General field of research
Silvia Calamai, Università degli Studi di Siena
Linguistic discrimination has been studied mainly in English-speaking contexts and has received little attention in Italy. Nevertheless, it is a subtle and often misunderstood form of discrimination. Racism, prejudice and stigma move along sound waves too. We create mental images and stereotypes, and we judge people based on their voices. The sounds we produce can be considered our identity card: by speaking, we introduce ourselves and say who we are. This project aims at understanding how different accents are cognitively processed; what implicit knowledge of a person is developed with respect to phonetic differences connected to her/his ethnic group; how this information is used in the creation of the labels of “foreigner” and “different”; how explicit and implicit stereotypes emerge with respect to the categories “Chinese”, “Arabic”, “Italian (generic)”, “Florentine”, etc.; and how communication is managed (and perceived) in multilingual contexts. Non-native accents of the host country’s language can be severely stigmatised, and stigmas have an impact on educational and social contexts (i.e. the effect of the voice in a telephone conversation, in an oral exam or in the search for a job or a home).
The experimental sample is represented by middle and high schools in Tuscany (Florence, Prato, Arezzo), where there is a strong presence of students with ethnic backgrounds (mainly Chinese, but also Arabic and Romanian). Students and teachers are involved in the project using a high variety of methodologies (explicit questionnaires, language autobiographies, mental maps, interviews and perceptual tasks to measure implicit behaviour).