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Metodologia sobre la recerca sociolingüística

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


After the interaction had finished, it was necessary to take note of how the words Roja and metge had been pronounced, and attempt to describe the speaker using gender and age variables. The latter category was divided into three groups wide enough to minimise the risk of error – 15-34, 35-54 and over 55 years old.

3.2. The subjective evaluation trial

Individuals in a community identify the other members of the social structure by means of a number of behaviour patterns, among which are those in the linguistic field. Language is probably the most powerful social identifier in modern societies. Recognition of sociolects is therefore a reflection of the level of linguistic awareness of the speaker and the group (López Morales 1989:206).

C. Bierbach (1988:155) shows us the link between the concepts of linguistic behaviour and linguistic attitude as follows:

"We all know that not only do we use language as an instrument of communication and knowledge, to structure our relationships with the outside world and with ourselves, but also that – as a result of these very important functions – a language (especially "ours", but also others) symbolises certain values to each person, we have certain ideas and notions regarding it and we relate to it not only in an "instrumental" way but also cognitively and affectively, and even ideologically.

[...] These aspects, therefore, affect linguistic behaviour and it is for this reason that they are the object of sociolinguistic study, which is approached mainly through the concept of (linguistic) ATTITUDE."

The study of speakers’ attitudes within the framework of bilingual societies or those that use a non-standard geographical variety leads us directly to the inclusion of a new concept – that of prestige. In the same way that there are prestigious individuals or groups, we must also consider the existence of prestigious uses, independently of the speakers who generate them. However the problem will not be to confirm its existence, but rather to determine the parameters which define it. From the linguistic perspective, it has been related to correction, the norm, acceptability and suitability, according to the paradigm selected. From the sociolinguistic point of view, the approaches have also been varied. Ferguson (1959), when defining diglossia, attributes it to great variety. Labov (1972a:81,184,270 i 273) assigns to it the upper classes, and Trudgill (1972) theorises on hidden prestige, which is associated with linguistic uses that do not adapt to the norm.

As can be seen, studies on linguistic behaviour, attitudes and prestige are extremely important from the sociolinguistic perspective. In studies of linguistic variation, these works provide indispensable information for predicting the future direction of variable phenomena. The correct interpretation of variable rules depends to a large degree on the data obtained from these studies.

As far as gathering of this type of data is concerned, there are two types of techniques that may be used – direct and indirect. The first, very frequently used in theoretical linguistic analysis, consists of questioning the speaker regarding the grammaticality and/or acceptability of certain traits. It should be remembered that this procedure is viewed with suspicion by socio-linguists, as it is felt that these judgements, rather than reflecting the speaker’s linguistic competence, generally reflect their subjective attitude (Silva-Corvalán 1989:38). Although the importance of subjective evaluation is recognised, measuring it by means of indirect techniques, usually called tests due to their structure, is generally preferred.

The most famous are the following: a) the linguistic insecurity test (Labov 1966b:178-179; López Morales 1979), which aims to establish indices between what the speaker believes to be correct and the real use he/she makes of it, and b) the disguised voices test (Lambert’s Mached guise of 1967) (7), which aims to evaluate varieties or languages which co-exist in conflict within the same community, and c) the lexical availability test (López Morales 1979), which aims to quantify the differences in the basic lexical inventory between different layers.

In the work with which we have exemplified some of the techniques exposed, (Pradilla 1993a), the conflictive Spanish/Catalan situation – without forgetting the homemade Valencian/Catalan version -was determinant in the choice of an indirect subjective evaluation technique (8).

The case of Benicarló – and the entire North-Occidental Catalan area – is indeed complex, as access to Catalan by the mass media and teaching has modified the system of inter- and intra-linguistic relationships. This has led to the spread of prestigious models – the Canal 9 and TV3 television channels in audio-visual contexts and the "Valencian norm" (9) in teaching. The contrast between these models and the diatopic variety is made clear in the variable researched. In the face of the range of pronunciations recorded – with a dropped yod, voiced and partially voiceless prepalatal fricatives – the hypothesis of a possible action of norm and prestige could not be dismissed. As a consequence, the objectives of the subjective evaluation test were the following: a) to determine the degree of linguistic awareness in the community – or its groups according to ability to detect diatopic and diastratic distribution of the variable phenomenon under investigation; b) to inquire whether the linguistic variable under study showed an parameter and if so, establish the grading of variants; c) detect possible prejudices towards any of the variants (stereotypes) and d) evaluate, if necessary, the presence of hidden prestige.

These types of experiments should be carried out with great care, as it must be ensured that the evaluation is made according to the variable studied and not for other reasons.

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