“I can write it, I can understand it, but I’ve never spoken it”

by Nicola Bermingham

Last Wednesday, 11th March, Nicola Bermingham held a seminar at the School of Celtic and Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh. The seminar, entitled “I can write it, I can understand it, but I’ve never spoken it”: challenges faced by immigrant “new speakers” in Galicia, formed part of the Soillse seminar series which focuses on minority language policy and sociolinguistics.

The seminar explored issues around ‘new speakerness’ in the context of migration, taking Galicia as the primary research site. Traditionally, Galicia has experienced lower levels of immigration than the rest of Spain. However, the first decade of the 21st century saw an increase in the arrival of immigrants. This was due in part to increased work opportunities in the primary sector as well as the ‘saturation’ of other autonomous communities such as Catalonia. Hence, Galicia, which was once a region synonymous with emigration, has now become host to a diverse migrant population.

The seminar focused specifically on Nicola’s ongoing PhD research, which examines the role of language in the integration of a community of Cape Verdean immigrants living in a small fishing town in northern Galicia. Interestingly, the hierarchical relationship between Portuguese and Creole in Cape Verde shares many similarities with that of Spanish and Galician in Galicia.

Drawing on excerpts from life history interviews carried out with various members of the community, the seminar provided a platform to tease out discourse on language ownership and language as a means of integration into a host community. Following the presentation, thought-provoking discussions took place surrounding the challenges and opportunities faced by Cape Verdean migrants in becoming a “new speaker” of Galician and Spanish.

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Nicola Bermingham is a PhD student in the Department of Languages and Intercultural Studies at Heriot-Watt University. Her research interests include sociolinguistics, migration studies, and minority languages. Looking specifically at the Galician context, her work examines the role language has to play in the integration of immigrants.

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