Tullio De Mauro, Massimo Vedovelli, Monica Barni, e Lorenzo Miraglia. Italiano 2000. I pubblici e le motivazioni dell'imliano diffuso fra stranieri.
More than two decades ago a comprehensive research project was conducted by Ignazio Baldelli on the study of Italian as a foreign language worldwide. The results of the overview, which was carried out together with Ugo Vignuzzi, Patrizia Bertini Malgarini, and other scholars, were presented in the book La lingua italiana nel mondo. Indagine sulle motivazioni allo studio dell'italiano (1987). The study documented a global student population for Italian of roughly two million each year, with the dominant motivations for study consisting of a) curricular requirement (34%), b) cultural enrichment (28%), c) affective reasons (12.5%), and d) work (6.5%), with significant variations in the different countries surveyed. Following this large-scale analysis, quantitative surveys on enrollments in Italian were conducted at regular intervals for many countries, including United States institutions of higher learning (for the most recent see the Modern Language Association surveys of 1998 and 2002, and Edoardo Lebano, Survey on the Italian Language in the U.S.A. Welland, Ont.: Soleil, 1999). Particularly the US surveys indicate a steady growth of interest in Italian as a language of a great culture.
Italiano 2000 is a welcome addition to the numerous previous efforts on the study of Italian as a foreign language outside Italy. This is in fact the second large-scale survey that focuses on students' motivations in acquiring Italian as a foreign language. While allowing only superficially for a comparative analysis with Baldelli's study conducted in the late 1970s, due to their different profiles and scopes, Italiano 2000 generally confirms the continued popularity of Italian among foreign language students. The study was commissioned by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, directed by Tullio De Mauro, and coordinated by Massimo Vedovelli, Monica Bami, and Lorenzo Miraglia at the University for Foreigners at Siena. It is based on a questionnaire distributed to some 90 Italian Cultural Institutes throughout the world, with a 75% rate of response. Information was sought on courses offered by the Institutes, profiles of students and faculty, course materials, teaching methods, and on the motivations for the study of Italian. It must be noted, however, that the data gathered does not include information on the teaching of Italian at public and private schools in the respective consular districts. After methodological considerations and research hypotheses in Part I the authors discuss the main results and illustrate them with statistical charts (129-73), as summarized here: 1) The study of Italian is increasing, especially if compared with a survey conducted in 1995 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, there are considerable and complex variations according to geographical areas. 2) Overall, the dominant primary motivation for the study of Italian concerns the macro-category leisure (tempo libero) with 32.8%. This category includes cultural pursuits such as art, music, literature, cinema, tourism, etc. It is followed with 25.8% by personal reasons (motivi personali) such as an Italian partner or Italian heritage. While these two categories continue to be the dominant reasons for studying Italian, other motivations are on the increase. Work (teaching, business in Italy) seems to be in fact the third most important motivation, with 22.4%, followed by study (curricular requirement, need of the language to study in Italy, study abroad) with 19%. If looking at the set of secondary motivations, work precedes study, leisure, and personal reasons (respectively with ratios of 33.9%; 32.2%: 22%; 11.9%), while study and personal reasons prevail over leisure and work among tertiary motivations. The data of Italiano 2000 thus confirm the continued dominant cultural reasons (leisure, personal reasons) for studying Italian, while underscoring a burgeoning work-oriented, professional motivation of individuals seeking proficiency for the purpose of working with Italian firms. The results are probably conditioned at least in part by the non-traditional student population (professionals, individuals aiming at a career change or travel to Italy) taking courses at Cultural Institutes rather than at public and private schools of their respective countries. They vary geographically; for more than hall of the European respondents the study of Italian is not considered important--a response that the authors attribute to a perception of English as a generally used lingua franca, especially in Italian academic circles, a perception that often inaccurately reflects the linguistic reality.
Italiano 2000. while not statistically representative for the study of Italian as a foreign language abroad, seems to reflect trends observed at institutions of higher learning, notably in the United States. In the most recent survey conducted by the Modern Language Association, Italian, although still the fourth language for the number of students after Spanish (746.267), French (201,979), and German (91,100), is the language with the largest growth from 1998 to 2002. During this period, there was an increase of 29.6% from 49,287 to 63,899 enrollments, compared to a growth of 13.7% for Spanish, 2.3% for German, 1.5% for French. Japanese, Chinese, Latin, Russian, and ancient Greek are languages studied in descending order by more than 20,000 students, some of these experienced significant growth (Foreign Language Enrollments in U.S. Institutions of Higher Education, 2002).
Within the limits of the scope of Italiano 2000, clearly focused on the role played in the teaching of the language at Italian Cultural Institutes, and aimed at recommendations for improvements, the survey provides good news for the study of Italian across the international spectrum. Italian appears to be studied increasingly not only as a sophisticated literary language, but also as a language of business, international trade, everyday life, as visible in its presence and image in advertising, labeling of products. Much in the book is in fact guided by "business" considerations, referring to the mercato delle lingue, as reflected in the continued use of terms such as spendibilita or rendicontare, and an emphasis on the fragility and variation of the demand for the study of Italian abroad. If compared to the global "language market," it becomes evident from Italiano 2000 how Italian is not present among the first foreign languages studied globally (these are English with 69.2%, Spanish with 10.3%, French with 7.7%, and German with 2.6%). However, it is present among second and third foreign languages studied, respectively with 7% and 25% (238).
Although not considered in detail in this book, the presence in Italy of some 1.5 million immigrants must be kept in mind as a new "market" for Italian as a foreign language, even though acquired in this context mostly through spontaneous interaction. This new group constitutes in fact the most visible departure from the learner statistics of Baldelli's survey (for further discussion see Massimo Vedovelli, L'italiano degli stranieri [Rome: Carocci, 2002]).
Italiano 2000 contains discussions of numerous important issues. Among these the role of Italian as a community language (219-32) in areas of Italian mass migration is given considerable attention. Within the communities the authors note the varying uses of Italian, dialect, and English, with the dominance of the language of the "host" country; the continued vitality of the dialects: the alternating between dialect, Italian, and the "host" language especially among adults; a progressive intergenerational language shift.
Italiano 2000 is provocative, based on solid analysis of data, a reader for anyone concerned with the destiny of Italian and European languages.
HERMANN W. HALLER
Queens College and Graduate Center/City University of New York
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|Author:||Haller, Hermann W.|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2004|
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