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Historical sociolinguistics: An alternative to the analysis of linguistic change,
by Antoni Mas i Miralles


This diatopic factor is addressed in Montoya (1986), a study of the different variables recorded in the trial transcripts from the texts from three districts in the Valencian Land: the Comtat d’Elda, the Vall de Novelda and the Horta d’Oriola. These are three counties situated on a north-south axis, thus enabling Montoya to trace Spanish (language) influence spreading northwards, for example in the verbal form ha-hi or the lexical elements llevar and sacar. On the other hand, when the innovations come from the main trunk of development, these expand from north to south, as happened with the preposition ab>en and the imperfect subjunctive ending às>ara. We find this same factor dealt with in Mas (1994) in the variational analysis of ecclesiastic documents of the modern era in Elx (Elche) compared with the same type of documents from Barcelona –the hypothetical medieval reference point– and from Valencia– the source of linguistic influence from the 16th century onward. In this way, we can observe the way in which the monophonemic variant of the prepalatal voiceless fricative phoneme // –represented graphically by an "x"– occurs with a higher probability of realisation in the documentation from Barcelona, at 0.703, followed by the Elx data, at 0.674, while the Valencia material scores 0.170.

3.3.2 The diachronic factor

For obvious reasons, historical documents are the best suited for the analysis of this factor. Even so, however, we need to be clear that the conditions for analysis of this factor are determined by the diachronic nature of the documents under study -that is to say, the date of each document will only give us an analysis in real time. Put another way, the possibility of an analysis in apparent time will only be possible if we find historical documentation written by various authors from different generations.

This factor is also considered in the two publications mentioned in the previous section. Firstly, Montoya (1986) divides documentation, mainly dating from the seventeenth century, into two halves: that which predates 1650 and that which post-dates it. In this wise Montoya is able to corroborate the appearance in the second half of the century of the variant sacar and the increase of the variant llevar over time. Secondly, Mas (1994) similarly analyses this factor using church documents that go from 1565 to 1740. He divides this (longer) period into three stages: the first extends from 1565, when the documentation began on the instance of the Council of Trent, until 1609, with the expulsion of the moors and the possible influx of many Spanish clergy. The second stage extends to 1707, a fateful year in Valencian history, and the third extends to 1740, the last year in which church documentation was written in Catalan. With the data divided into these three stages, we can see the evolution of certain variants such as the grapheme "x" for the prepalatal voiceless fricative, as it gives way over time to the competing grapheme variant "ix" as a result of the influence of Valencian, thus, it evolves from 0.934 to 0.510 and finally 0.063. A similar instance is the reinforced form of the definite article el, which increases on a continuum which goes from an initial 0.345, to 0.470 and finally to 0.681.

3.3.3 The diastratic factor

This factor has not yet been studied in any analysis of historical sociolinguistics. The nature of the documents, on the one hand, and the few studies carried out in this conceptual area, on the other, have impeded the study of the factor in this way. Yet analysis would be perfectly possible, for example using documents written by a given writer and drawing conclusions on the basis of the specific genre in question, or by comparing the output from writers from different social classes, such as clerks, notaries (commissioners for oaths) and chancellors.

3.3.4 The diaphasic factor

Unlike the preceding factor, this is far and away the element that has received the most research attention in this discipline. This as a result of the ease with which different styles and registers can be distinguished in historical written data. Right at the beginnings of this branch of sociolinguistics, Romaine (1982) already distinguished verse and prose text types, and within the latter she further distinguished national legal prose, local legal prose, literary prose and letter writing. Subsequently, Gimeno (1985), working with medieval documents from an epistolary in Alacant and one in Oriola, distinguished two types of legal documents, the originals and the transferred texts, as well as two types of contextual styles: chancery and municipal. In Catalan, Miralles (1980) defined the following styles in a study of the municipal archives of Montuïri and the legal proceedings: the legal-chancery style, epistolary- chancery style, narrative style, and colloquial style. Similarly working with legal proceedings but this time in Oriola and Elda in the Modern period, Montoya (1986) distinguishes four styles: style A is found in texts which contain the written declarations of the participants, style B relates to these same declarations collected by scribes, style C relates to judges' summing up and, lastly, style D relates to the stylised parts of the document. The separating out of registers in this way is also found in Mas (1994), a study of ecclesiastic documents from Elx which are then compared with the text of the Elx Mystery play, with the Council's administrative documents and with the colloquial style recorded in court proceedings. Lastly, there is Mas (2002), a study on stylistic variation in the different versions of the consueta of the Festa d’Elx / The Elx Mystery play. These styles are: firstly, the words in verse sung during the Assumption; secondly, the text of the scenographic details and, thirdly, the text in spontaneous style that we find in the historical appendices included in certain copies of the consueta.

4. Conclusions

Sociolinguistics provides us with a process of tracking linguistic change in the form of historical sociolinguistics, that is to say, the variationist analysis of written documents in diachronic terms. It is true that this area of sociolinguistics lacks a theoretical basis of its own, and exists as a subdivision of variationism, one might almost say an appendix. Notwithstanding, and despite the methodological drawbacks that rightly or wrongly have been assigned to it, plus the scant attention it has received from the scientific community, the efficacy of this model is not any the less for all that. It arose as a viable alternative within historical linguistics, for the study and description of language change in progress, and as an analytical process it has not been surpassed or replaced as yet by any other.

This state of affairs, together with the lack of publication on its theory and methodology to date, and the severe criticism from some sectors in the face of the innovations involved in introducing a new empirical model in the methodology of variationism –and which at times have even come from within sociolinguistics itself (Mas and Montoya, 2003), could well be the cause behind the slight repercussion that this area has had -both in the field of linguistic endeavour generally, and that of Catalan linguistics in particular. In our case, for example, we only have a tiny group at the University of Alacant –formed by B. Montoya and present writer. Under the tutelage of Francisco Gimeno, one of the precursors of historical sociolinguistics in the Spanish state, they have undertaken the few studies that we currently have for our language.

In summary: as formulated by Labov, historical sociolinguistics, with all its drawbacks, enables to understand contemporary language through the diachronic study of the language of earlier times. Also, it enables to reconstruct earlier stages of the language by drawing on analysis of the language of today. In short, then, it provides us with one more string to our bow, an approach to linguistic research from coordinates that are still totally applicable within a theoretical and epistemological framework based on the combined analysis of linguistic and social factors.

5. Bibliography

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GIMENO, F. "Hacia una sociolinguistics histórica", Estudios Lingüísticos de la Universidad de Alicante. [Alacant] (1983), no. 1, p. 181-226.

GIMENO, F. "De sociolinguística histórica: Tradición grafemática y variable fonològica", BAPLE [San Juan] (1983b), 11, 2, p. 71-86.

GIMENO, F. Dialectología y sociolingüística españolas, UA, [Alacant] (1991).

GIMENO, F. Sociolingüística històrica (siglos X-XII), Visor Libros/UA, [Madrid] (1995).

LABOV, W. Modelos sociolingüísticos, Ed. Cátedra, [Madrid] (1983).

MARTÍ, J. "Producció escrita i producció oral", Caplletra-6, [Barcelona] (1989), p. 21-35.

MAS, A. La substitució lingüística del català (L’administració eclesiàstica d’Elx en l’edat moderna), Diputació d’Alacant, [Alcoi] (1994).

MAS, A. La variació lingüística en la consueta de la Festa d’Elx, Ed. Denes, [València] (2002).

MAS, A and MONTOYA, B. "Sociolingüística de la variació: estat de la qüestió", Caplletra-27, in press.

MIRALLES, J. "Sobre l’ús lingüístic en les viles medievals mallorquines. Els llibres de Cort Reial", Actes del V Col·loqui de l’AILLC, [Barcelona] (1980), p. 535-569.

MONTOYA, B, Variació i desplaçament de llengües a Elda i Oriola durant l'edat moderna, Institut d'Estudis Juan Gil-Albert, [Alacant] (1986).

MONTOYA, B. Els alacantins catalanoparlants. Una generació interrompuda. IEC, [Barcelona] (2000).

MORENO, F. Principios de sociolingüística y sociología del lenguaje, Ed. Ariel, [Barcelona] (1998).

SILVA-CORVALÁN, C. Sociolingüística. Teoría y análisis, Ed. Alhambra, [Madrid] (1988).

TURELL, M. La sociolingüística de la variació, PPU, [Barcelona] (1995).

VIAPLANA, J. Dialectologia, Col. Biblioteca Lingüística Catalana, UV, [València] (1996).

WEINREICH, U., LABOV, W. and HERZOG, M. I. "Empirical Foundations for a Theory of Language Change", LEHMAN, W. P., and Y. MALKIEL (ed.), Italian translation (2001).

Antoni Mas i Miralles
University of Alacant

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