SOAS University of London

Department of Linguistics, School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics

The Tunisian community of Mazara del Vallo (Sicily): Issues in language contact, change and identity

Luca D’Anna (Mississippi)

Date: 9 January 2018Time: 3:30 PM

Finishes: 9 January 2018Time: 5:00 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: B102

Type of Event: Seminar


The study of Arabic-speaking communities in the diaspora has attracted, in the last decades, great interest among scholars, resulting in a number of contributions that shed light on interesting phenomena of language contact, language erosion and the interplay between language and identity. The two volumes edited by Aleya Rouchdy (1992, 2002) and the collection of essays on Arabic as a minority language (Owens 2000) paved the way to several more studies that give us a clear idea of Arabic-speaking communities in Northern Europe and the US. Italy, on the other hand, has been traditionally neglected by scholars studying Arabic in the diaspora, although the number of Arabic speakers has been on the rise for the last few decades.

The present talk will first describe the Tunisian community of Mazara del Vallo (Sicily), the oldest Arabic-speaking community in Italy. The existence of this community, mainly composed of fishermen coming from the Tunisian Sahel (mainly Mahdia and Chebba), is originally due to the availability of jobs in the fishing sector. In Mazara del Vallo, the Tunisian immigrants settled in old historical centre, built by the Arabs in the Middle Ages, creating a close-knit community whose ethnolinguistic vitality allowed the preservation of Arabic until the 3rd generation, contrarily to what we observe in other diasporic communities (Canagarajah 2008).

The talk will then illustrate on the phenomena of language contact observed within the community, with a particular focus on interference, borrowing, codeswitching and morphological hybrids. The final part will be devoted to the analysis of identity practices and polylanguaging among young speakers, with an emphasis on the creative employment of their complex linguistic repertoire in the social media.

Quoted sources

Canagarajah, A. Suresh (2008). Language shift and the family: Questions from the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 12, 143–176

Owens, Jonathan (Ed.). Arabic as a Minority Language. Berlin – New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Rouchdy, Aleya (Ed.) (1992). The Arabic Language in America. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.

Rouchdy, Aleya (Ed.) (2002). Language Contact and Language Conflict in Arabic – Variations on a Sociolinguistic Theme. London – New York: Routledge – Curzon.

About the speaker

Luca D’Anna earned his PhD in Arabic Linguistics and Dialectology from the University of Naples “L’Orientale” in 2014. He currently holds the position of Assistant Professor of Arabic at The University of Mississippi (Oxford, MS). His fields of interest include Arabic Linguistics and Dialectology, Libyan and Tunisian Arabic, Arabic Sociolinguistics and Arabic in the diaspora.