Rare di­alects alive in T.O.

Dozens of lan­guages not in city cen­sus stats: Ex­pert

Metro Canada (Toronto) - - TORONTO -

Paolo Frascà’s rare Ital­ian di­alect “fos­silized” in Toronto and found its own com­mu­nity here.

“That is why I speak the di­alect prob­a­bly bet­ter than the peo­ple in my gen­er­a­tion back home in Italy,” said Frascà, 24. “It’s be­cause I moved here when I was 13 years old.”

He speaks a lan­guage par­tic­u­lar to a small town of about 3,000 peo­ple in the re­gion of Cal­abria in south­ern Italy. This tongue is closer to Latin than typ­i­cal Ital­ian be­cause of the re­gion’s late Ro­man­iza­tion. Back home, younger gen­er­a­tions like his don’t speak Santonofrese — named af­ter the town of Sant’Onofrio — be­cause it is seen as “low­brow.”

He says that thanks to Toronto’s large Ital­ian com­mu­nity, there may be sev­eral en­dan­gered lan­guages and di­alects like his pre­served in the city as peo­ple con­tinue to speak them with their fam­ily.

That’s not al­ways the case, though. Anas­ta­sia Riehl, who started the En­dan­gered Lan­guages Al­liance Toronto, has been doc­u­ment­ing which of the world’s dy­ing lan­guages are spo­ken in Toronto, in­clud­ing Frascà’s. Some are spo­ken by just one or two peo­ple in the city or even in the world. With­out a com­mu­nity to share it, those peo­ple stop speak­ing their lan­guage and ab­sorb the re­gional lan­guage in­stead.

She’s in­ter­viewed more than a dozen speak­ers of eight en­dan­gered lan­guages from around the world. She’s work­ing on a short doc­u­men­tary de­tail­ing the sto­ries of three speak­ers. Riehl has taken time off from her role run­ning the Strathy Lan­guage Unit at Queen’s Univer­sity to de­vote more time to the pro­ject.

Toronto’s po­si­tion as one of the most di­verse cities in the world — more than 30 per cent of its res­i­dents speak a lan­guage other than English or French — makes it an “as good if not bet­ter”

Anas­ta­sia Riehl place to doc­u­ment en­dan­gered lan­guages.

The city’s web­site pegs the num­ber of lan­guages and di­alects spo­ken in the city at more than 140, but Riehl es­ti­mates there are “dozens” that don’t ap­pear in cen­sus fig­ures. Any lan­guage be­comes en­dan­gered, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Ed­u­ca­tion, Science and Cul­ture (UNESCO), when its speak­ers cease to use it and when it is no longer passed on to the next gen­er­a­tion.

She says the best way to pre­serve a lan­guage is for chil­dren to speak it and use it.

The global con­text

we’re in has def­i­nitely im­pacted be­cause peo­ple

have all these pres­sures to speak a more dom­i­nant


Torstar news ser­vice

Paolo Frascà speaks the Ital­ian di­alect Santonofrese. He says he speaks the lan­guage bet­ter than most young peo­ple in Italy now be­cause it “fos­silized” in Canada.

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