4, p. 51. See some of our favourite spots on pp. 40-42. See also a dashing picture of one of our fieldworkers on p. 36.

Meanwhile in Poland...

An incoming MA student (who also earned her BA in our Linguistics Department) is in Poland at the moment, also collecting homeland data. She reports in:

"I have been travelling a bit around Europe, mainly Berlin, Bristol and Prague but this was just for pleasure. It is awfully hot in Poland at the moment so I am hiding indoors which leaves no excuse but to work on transcription.

There have been 9 interviews with homeland speakers so far, I really like this part. I found out so much about my own family, just amazing. All the people my age whom I interviewed so far mentioned that the younger generation (say 15, 16-year-olds) would be the most interesting to look at as far as changes are concerned.

Transcribing gave me a few ideas of what else could be interesting to research. Also, I was very surprised at how much faster homeland speakers speak (which is maybe a bit more time-consuming to transcribe but results in plenty of data).

Finally, I'm in love with the Zoom H4n recorder and the mic. The quality is fantastic and it is very easy to operate. I am using 4CH mode which gives two files - one from internal built-in and one from external lavaliere microphone - just in case.

So far, everything is really good. I am hoping to be as lucky when I come back to Toronto and need to find heritage speakers."

Naomi presented at a workshop on Heritage Languages in London

See some video clips [clip 1 - Multilingualism in Toronto] [clip 2 - Benefits of Heritage language teaching] [clip 3 - Benefits of multilingualism]

Yannis presented at the Change and Variation in Canada 7.

May 4, 2013, 12:00-12:20, in Sid Smith 560A.

Koumarianos, K. 2013. Adjective suffixation across three generations of Italian-Canadians. CVC 7, Toronto.

Natalia L presented at the Toronto Undergrad Linguistics Conference:

Lapinskaya, N. 2013. Effects of contextual variety of language use on vowel production among speakers of Heritage Russian. TULCON 6, Toronto.

In 2012-13 , we have HLVC presentations in Alberta, Quebec, Japan, Singapore, Hawai'i, Pennsylvania, the UK and France, as well as Toronto.

Three HLVC researchers presented at The Road Less Travelled, an international conference on heritage languages and heritage language acquisition.

Final Report on 2009-2012 (SSHRC SRG-funded grant)

Understanding variation in multilingual communities is at the heart of this project. We are developing a body of theoretically-informed, quantified descriptions of variation in several Heritage Languages. Our first step was to build databases of recordings of conversations. We collected samples to represent three generations (immigrants, their children, and the grand-children), representing all age groups (except young children) and speakers with a range of fluency and attitudes toward their Heritage. Though we originally intended to examine only Faetar, Russian and Korean, an array of factors, mostly notably the enthusiasm of students who were speakers of other heritage languages, encouraged us to expand our project to include Italian, Cantonese and Ukrainian.

Collaboration between a phonetician, a phonologist, a morphosyntactician, and a variationist with specialists in these languages provided the necessary breadth of expertise to carry out this multi-language research project and obtain cross-linguistically valid results and a holistic view of multiple language usage in context. Students were integral for participant recruitment, collection and coding of data and participated in all stages of analysis, interpretation and presentation, developing skills in each area through an apprenticeship-like process. Many students have transferred these skills to other research interests.

We digitally recorded, transcribed and archived one-hour conversational speech samples from speakers of six heritage languages in Toronto and pilot-tested methods for further corpus development. Variationist analyses produced quantitative descriptions of variable patterns in each language, showing where there was change and where there was maintenance of pronunciation, grammatical and vocabulary patterns across generations of Heritage Language speakers. In some cases, where a comparable corpus existed, we were able to compare directly to Homeland patterns. Our work to date shows, in general, that speakers quite consistently maintain the grammatical structures and vocabulary used in Homeland varieties, in contradiction to widely-held beliefs that language quickly “degrades” or is “bastardized” in immigrant communities, and in contrast to many studies published about heritage language usage in the USA. On the other hand, we see changes in one phonetic pattern (Voice Onset Time, or aspiration of word-initial consonants, a feature that distinguishes English from several of these Heritage Languages). Here, we find a correlation of the variable pronunciation pattern with speakers’ ethnic orientation: those who identify more strongly with the culture of the Homeland maintain Homeland-like pronunciation patterns, while those participants who identify more as “Canadian” tend to adopt a more English-like pronunciation of these sounds (while speaking the Heritage language). This ability to accommodate change within the language may well be one reason that Heritage Languages seem to be maintained better in Canada (at least in Toronto) than in the USA, contributing to Canada’s “mosaic” approach to multiculturalism.

As of October 2015, 68 talks and eight published papers reporting this work had been presented in 11 countries, including almost 30 student (co)authors. This project contributed to more than a dozen undergraduate independent study projects, three MA theses, 1 PhD Generals Paper, six student projects at European universities, and the development of two undergraduate and two graduate courses at U of T, plus some courses at the Centre of Language and Cognition Groningen (CLCG), University of Groningen.

Faetar portion of project featured in Il Corriere Canadese & Tandem.