Research goals

The main aim of the project is to draw an exhaustive picture of the Italian written by university students, including both formal and informal varieties, integrating the sociolinguistic and the typological perspectives. In this way it will be possible to carry out a scientifically sound analysis on the basis of real data, and consequently to plan educational actions aimed at strengthening the weakest skills of the students.

In detail, the project will cover the following areas.

Two steps will be preliminary and preparatory to the analysis of data:

a) we will carefully survey and then reorganize the literature on the topic, which is rich but not integrated into a homogeneous framework. This survey has two purposes:
i. to reconstruct the history of the studies on this topic and to draw a comprehensive picture of the situation which is still missing and which is a necessary premise to every implementation process.
ii. to list all the features which have been considered peculiar of university students’ Italian.

b) we will create a representative sample of the population, in order to investigate it according to the most significant sociolinguistic parameters.

Then, the following steps will be followed to collect data:

i. A questionnaire will be administered to the 3000 sample students, in order to obtain their linguistic biography and to correlate linguistic data with the most important parameters of the sociolinguistic analysis.
ii. A second questionnaire will be administered to the students in the sample, in order to evaluate the perception of the features that are indicated in the literature as peculiar of their linguistic production (we will present them with a set of sentences, including some of these features, and we will ask them for acceptability judgements).
iii. We will ask the students of the sample to produce a formal text.
iv. We will collect texts with instances of spontaneous, free, and informal writings of university students (these texts will be collected on social networks, with the crucial support of the students of the linguistic courses of the four research units, who will be involved in this research activity and in the analysis of the data).
v. We will collect formal and semiformal texts, including, for example, the draft versions of dissertations (that is, the versions not corrected by the supervisors), internship reports, cover letters for exchange programmes, etc.

All these texts will be collected and organised in an annotated and searchable corpus. For the corpus, we will resort to the same tools used to make up the corpus CORIS / CODIS (cf. This research product will be available to the scientific community at the end of the project.

The corpus built on the materials of point b will allow a research throughout the following areas:

- The linguistic analysis of data: the different kinds of texts collected for the project will allow us to have a wide overview of the language used by the university students and to single out (in a scientific, and not
merely intuitive way) the features that are peculiar of their linguistic productions. In this way we will be able to assess the differences of these linguistic uses from the standard variety of Italian.
- A typological analysis of data resulting from the previous linguistic analysis (this research area is widely neglected in the relevant literature, but it is potentially of great interest). We can wonder for example:
a) whether and in which ways the occurrence of features specific to the Italian of university students displays significant correlations; which and how many features are connected by an implicational relation, which allows the formulation of predictions on their co-occurrence; if it is possible to single out a deep tendency motivating such co-occurrence
b) to what extent the recent tendencies observed in the Italian of university students and in re-standardized Italian correspond to typological patterns in a wide cross-linguistic perspective; in other words, we will try to understand if Italian is assuming a shape which can be ascribed to a particular linguistic type and if it is following a path already travelled by other languages; and how much this path can be influenced by cross-linguistic contact.The comparison with spontaneous writing will be crucial to understand which tendencies of spontaneous writing (which is today replacing face-to-face exchanges) are actually moving into formal writing and how it affects the perception of register variation.
- A sociolinguistic analysis of data, aiming at identifying possible systematic connections between linguistic features recurring in the written texts of university students and the most important parameters of sociolinguistic analysis.
- From the point of view of linguistic educational actions, this project aims at elaborating strategies and tools specifically oriented to the phenomena that will be revealed by the collected data. In such a framework we will both create new tools, mainly in the e-learning mode, and update already available tools.

The project will also include, among its goals, a survey of access tests with an assessment of linguistic competences for BA (‘lauree triennali’) and MA (‘lauree magistrali’).