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Metodologia sobre la recerca sociolingüística

The sociolinguistics of variation: a methodological approximation (Part II), by Miquel Àngel Pradilla


2.1. Stratification of the population

Marcellesi and Gardin (1974 [1978:15-18]) define the category of social group in terms of "real but partial collective units, based on a common linguistic activity". A compartmentalisation of society can be attempted using this definition. Before we go any further, however, we must take into account the warnings of Turell (1988:105), who says that the linguistic emissions of an individual must be considered as representative of a social group to which he/she belongs – the idiolect has no meaning from a sociolinguistic point of view. He goes on to say that there are as many social groups as social variables, despite the delimitation of pure social groups being easy, as very often a series of variables come together within society at the same time. In short, we may agree with Romaine (1) (1980:195) that any segmentation of the social continuum is a response to simple degrees of abstraction for linguistic analysis.

The establishment of the social variables to be considered must be carried out according to a prior sociological characterisation of the speech community. The most frequently considered categories have been the classic ones of age and sex. The ever increasing tendency in our tradition - unlike that of North American socio-linguists – is to be dismissive of the category of social class – social level or status, socio-cultural factor (López Morales 1989:129-133), or socio-economic position (Moreno 1990:114), despite the good results it has provided. It is important to emphasise that this is a very controversial concept, which has not been defined with precision and the very existence of which is even in doubt. Moreover, its universal validity has been questioned insofar as it has been shown to be of no use for studying small communities or those with different patterns to the West. It must be remembered that North American stratification is notably different to that of the Mediterranean, to take just one example. Another argument against it has been the confirmation of different linguistic behaviour patterns within members of the same social class and even the same family (Cedergren 1987).

These objections have led sociolinguistic research towards the inclusion of parameters that can be delimited (occupation and educational level) on the one hand, and on the other, the production of new theoretical constructions. One of those which has been most successful has been the linguistic market, developed by Bourdiew and Boltanski in 1975 and adapted, in 1978, by D. Sankoff and S. Laberge. The central idea supposes that speech in certain professions shares some given traits as a result of the professional need for using a prestigious communicative tool. Logically, consideration of the occupation factor can provide us with details on this subject. Of course, this theoretical-methodological innovation is not problem-free. Among its shortcomings are the exclusion of retired people, the unemployed, students and housewives, groups which do not have a socio-professional status, and the static nature of the professional categorisation of those speakers with a highly variable employment record.

Despite the concept of native having no sociolinguistic meaning, when geolectal traits are investigated we feel that a social factor to be considered must, especially in urban areas, be region of origin (of the informants themselves, their parents and spouses).

Finally, we would like to comment on the inclusion of a factor related to the informant’s knowledge of prescriptive language, taking note of the recent entry of Catalan into education, in some works in the Catalan sociolinguistic tradition.

Pradilla’s social variables (1993a):

1. Sex

1.1 Man
1.2 Woman

2. Age

2.1 16-24
2.2 25-34
2.3 35-44
2.4 45-54
2.5 55-70

3. Informant’s region of origin

3.1 Benicarló
3.2 Segregated yod area
3.3 Area of frication
3.4 Voiced prepalatal fricative area
3.5 Voiceless prepalatal fricative area
3.6 Spanish-speaking area

4. Father’s region of origin (3)

5. Mother’s region of origin (3)

6. Spouse’s region of origin (3)

7. Occupation

7.1 Farmer
7.2 Fisherman
7.3 Industrial worker
7.4 Service industry worker
7.5 Technical professional
7.6 Housewife
7.7 Student
7.8 Retired

8. Educational level
8.1 No qualifications
8.2 Primary education
8.3 Secondary education
8.4 Higher education

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