Apocope in Heritage Italian

Apocope (deletion of word-final vowels) and word-final vowel reduction are hallmarks of southern Italian varieties. To investigate whether heritage speakers reproduce the complex variable patterns of these processes, we analyze spontaneous speech of three generations of heritage Calabrian Italian speakers and a homeland comparator sample. All occurrences (N = 2477) from a list of frequent polysyllabic words are extracted from 25 speakers’ interviews and analyzed via mixed effects models. Tested predictors include: vowel identity, phonological context, clausal position, lexical frequency, word length, gender, generation, ethnic orientation and age. Homeland and heritage speakers exhibit similar distributions of full, reduced and deleted forms, but there are inter-generational differences in the constraints governing the variation. Primarily linguistic factors condition the variation. Homeland variation in reduction shows sensitivity to part of speech, while heritage speakers show sensitivity to segmental context and part of speech. Slightly different factors influence apocope, with suprasegmental factors and part of speech significant for homeland speakers, but only part of speech for heritage speakers. Surprisingly, for such a socially marked feature, few social factors are relevant. Factors influencing reduction and apocope are similar, suggesting the processes are related.