Navigation – Plan du site

AccueilNuméros37Dossier thématiqueItalian-Tunisians and Italian-Mor...

Dossier thématique

Italian-Tunisians and Italian-Moroccans in the UK: onward migration and reshaped linguistic repertoires

Francesco Goglia


Cet article problématise les effets de la plurimobilité intraeuropéenne sur les répertoires linguistiques des familles italo-tunisiennes et italo-marocaines au Royaume-Uni. À partir de six entretiens avec les enfants les plus âgés de ces familles, nous nous sommes focalisé en particulier sur le rôle de l'anglais dans le projet de plurimobilité, et sur le maintien des deux langues patrimoniales, l'italien et l'arabe tunisien et marocain. Dans la lignée d'autres études sur la plurimobilité intraeuropéenne, notre recherche montre que la langue anglaise est un facteur d'attraction clé pour la décision de migrer vers le Royaume-Uni, bien qu'elle ne fasse pas partie des répertoires linguistiques familiaux et malgré le défi de devoir l'apprendre dans le nouveau pays. Nos résultats mettent également en évidence que l'italien et les deux variétés d’arabe citées sont encore utilisées dans le domaine familial, souvent sur un mode mixte. Les frères et sœurs aînés ont un rôle d’acteurs dans le maintien de la langue italienne auprès des plus jeunes ; de plus, l'italien étant étudié comme langue étrangère au Royaume-Uni, certains témoins ont passé des examens d'italien à l'école ou à l'université. Enfin, les participantes affirment également utiliser leur variété d'arabe avec des amis.

Haut de page

Texte intégral


1In the last two decades, a growing number of newly naturalised citizens have left Italy to move to another European country. According to Italian national statistics (ISTAT, 2019), out of 669, 000 non-EU citizens who naturalised between 2012 and 2017 around 42,000 have moved abroad. This phenomenon is not unique to Italy, but part of a larger process of onward migration within the European Union which sees individuals or entire families of non-EU origin who initially settled in one EU country (either as refugees or economic migrants) to migrate again after naturalization. As Italy is part of the EU and the Schengen Area, the acquisition of Italian citizenship provides the potential for movement to another EU state. A growing literature in Migration Studies has investigated this phenomenon and highlighted several general socio-economic push and pull factors that trigger onward migration. Among others, these include: the desire to move to a country with a large co-ethnic and co-religious community, discrimination, job and career opportunities, transnational links with friends and family, welfare benefits, better educational opportunities for the second generation, and less bureaucracy in the UK than in continental Europe (Lindley and Van Hear, 2007; Van Liempt, 2011; Kelly and Hedman, 2016; Mas Giralt, 2017; Ramos, 2018; Ahrens, Kelly and Van Liempt, 2016; McGarrigle and Ascensão, 2018; Della Puppa, 2018a; Della Puppa and King, 2019; Jolivet, 2020). These studies have only briefly mentioned the second generation of onward-migrant families (Ahrens, Kelly and Van Liempt, 2016; Della Puppa and King, 2019), identifying the children’s future as one of the main pull factors for the families’ decision to migrate onward. In particular, the English language and a British education for the second generation are the main reasons why the UK is a preferred destination. In her study on Dutch-Somalis (of refugee origin) migrating onward from the Netherlands to the UK, Van Liempt (2011: 259) reported that parents wanted their children to be fluent in English and get British degrees which they regarded as more recognised. A similar attitude towards English and a British education is echoed in research on Italian-Bangladeshis and Italian-Nigerians in the UK (Della Puppa and King, 2018; Goglia, 2021b; Goglia, 2021c).

2Only recently sociolinguists have started investigating the sociolinguistic outcomes of onward migration focusing on individual communities, among others: Spanish-Latin Americans in London (Márquez Reiter and Martín Rojo, 2015; Mar-Molinero and Paffey, 2018), Italian-Bangladeshi and Italian-Nigerian families in the UK (Goglia, 2021b; Goglia, 2021c), Sri Lankan Tamil migrating from Europe to the UK (Sankaran, 2021), and Italian-Moroccans in France (Villa-Perez, 2021). Families that migrate onward often decide to do so after a substantial length of time, sometimes decades, in another EU country, and the second generation, are in most cases born in that country or arrived at a very young age.

3The aim of this article is to discuss the case of Italian families of Moroccan and Tunisian origin who have migrated onward to the UK and how they reshape their linguistic repertoires. Traditionally Italian-Moroccans and Italian-Tunisians choose to migrate to France and Belgium due to shared linguistic and family links (Essiya, 2016; Della Puppa, 2018a; Villa-Perez, 2021). However, a growing and yet understudied number of Italian-Moroccans and Italian-Tunisians choose to migrate to the UK.

4Drawing on six qualitative interviews, this article attempts to understand onward migration of Italian-Moroccans and Italian-Tunisians to the UK, the role of the English language in the choice of re-migrating and how their linguistic repertoires are restructured in the new country. Following this introduction, the article is structured as follows. Section 2 introduces the theoretical issues related to onward migration and its impact on migrants’ linguistic repertoires. Section 3 presents background information on the Moroccan and Tunisian communities in Italy and their onward migration. Section 4 presents the study’s methodology and data collection. The results are presented and discussed in section 5.

Onward migration and languages

5The literature on multilingualism and language maintenance in immigrant communities is vast, but it tends to focus on the maintenance of the languages of the country of origin in the country of arrival. Relatively recent sociolinguistic research has emphasised the transnational nature of contemporary migration and the importance of examining individual migrants’ trajectories to highlight the effects of these trajectories on migrants’ linguistic repertoires and identities in their host destinations (Blommaert, 2010; Blommaert and Dong, 2010; Pauwels, 2016; Tovares and Kamwangamalu, 2017). Drawing on Blommaert and Backus (2013), I use the term linguistic repertoire to refer to the totality of the linguistic-semiotic resources that individuals gather throughout their lives. Lists of the languages spoken by individual migrants do not provide the full picture of their multilingualism, as individuals may not have the same competence level in all the languages that they speak, or they may have a linguistic competence within specific domains or activities (Blommaert et al., 2005). From a sociolinguistic perspective, onward-migrating families have an enriched linguistic repertoire that includes the language(s) of their parents’ countries of origin and the language(s) of the previous EU countries in which they lived. Life in a third country requires them to reorganise their linguistic repertoires and their language usage both within and outside the family domain. These individuals’ experiences of migration and linguistic repertoires are more complex than those of migrants arriving directly from outside Europe in a one-step migration process. Furthermore, migrants must often reshape their linguistic resources according to the host country they are in, and their usage of languages and perceptions of people’s attitudes towards them are indexical to the language ideologies in their host countries. A concept which is very useful in the case of onward migration is linguistic capital, which is a form of Bourdieu’s cultural capital (Bourdieu, 1986). For Bourdieu, knowledge of languages and education represent cultural capital that can provide power and access to resources to the citizens in a given society. The value of cultural capital varies according to societies and ideologies. A very simple example is the value of the official national language of any EU country in terms of gaining access to the job market. In Italy, for example, immigrants are required to speak Italian, and any knowledge of other languages is not as important.

Onward migration of Italian-Tunisians and Italian-Moroccans

6Moroccans and Tunisians are among the largest immigrant communities in Italy: 428,947 Moroccans and 97,407 Tunisians, respectively the second and the twelfth immigrant communities (ISTAT, 2021). Moroccans and Tunisians arrived in Italy in the 1980s and 1990s and managed to reunite their families through the process of family reunification. Their children were born in Italy or came to Italy very young, are studying in the Italian school system and are integrated into the local social fabric. Tunisians and Moroccans in Italy have a complex linguistic repertoire. In endogamous families as those of the participants of this study, parents usually speak the varieties of Arabic spoken in Tunisia or Morocco, and may have knowledge of Standard Arabic. They may have also some knowledge of French if educated and, in the case of Moroccans, may also speak Berber (Mori, 2007; Amoruso, 2008). Upon their arrival in Italy, they had to learn Italian, and depending on the region in which they resided, they may have some knowledge of Italo-Romance dialects (Goglia and Wolny, 2022). The second generation speak Italian as their main language and, according to individual family language policies, may have learned Arabic from their parents and may have some knowledge of Italo-Romance dialects, which are often used by Italian youngsters in conversations with peers. They may have also learned one or two foreign languages at school (Goglia, 2018).

7Since the first decade of the 2000s, many Moroccans and Tunisians have naturalised along with their children. Gaining the Italian citizenship provides the permanent settlement within the Italian society, but it may also be instrumental to move to other countries.

  • 1 Cf. La comunità marocchina in Italia, 2020; La comunità tunisina in Italia, 2020.

8Moroccans and Tunisians are among the groups most affected by the 2008-economic crisis in Italy as many parents lost their jobs and struggled to get into the job market again1. So some naturalised families started thinking of migrating again. Some of these new Italians have decided to either return to their country of origin or migrate onward to a third country (Essiya, 2016; Della Puppa, 2018b; Jolivet, 2020; Villa-Perez, 2021). Between 2012 and 2017, Moroccans and Tunisians were among the first ten groups that have left Italy to go to a third country in Europe (Licari and Rottino, 2019). Although, France and Belgium are the favourite destination, a growing number of Italian-Moroccans and Italian-Tunisians choose to migrate to other European countries such as Germany, The Netherlands or the UK. There is no information on the exact number of Italian-Moroccans and Italian-Tunisians in the UK and they are not yet visible in the published records of the Italian Consulate in London. Onward migration of Italian-Moroccans to France and Belgium has already been studied from a sociological (Essiya, 2016; Della Puppa, 2018b) and a sociolinguistic perspective (Villa-Perez, 2021), while onward migration of Italian-Tunisians has not been studied yet to the best of the author’s knowledge. Onward migration of Italian-Moroccans and Italian-Tunisians in the UK has not been studied yet. This article fills this gap by concentrating on interviews with the children of Italian-Moroccan and Italian-Tunisian families who have migrated to the UK and shedding light on the way they reorganise their linguistic repertoire in the UK. The research questions guiding our analysis are as follows:

  1. What is the role of English in the onward-migration process?

  2. Is Italian maintained by Italian-Moroccans and Italian-Tunisians in the UK?

  3. What attitudes do Italian-Moroccans and Italian-Tunisians have towards their varieties of Arabic?


  • 1 The research was funded by the Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship ‘Onward migration from Italy to (...)

9This article is based on six interviews with three Italian-Tunisians and three Italian-Moroccans between 20 and 25 years old, all female, based in the United Kingdom, and who are either studying at, or have graduated from university. For all participants, onward migration to the UK was a family project, but in two cases parents decided to go back to Italy after a short period in the UK. The interviews were conducted either in English or Italian according to the participants’ preferences, lasted approximately 30 minutes, were audio-recorded, and were done online through Zoom between June and November 2021. The interviews focused on the participants’ experiences of onward migration from Italy to the UK, language use of their families in both countries, their attitudes towards these languages, language use with different interlocutors, and language maintenance. We used a list of questions to trigger discussions, but the idea was to engage in spontaneous informal conversations on the participants’ experiences of migration and language use. The interviews allowed the participants to reflect on important issues such as their experiences and views on languages in their repertoire, their identities, and the challenges they had faced when they migrated to the UK. These interviews are part of a larger corpus of data collected with the support of the Leverhulme Trust1. Unlike the previous studies on onward migration, this data collection did not focus on any particular ethnic community, but rather on young individuals who belong to families that have migrated onward from Italy to the UK. All the included families had migrated within the last 9 years and are from the following ethnic groups: Italian-Nigerians, Italian-Ghanaians, Italian-Indians, Italian-Bangladeshis, Italian-Sri Lankans, Italian-Tunisians and Italian-Moroccans. The project has received ethical clearance from the Ethics Committee at the University of Exeter. In the excerpts in the following sections, all the participant names are pseudonyms. The approach taken in this study was to view each interview as a type of communicative interaction during which the interview content was locally constructed by both the interviewer and the interviewee (Pavlenko, 2007; De Fina, 2011; De Fina and Perrino, 2011). With this approach, the presence of the interviewer was not seen as a disturbance to obtaining natural data; rather, the interviewer participated with the interviewees in communicative interactions. The object of this research was to understand the way participants presented and reflected upon their use of languages. The participants of this study were generally very keen on talking about their experiences of migration, their multilingualism, and the challenges they had to face in terms of language learning and identity.


The role of English in the onward migration process

10Contrary to other onward-migrating families from Italy, for example from Commonwealth countries, Italian-Tunisian and Italian-Moroccan families do not have English as part of their family linguistic repertoire nor any past cultural links with the United Kingdom (cf. Della Puppa and King, 2019; Goglia, 2021a). All participants reported that at the time of onward migration they only had some knowledge of English because they have studied it as a foreign language at school in Italy, while their parents had no or very little knowledge of English. Even though English is not part of the family linguistic repertoire, participants mentioned English and the opportunities provided by the United Kingdom in terms of job and welfare as the main pull factors to come to the United Kingdom.

11In extract 1, Samira, an Italian-Tunisian, who migrated onward to England with her family 10 years prior the interview, explained that her family were initially considering several options for their onward migration countries, but they then chose the UK for the opportunities offered by the English language. Samira enacted her parent’s ideology on English and the UK offering better opportunities of life.

Extract 1

Int: How come your family decided to move here? Was there a specific reason?

Samira: So I actually moved here to the UK back in 2011 […] and the way it happened, basically, like my parents thought… they got to a point where they thought English was a better language than Italian… and everything like that… and of course of the situation that was going on in Italy and all the economic crisis and basically my dad losing his job and everything he thought we would have a better future moving here… and it was actually like in between to be honest like Germany, France and the UK

12Studies on onward migration from EU countries to the UK have identified the role of positive ideologies towards English as an international language and the British job market as important pull factors for the decision to migrate onward (Van Liempt, 2011; Ahrens et al., 2016; Della Puppa, 2018a; Mapril, 2021; Goglia, 2021b, 2021c). In her study on Dutch-Somalis migrating onward from the Netherlands to the UK, Van Liempt (2011) found that parents wanted their children to become fluent in English and get British degrees because they perceive them as more internationally recognised (cf. Mapril, 2021; Goglia, 2021b). Families originally from Commonwealth countries, may also have a variety of English as part of their family linguistic repertoire and consider it as valuable linguistic capital both as an international language and a prestigious language to be used in the high communicative domains of their countries of origin. Italian-Bangladeshis and Italian-Nigerians, for example, who went to Italy in the 1990s, chose to migrate onward to the UK to allow their children to be educated in English, a language they regarded as key capital for the future career of their children both in their countries of origin and anywhere in the world (Della Puppa, 2018b; Goglia, 2021b; Goglia, 2021c).

13For Italian-Tunisians and Italian-Moroccans the choice of English and the United Kingdom is not rooted in any colonial links between the UK and their countries of origin, but it is due to more recent individual and family priorities and perceptions of opportunities offered in terms of employment, welfare and study.

14In extract 2, Samira goes on explaining that in Italy, her family favoured the use and maintenance of Tunisian Arabic at home since Italian was the main language in all other communicative domains in Italy.

Extract 2

Int: What languages do you speak mainly maybe with your parents, what do you speak with your siblings?

Samira: So when I was actually younger, my parents actually, especially my dad, was like very focused on the fact that we should only speak Arabic at home so that we don’t forget, because like you know, there’s other people that for example migrate from like that home country, and then they won’t remember that language. Also, my dad was very focused, on us speaking Arabic at home; and then he’s like with Italian you don’t have any problems anyway because you speak it in school with your friends and everything like that. So… that wasn’t a problem. And then when we moved here actually, my dad is not like… my dad never had any basis of English so we wouldn’t be able to speak English with him… even now ehm… So like with my mom… it will be now like actually we ended up changing completely and it’s like a mixture of like English, Italian and Arabic and French altogether. They come in altogether in a conversation. With my dad like now is a mixture of like basically Arabic and Italian.

15In Italy, Samira’s family language policy has favoured Italian, the language of the country they were living in, and Tunisian Arabic, the heritage language, without any active efforts to teach English to children. This shows that onward migration was not planned earlier and was only contemplated when the family naturalised and because of the consequences of the Italian economic crisis (cf. Della Puppa, 2018b; Mapril, 2021).

16Other studies on onward migration confirm this lack of linguistic preparation among families who decide to migrate to the UK with few exceptions that are not related to a family project of onward migration, but rather with strategies to provide children with a future transnational education and career. Ahrens et al. (2016), discussing the studies of Swedish-Iranians and German-Nigerians migrating onward to the UK, found that several parents had sent their children to British international schools to learn English while still living in Sweden and Germany, to provide them with the skills to either study or work internationally. Mapril (2021) reported of a similar attitude among Bangladeshi families in Portugal.

17Once in the UK, Samira’s parents had to start learning English from scratch in order to access the job market and engage with life in the new country, but as Samira stresses her father still struggles to speak English. Her father’s situation echoes the idea of parents’ new sacrifices in onward migration which represent a form of upward mobility for the children, granting them with access to educational capital in English and life in the UK, but downward mobility for the parents who struggle with a new language and less secure jobs (Mapril, 2021).

18In the last 4 lines of extract 2, Samira says that within the family they tend to mix the languages of their repertoire. In this article, we will not focus on code-switching in conversations within the family domains, as this study focused on participants’ declared use of languages and attitudes towards them. In her study on Italian-Moroccans in France, Villa-Perez (2021) provides a discussion on her participants’ use of languages, but also on examples of code-switching and lexical creations due to contact between the languages of their linguistic repertoire.

19In extract 3, Safaa, an Italian-Moroccan who arrived in the UK one year prior the interview with her parents and her younger siblings, explains that she is the most fluent in English and has to help her parents in communicative situations outside the home domain. They also, like Samira’s family, did not study English in preparation for their onward migration.

Extract 3

Int: Before coming to England, did you speak English?

Safaa: Well, my family no, I on the other hand having studied it for year, I did not study before coming here […]

Int: And now that you are in England how did the use of languages change?

Safaa: Well, at home we go on with a mix of Italian and Arabic, my mother has not yet studied English, she is waiting for my father to settle a bit more […] if there are things like going to the doctor, I need to be always with them otherwise they are not able to answer, also even if they do not have the language, they manage to do the food shopping easily.

20Safaa’s description of the use of languages within the family provides a picture of the initial stage of life in the UK with only Italian and Moroccan Arabic being used at home and English still being the outsiders’ language. Safaa’s father is learning English, while her mother has not yet had the chance to enrol in a language class. In onward migration, children, particularly the eldest, are those who have some knowledge of English because they may have studied it in school in Italy (“like medie in Italia”) or they have improved it once enrolled in the British education system. However, as Samira explained in extract 4, her knowledge of English at the beginning was only based on what she learned in secondary school, not enough to be prepared to life in the UK (cf. Goglia, 2021a).

Extract 4

Samira: So, we would still kinda like… we didn’t really have the understanding of us moving because we were still speaking the same languages we were speaking before and we would kinda be forced to speak English in the shops, but with that basic knowledge of English that I’ve had from like medie in Italia che like… it’s not an English you really can like live here with in the UK… ehm… but then when of course I started school, like at the beginning of course like I found it hard with English and stuff even though I actually loved English when I was back in Italy but as I said it is very different when you actually have to speak it every day.

21Two participants explained that their parents decided to go back to Italy after a short period in the UK. This is the case of Zara’s family. Zara, a female Italian-Moroccan, arrived in the UK two years prior the interview. She is a university student in the UK. In extract 5, Zara explained that her parents had job security in Italy so they decided not to stay in the UK in the end.

Extract 5

Zara: Look, my parents did not come here because my mother has a permanent job and she cannot simply… in Italy as you know it is difficult to have a permanent contract so my mother has this fear of not finding a job here [...] I moved because I wanted to study, they instead told me you go and see how it goes, they came here and since my parents are old they did not feel comfortable with the language, this is the main reason why they did not move

22In onward migration, it is not uncommon that different members of the family migrate at different times or return to the country of first migration (Goglia, 2021a).

Maintenance of Italian

23As explained in the methodology section, all participants migrated to the UK after a long period of life in Italy and speak Italian as their L1; their parents migrated to Italy during the 1990s and speak Italian as their L2. As we have seen in the previous section, in the UK, Italian and Tunisian/Moroccan Arabic are still used within the family domain. In extract 6, Nadia, a female Italian-Tunisian who came to the UK 5 years prior the interview, explained how her little sister is already shifting to English as they came to the UK when she was very young. Nadia defines her sister ‘a proper British DOC’ using the Italian form ‘DOC’ originally used to label the geographical origin of wines, but today widely used in colloquial Italian to express the meaning of real/proper. Communication with her parents continue to be in Italian and Tunisian Arabic.

Extract 6

Int: Which languages do you speak at home?

Nadia: Well, it has always been a mixture but also here at home they think I am the most Italianised because I am always speaking Italian, but like my little sister because she came here …I do not remember at what age…but now she is 14…but she speaks very good English like a proper British DOC let’s say, so with me she speaks English, but she wants me to speak to her in Italian so she can improve her Italian and she can practice it more. With my parents I speak both Arabic and Italian, then as for English I speak it with her outside…but yes there is always this mixture still.

24Younger siblings learn English easily and tend to forget Italian, while elder siblings as the participants in this study migrated as teenagers or at a later age, so tend to maintain Italian better. Nadia stressed that she is the most fluent in Italian (I am the most Italianised) and helps her little sister to maintain Italian. The extract exemplifies a typical situation in families who have migrated onward: the elder siblings act as agents of Italian language maintenance for their younger siblings (Goglia, 2021b; 2021c). This is completely different from contexts of traditional Italian migration in which parents and grandparents played a key role in the maintenance of Italian within the families (Rubino, 2014; Pauwels, 2016).

25Participants in this study maintain their Italian also in interactions with their friends who may be Italian speakers and have also undergone the process of onward migration from Italy. In extract 7, Samira said she speaks Italian with other Italian-Tunisians who migrated from Italy with whom she can also share Tunisian Arabic and English. The friendship domain, which is often regarded as less important than the family domain in the literature on heritage language maintenance, becomes key to language maintenance among the second generation of families who have migrated onward (cf. Winter and Pauwels, 2006; Goglia, 2021b).

Extract 7

Int: Apart from your family members do you speak Italian with anyone else? Do you have Italian friends around you?

Samira: Yes. I actually have like two friends here that speak Italian and again they moved back from Italy to the UK and to London and then I also have actually this group of friends which is Tunisian Italian so exactly the same as me, they grew up in Italy and then they moved here. Actually they moved here for university; so they moved here slightly later in their educational life, but they speak as well a mixture of Tunisian and Italian and English. So I speak to them in Italian and then again I speak to like some of my siblings in Italian. So I still speak Italian with like friends basically and sometimes like said as well like my parents now we speak Italian more at home than we used to when we were in Italy.

26Samira perceives that she speaks more Italian at home with her parents than in Italy. As we have seen in extract 2, in Italy, Tunisian Arabic was the main language used at home and Italian was spoken outside, while in the UK, Italian joins Tunisian Arabic as heritage language and is used in the family domain. In her study on Italian-Moroccans in France, Villa-Perez (2021) also found that Italian was maintained within the family together with Moroccan Arabic, however her participants, also members of the second generation, declared to be more proficient in Italian than in Moroccan Arabic.

27Italian is also a widely taught foreign language in the UK and this also contributes to the maintenance of Italian among the second generation. In extract 8, Nadia explained that she did sit the Italian exam in the college.

Extract 8

Int: Have you studied Italian in England?

Nadia: Yes, then when I came I went to the college and I did Psychology, French, GCSE English and Mathematics, then I also did Italian…and Italian I did it without any support because we did not have…because my town was small…there were no Italian classes, there was any teacher, so you did prepare for the exam, so they would tell you look there will be the oral exam, choose the topic and do it, then for the exam itself you prepared it, but you did not know the questions…

28This has also been observed in other families with different ethnic backgrounds who have migrated onward from Italy to the UK, among other Italian-Nigerians (Goglia, 2021b) and Italian-Bangladeshis (Goglia, 2021c). In most cases, as in Nadia’s case, schools cannot offer the teaching of Italian, but encourage students of families who have migrated onward to sit these exams.

Maintenance of Tunisian/Moroccan Arabic

29All participants stated that Tunisian and Moroccan Arabic were used within the family together with Italian in Italy (cf extract 2). In extract 9, Samira, who was born in Tunisia and migrated to Italy with her family at a very young age, explained that she grew up speaking Tunisian Arabic in Tunisia and once in Italy her mother, an Arabic teacher, taught her and her siblings Arabic. As other participants Samira also went to Arabic classes outside the official school curriculum.

Extract 9

Samira: I grew up with Arabic. So Italian was kind of like it was a second language, even though later on I felt like it wasn’t a second language for me anymore but it was a first language because I was more comfortable speaking it and writing it and reading everything like that. But yeah, I grew up with Arabic being my first language and my mom then emphasised it even more when we moved to Italy and she was actually an Arabic teacher in Tunisia. So, she would actually like give me lessons literally like every weekend when I was in Italy and then we even went to like Arabic schools in Italy, ehm… just to kinda emphasise the writing and reading and I can now write and read Arabic.

30In Samira’s case, the maintenance of Arabic was favoured by her family language policy, but also by the availability of Arabic language classes. The Tunisian and Moroccan communities in Italy are very large and children of Tunisian and Moroccan families have plenty of opportunities to learn or practice Arabic in Mosques, associations, and community groups. Furthermore, the link between the Arabic language and the Islam also contributes to the maintenance of such language (Pauwels, 2016). In extract 9, Layla, a female Italian-Tunisian who came to the UK to join her siblings 5 years prior the interview, confirmed the use of Tunisian Arabic and Italian within the family in Italy. According to Layla, the use of Italian by her parents increased with the years of stay in Italy, but Italian was her preferred code in communication with her siblings. A clear clue that she and her siblings were undergoing language shift towards Italian.

Extract 10

Layla: With my parents since we were little we used to speak both Tunisian and Italian and very mixed actually, because first with my oldest sister for example they were speaking more Tunisian only, but just because they were still not integrated as much as when I was born for example and my little sister was born, so when they started speaking more Italian as well like at work, they started using it as well at home, so my parents used to speak Italian and Tunisian as well […] but with my sisters I used to speak more Italian.

31As we have seen in the previous sections, once in the UK, both Italian and Tunisian/Moroccan Arabic are maintained within the family domains. Italian-Tunisians and Italian-Moroccans in the UK, do not join large co-ethnic communities as it is the case for other onward-migrating groups. For example, Italian-Ghanaians become part of large British-Ghanaian community (Goglia, 2021a) and Italian-Moroccans join a large French-Moroccan community in France (Villa-Perez, 2021). The network of Tunisians and Moroccans may be very restricted, but it is still possible for participants to have friends with a similar linguistic and migratory experience. Recall, Samira in extract 7, explaining that she has a small group of friends with whom she may speak in Tunisian Arabic and Italian.

32In extract 11, Zara, a female Italian-Moroccan who came to the UK two years prior the interview and lives in London, explained that in the UK in communicative domains outside home, her linguistic repertoire has expanded including English and French, but also Arabic. However, since she meets speakers of different varieties of Arabic, she has to adjust her Moroccan variety to speakers who speak ‘Arabic Arabic’, a variety she perceives as more prestigious than Moroccan Arabic.

Extract 11

Zara: In Italy, I have never spoken English or French to be honest, in Italy I have always used Italian or for my parents Moroccan, or with my friends because the network of friends was nearly all Moroccans, so we spoke Moroccan, anyway Moroccan is a dialect taken from Arabic, so nothing when I came here, since you meet people from all nationalities, it can be you meet someone and you speak in French, you speak with British people in English, at work for example […] it happens you meet Italians and you speak Italian, we go back to our roots, and I also speak Arabic Arabic that I…for me it is still a bit complicated, because I …as I told you, Moroccan is a dialect of Arabic […] so I still struggle to understand for example Egyptian people who speak Arabic Arabic.

33Zara’s case represents an interesting example of how several linguistic resources are mobilised and repurposed. She uses both her heritage languages, Italian and Moroccan Arabic, to socialise with interlocutors outside the family domain. The variety of Arabic she speaks represents linguistic capital as it is a variety of an international lingua franca. This is different from other onward-migrating families who have more regional languages as their heritage languages. Italian-Nigerians in the UK, for example, perceive Italian as linguistic capital for the future of their children, while regard Nigerian languages only as community and heritage languages, not as linguistic capital (Goglia, 2021b).


34Onward migration to the UK has been studied so far mainly from a sociological and anthropological perspective and only recently sociolinguists have started looking at the implications of onward migration on language use and language maintenance. In this article, we have discussed the effects of onward migration to the UK in the linguistic repertoires of Italian-Moroccan and Italian-Tunisian families. Parents of these families migrated to Italy in the 1990s while their children were either born in Italy or arrived when very young. The acquisition of the Italian citizenship provides these families with the option of migrate onward, traditionally to France and Belgium due to shared linguistic and family links. The small number of Italian-Moroccans and Italian-Tunisians in the UK is still understudied and offered an excellent case study for the restructuring of linguistic repertoire as these groups do not find large Moroccan and Tunisian communities in the UK and do not have English in their family linguistic repertoires (cf. Goglia, 2021b; 2021c). This study focused on the reported experience and use of languages of children of these families, providing a new perspective on the process of onward migration since, so far, research has focused on the views of the first-generation adult migrants or parents of onward-migrating families.

35The first research question concerned the role of English in the onward migration process. All participants mentioned the English language and a better future as the main pull factor prompting their families to migrate to the UK. However, English is not part of the linguistic repertoire of such families. Participants reported that at the time of onward migration they only had some school knowledge of English, perceived as inadequate for life in the UK, while their parents had no or very little knowledge. In line with other studies on onward migration, this study showed that there was no linguistic preparation for the onward migration which was not planned in advance, but became an available option after naturalisation. The challenge of learning English that parents have to face is even tougher than for other English-speaking onward-migrating groups already studied such the Italian-Bangladeshis, the Italian-Nigerians or the Italian-Ghanaians (Goglia, 2021a, 2021b, 2021c). Elder siblings are the most fluent in English, so particularly at the very beginning, have to assist their parents in communicative situations outside the home domain.

36The second research questions concerned the maintenance of Italian in the UK. The interviews reveal that Italian is still used together with Arabic in the family domain, often mixed with Arabic. The knowledge and use of Italian depend on the age at the time of arrival, and as already observed in other onward-migrating groups, the elder siblings are the main agents of maintenance of the Italian language, differently from other kinds of migrations (cf. Pauwels, 2016). Italian is also reported to be maintained in the friendship domain with other Italians or through transnational links with Italy. Italian is also widely studied as a foreign language in the UK, so some participants took exams in Italian or are taking Italian as part of their university degree (cf. Goglia, 2021b; 2021c).

37The third research question focused on the maintenance of Moroccan/Tunisian Arabic. Our findings showed that Moroccan/Tunisian Arabic are still used in the family domain together with Italian, particularly in interactions with parents (cf. Villa-Perez, 2021), while English and Italian are more used in communication among siblings. The declared use of Moroccan/Tunisian Arabic by the participants varied according to the language policies of their families. Arabic is mainly maintained within the family domain in communications with parents, but some participants reported of using their variety of Arabic with friends who are speakers of other varieties of Arabic.

38This study provided the very first insights into language use among Italian-Moroccans and Italian-Tunisian migrating to the UK where they represent a minority and cannot count on already established Moroccan and Tunisian communities as in more traditional migratory destinations such as France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. As sociolinguistic research on onward migration advances, more in-depth studies on the actual language practices and code-switching are needed, moving beyond the reported perceived use of languages (cf. Villa-Perez, 2021).

Haut de page


AHRENS Jill, KELLY Melissa, VAN LIEMPT Ilse, 2016, « Free Movement? The Onward Migration of EU Citizens Born in Somalia, Iran, and Nigeria », Population, Space and Place, n°22, p. 84-98.

AMORUSO Chiara, 2008, « Tunisians in Sicily and migration dynamics. Urban settings in comparison », dans Thomas Krefeld (dir.), Sprachen und Sprechen im städtischen Raum, Bern/New York, Peter Lang, p. 127-144.

BLOMMAERT Jan, 2010, The Sociolinguistics of Globalisation, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

BLOMMAERT Jan, BACKUS Ad, 2013, « Superdiverse repertoires and the individual », dans Ingrid de Saint-Georges, Jean-Jacques Weber (dirs.), Multilingualism and Multimodality: Current Challenges for Educational Studies, Rotterdam: Sense Publishers, p. 11-30.

BLOMMAERT Jan, DONG Jie, 2010, « Language and movement in space », dans Coupland Nikolas (dir.), The Handbook of Language and Globalisation, Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, p. 366-85.

BLOMMAERT Jan, COLLINS James, SLEMBROUK Stef, 2005, « Spaces of multilingualism », Language and Communication, n°25, pp. 197-216.

BOURDIEU Pierre, 1986, Questions de Sociologies, Paris, Les Éditions de Minuit.

DE FINA Anna, 2011, « Researcher and informant roles in narrative interactions: Constructions of belonging and foreign-ness », Language in Society, n°40, p. 27-38.

DE FINA Anna, PERRINO Sabina, 2011, « Introduction: Interviews vs. “natural” contexts: A false dilemma », Language in Society, n°40, pp. 1-11.

DELLA PUPPA Francesco, 2018a, « Nuovi italiani attraverso l’Europa. Cittadini globali, stratificazioni civiche e percorsi di mobilità sociale in tempi di crisi », Sociologia Italiana, n°12, pp. 95-119.

DELLA PUPPA Francesco, 2018b, « Ambivalent Mobilities and Survival Strategies of Moroccan and Bangladeshi Families in Italy in Times of Crisis », Sociology, n° 52(3), pp. 464-479.

DELLA PUPPA Francesco, KING Russel, 2019, « The new ‘twice migrants’: Motivations, experiences and disillusionments of Italian-Bangladeshis relocating to London », Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, n°45, p. 1936-52.

ESSIYA Tahra, 2016, La nuova migrazione deo “nuovi” italiani. Esperienze intergenerazionali nella famiglie italiane di origine marocchina in Francia e Belgio, Saarbrücken, Edizioni Accademiche italiane.

GOGLIA Francesco, 2018, « Code-switching and immigrant communities: the case of Italy », dans Wendy Ayres-Bennet, Janice Carruthers (dirs.), Manual of Romance Sociolinguistics, Berlin and Boston, Mouton De Gruyter, p. 702-723.

GOGLIA Francesco, 2021a, « Onward Migration from Italy to the UK: Reshaped Linguistic Repertoires and the Role of English », dans Christiane Meierkord, Edgar W. Schneider (dirs.), World Englishes at the Grassroots, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, p. 255-71.

GOGLIA Francesco, 2021b, « Migrazione secondaria e repertori linguistici complessi: il caso degli italo-nigeriani in Inghilterra », dans Sabrina Machetti, Maria Elena Favilla (dirs.), Lingue in contatto e linguistica applicata: individui e società, Studi AITLA, Milano, Officinaventuno, p. 185-198.

GOGLIA Francesco, 2021c, « Italian-Bangladeshis in London: Onward Migration and Its Effects on Their Linguistic Repertoire », Languages, n°6(3), [], consulté le 26.05.2022.

GOGLIA Francesco, WOLNY Matthias, 2022, Italo-Romance dialects in the linguistic repertoires of immigrants in Italy, London, Palgrave Macmillan.

ISTAT, 2019, « Indagine conoscitiva in materia di politiche dell’immigrazione, diritto d’asilo e gestione dei flussi migratori », [] consulté le 26.03.2022.

ISTAT, 2021, « Stranieri residenti al 1° gennaio – Cittadinanza » [] consulté le 26.03.2022.

JOLIVET Dominique, 2020, « Post-2008 multi-sited household practices: between Morocco, Spain and Norway », International Migration, n°58(1), p. 45-60.

KELLY Melissa, HEDMAN Lina, 2016, « Between Opportunity and Constraint: Understanding the Onward Migration of Highly Educated Iranian Refugees from Sweden », International Migration and Integration, n°17, p. 649-67.

LA COMUNITÀ MAROCCHINA IN ITALIA, 2020, Rapporto annuale sulla presenza dei migranti, 2020, Ministero del Lavoro e delle Politiche sociali, [] consulté le 01.06.2022.

LA COMUNITÀ TUNISINA IN ITALIA, 2020, Rapporto annuale sulla presenza dei migranti. 2020. Ministero del Lavoro e delle Politiche sociali, [] consulté le 01.06.2022.

LICARI Francesca, ROTTINO Fabio Massimo, 2019, « L’emigrazione dei “nuovi” cittadini italiani », dans Delfina Licata (dir.), Rapporto Italiani nel Mondo 2019, Todi, Editrice Tau, p. 35-42.

LINDLEY Anna, VAN HEAR Nicholas, 2007, « New Europeans on the Move: A Preliminary Review on the Onward Migration of Refugees within the European Union », COMPAS Working Paper, n°57 [] consulté le 01.06.2022.

MAPRIL José, 2021, « Placing the future: Onward migration, education and citizenship among Portuguese-Bangladeshi in London », International Migration, n°59, p. 109-127.

MAR-MOLINERO Clare, PAFFEY Darren, 2018, « Transnational migration and language practices: The impact on Spanish-speaking migrants », dans Wendy Ayres-Bennet, Janice Carruthers (dirs.), Manual of Romance Sociolinguistics, Berlin and Boston, Mouton De Gruyter, pp. 745-767.

MÁRQUEZ REITER Rosina, MARTÍN ROJO Luisa, 2015, « The Dynamics of (Im)Mobility: (In)Transient Capitals and Linguistics Ideologies among Latin American Migrants in London and Madrid », dans Rosina Márquez, Luisa Martín Rojo (dirs.), A Sociolinguistics of Diaspora: Latino Practices, Identities, and Ideologies, New York and London, Routledge, p. 83-101.

MAS GIRALT Rosa, 2017, « Onward Migration as Coping Strategy? Latin Americans Moving from Spain to the UK Post-2008 », Population, Space and Place, n°23, [] consulté le 01.06.2022.

MCGARRIGLE Jennifer, ASCENSÃO Eduardo, 2018, « Emplaced Mobilities: Lisbon as a Translocality in the Migration Journeys of Punjabi Sikhs to Europe », Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, n°44, p. 809-28.

MORI Laura, 2007, Fonetica dell’italiano L2. Un’indagine sperimentale sulla variazione nell’interlingua dei marocchini, Roma, Carocci.

PAUWELS Anne, 2016, Language Maintenance and Shift, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

PAVLENKO Anita, 2007, « Autobiographical narratives as data in applied linguistics », Applied Linguistics, n°28, p. 163-88.

RAMOS Cristina, 2018, « Onward Migration from Spain to London in Times of Crisis: The Importance of Life-Course Junctures in Secondary Migration », Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, n°44, pp. 1841-1857.

RUBINO Antonia, 2014, Trilingual Talk in Sicilian-Australian Migrant Families, London, Palgrave Macmillan.

SANKARAN Lavanya, 2021, « “Talk in Tamil!” – Does Sri Lankan Tamil onward migration from Europe influence Tamil language maintenance in the UK? », International Journal of the Sociology of Language, n°269, p. 123-149.

TOVARES Alla V., KAMWANGAMALU Nkonko, 2017, « Migration trajectories: Implications for language proficiencies and identities », dans Suresh Canagarajah (dir.) The Routledge Handbook of Migration and Language, London and New York, Routledge, p. 207-27.

VAN LIEMPT Ilse, 2011, « From Dutch Dispersal to Ethnic Enclaves in the UK: The Relationship between Segregation and Integration Examined through the Eyes of Somalis », Urban Studies Journal, n°48, p. 3385-98.

VILLA-PEREZ Valeria, 2021, « Répertoire sociolinguistique, expérience biographique et parcons de plurimobilité : des notions imbriquées ? », Cahiers Internationaux de Sociolinguisticque, n°19, p. 101-126,

WINTER Jo, PAUWELS Anne, 2006, « Language Maintenance in Friendships: Second-Generation German, Greek, and Vietnamese Migrants », International Journal of the Sociology of Language, n°180, p. 123-39.

Haut de page


1 Cf. La comunità marocchina in Italia, 2020; La comunità tunisina in Italia, 2020.

1 The research was funded by the Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship ‘Onward migration from Italy to the UK: sociolinguistic implications’ 2019.

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Francesco Goglia, « Italian-Tunisians and Italian-Moroccans in the UK: onward migration and reshaped linguistic repertoires »Glottopol [En ligne], 37 | 2022, mis en ligne le 01 juillet 2022, consulté le 20 avril 2024. URL : ; DOI :

Haut de page


Francesco Goglia

Francesco Goglia est maitre de conférences de migration et multilinguisme au Département de langues et cultures modernes de l'Université d'Exeter. Ses recherches portent sur le multilinguisme, le maintien et le changement de langue, et le contact linguistique dans les communautés d'immigrants, en particulier en Italie, au Royaume-Uni, au Timor oriental et en Australie. Ses recherches actuelles, soutenues par le Leverhulme Trust, se concentrent sur le processus de migration de l'Italie vers le Royaume-Uni et ses implications sociolinguistiques.

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur


Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

Haut de page
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search