Ana, can you tell us how your family is linguistically made up?
My husband is Italian, and the family in which I grew up is a mixed family: my mother is Italian and my father belongs to the Slovenian minority in Italy. My husband and I have two children: I speak Slovenian with them and he speaks Italian.
In the family in which you grew up did you speak both Italian and Slovenian?
Yes, we did. Then my parents decided to enroll my sister and I in Slovenian language schools in Italy. Therefore my schooling was in Slovenian. Italian, however, was a curricular subject. We studied Italian just like Italian students do, not like a foreign language. Then I studied at the University of Trieste, therefore in Italian. Once I started working I studied in Slovenian what I learnt in Italian because I needed it for my job.
With your children you are the referent just for Slovenian and your husband for Italian. Was that a spontaneous choice?
That was a choice made long before kids arrived. When my husband and I decided to live together we could go anywhere else, where it could be easier for my husband getting a job. However I didn’t feel that in a 100% Italian area I would have been able to hand down my language and my culture alone, without a social and cultural background. When we had to choose where to live then, we decided to come here, on the border.
You come from a minority, the Slovenian minority in Italy. Then, you should have a history and a special territorial bond that may differ from other people coming from Slovenia. Do you think it’s important handing down culture and the historical events the minority went through, to your children?
Social and political situation has changed. I grew up in the Eighties, when there was still Jugoslavia and the social context was different. Our parents either had lived the war or, if they were older, they had lived fascism. Therefore, in those moments the minority felt like “if we don’t survive they will wipe us out”. Indeed, that’s what fascism did, it persecuted us for 25 years. I still remember stories my father told me about my grandfather, who had to hide himself and hide his books, otherwise they would have burnt them. Or about Slovenian intellectuals that were killed during Fascism because they sang or directed church choirs. We listened to some of these stories even at school, when we were just eight years old. So there’s a strong feeling of belonging to another ethnical group; we have roots, here I am and here I want to stay. Furthermore, we’ve always been here! We’ve become a minority just when they put a border. Before that, we simply were Slovenian who lived here. This border transformed us in a minority and we struggled to survive. Luckily nowadays this border doesn’t exist anymore, so I don’t tell my children that they belong to a minority because I don’t think it still exists a minority! In the Slovenian language there’s a word, “za mejo”, that means “beyond the border”. Since there’s no border we simply are Slovenian just like the others. I’m sure that I will hand down to my kids the historical contexts because we must not forget, but when I was a child people were afraid of being a minority. Indeed, many people of my age didn’t talk in Slovenian with their parents because parents were afraid. They had lived in terror, so they thought that if they didn’t speak Slovenian anybody would have known they belonged to the minority. This was a great loss. However, nowadays many people, maybe looking at their Italianized surnames discover their roots and try at least to know something about their history. Many of them didn’t know anything because Fascism created a big process of Slavic denationalization and Italian nationalization in areas mostly populated by Slovenian. Therefore, it’s important that my children know the history but nowadays contexts are different and I really feel like we can look ahead. There’s more freedom now and I don’t feel threatened by an extinction.
Getting back to the linguistic aspects, which language do you speak with your husband?
If we are alone we speak Italian.
What about when you are all together?
We try to keep using our own languages: I speak Slovenian with children, my husband speaks Italian and between my husband and me we speak Italian, that’s the most practical option.
Do children always differentiate language/parent or does it ever happen that they talk to you in Italian and to him in Slovenian?
No, they always differentiate when we are home. It happens that, when we are with grandparents, who are Italian and don’t understand Slovenian, kids approach to me in Italian sometimes.
That’s very interesting!
Yes, they recognize the context and they don’t want nobody to be excluded, even though I keep speaking to them in Slovenian. My mother-in-law says that when they get on the train to go to grandparents’ house they switch code, even between them.
So which language do they normally use between them?
It might be mostly Slovenian but when they are at their grandparents’ place my mother-in-law says that they never use Slovenian between them. The reason might also be that often they are with cousins or other Italian people, so language of communication is obviously Italian.
Do you think they have a dominant language?
I think that now they are pretty balanced. I also think that when they’ll start school the school language will be the dominant one; since they will attend school in Slovenia that language will be Slovenian.
According to your own experience, are there advantages and/or disadvantages as a consequence of this bilingual situation?
Well, we live half in Italy and half in Slovenia, therefore children are able to communicate with everyone. They never feel uncomfortable in understanding or talking with other people. They never ask themselves questions. As soon as they hear which of the two languages is spoken they adapt themselves and use that language. Furthermore, according to my own experience of being a bilingual, I would say that this is a question that monolinguals ask, but bilinguals wouldn’t ask that to themselves. It’s like the question that I’ve been asked many times “do you consider yourself more Italian or more Slovenian?”. Well, I’m just what I am and I don’t want to choose. This question, however, made me feel like they wanted me to make a choice between black and white. Choosing would have meant choosing between one or another half of my family. So it’s just a society issue. I hope my children live in a historical context where no one will ask them what they are but that they would be evaluated just by their qualities.
Are opportunities to talk one or the other language balanced in their daily life?
Thay attend a Slovenian-language kindergarten in Italy but there’s a lot of children who are Italian monolinguals so sometimes they speak Italian with them. Then they do other activities in Slovenia. In the afternoon they are always with my mom, who speaks Italian, or with my mother-in-law, who also speaks Italian.