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Autumn 2003

Representation of variation in the ambit of the Catalan language. Transfers and transactions, by Miquel Àngel Pradilla

In the transition from an autonomous type of linguistics, that is, concerned exclusively on the analysis of the structure of languages, to linguistics which programmatically takes into account interaction between linguistic variables and sociopragmatic variables, a goodly number of theoretical and methodological approaches have seen the light of day. This article sets out to evaluate, from an integrative perspective, the four main priority areas in the analysis of linguistic diversity: the sociolinguistic, pragmatic, historical and geolinguistic ones. At the same time, the work has been conceived as a framework for the different articles that make up this monographic edition of Noves SL, coordinated by the writer.


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1. The "socialisation" of linguistics. A long road to travel

2. Sociolinguistics. Towards the emergence of paradigmatic status
3. The study of linguistic variation
3.1 A multidimensional approach
3.2 The sociolinguistic vertex
3.3 The pragmatic vertex
3.4 The historical vertex
3.5 The geolinguistic vertex

4. Corollary

5. Bibliography


1. The "socialisation" of linguistics. A long road to travel

"Shutting their eyes to a large number of real complexities, has made it possible for the specialists, from the founding fathers of our science, down to the functionalists and structuralists of today, to have abstracted a certain number of basic problems, to have presented perfect solutions within the hypothetical framework. In general they have achieved, perhaps for the first time, a degree of rigour in the activity of the human psyche.

Linguists will always have to return, sporadically, to this programmatic supposition. It should be noted, however, that a linguistic community is never homogeneous and hardly even independent, on occasions. The dialectologists have pointed out that linguistic cells are permeable, and have shown linguistic change extends through space like a wave. But it still has to be underlined that linguistic diversity starts at our neighbour's door, or better yet, at home, right where we are."
Martinet (1953 [1996]: 17)

The ever present nature of language in the life of human beings, and the fact that, as S. Serrano (1993) says, "what is beyond language is unthinkable" necessarily leads us to consider that, from a contemporary perspective, all that could refer to it cannot remain outside the area of interest of linguists. And similarly, if we take a stroll through the history of linguistics, we will come to realise that this has not exactly been the case. On the contrary, consideration of language use as a licit object of study has been sadly neglected, if not actually banished, from the concerns both of traditional linguistics and its modern counterpart. At the same time, as a consequence or outcome of this neglect, the variability which language shows, has -- either for reasons of methodological operationality, or theoretical positions decided by study in abstracto-- been presented as a sort of nuisance impossible to grapple with and, in the best of cases, of only secondary interest.

With the publication in 1916 of the Cours de linguistique générale, the basic principles of Saussurian linguistics were established. For the teacher from Geneva, the object of study of his choice had to be langue -the supra-individual and conventional sign system- to the detriment of parole -the latter being specific and current. This taxonomy led to the hierarchy of two linguistics: a) the Internal linguistics associated with langue- given priority by Saussure, who saw language as a system with its own separate structuring, and analysed the internal structure from a strictly synchronic viewpoint; and b) the external linguistics -the linguistics of the parole-, of secondary importance and which relegated historical linguistics and language geography to marginal status. In short, Saussurian linguistics considered languages as monolithic entities, homogeneous and, if not independent, at least essentially autonomous.

In 1933, Leonard Bloomfield, in his Language, restricted linguistic study even more, reducing it to a mere formalist descriptivism where the semantic content of the sign and even to an extent its function, were left out of the picture by this "anti-mentalist" approach. Later, L. Hjelmslev's Glossematics a linguistic theory formulated in 1943, would put linguistics into an even tighter straitjacket, reducing it to the relations between the forms that make up the linguistic system.

Lastly, we obviously have to mention Noam Chomsky: Syntactic Structures (1957) outlines the theoretic principles of transformational-generational grammar. As is well-known, Chomsky argued for an approach that restricts itself to study of an "ideal speaker-listener", with the consequent marginalisation or banishing of linguistic performance.

What emerges clearly, therefore, is that both the structuralist and the generative paradigms, with their considerable impact on the scientific research of the 20th century, consider language as a system that works according to grammatical rules of an internal nature. Despite the general agreement that this is so, as far as it goes, it would be quite wrong to ignore the fact that the study of language in its sociocultural context furnishes very useful, authentic material, derived from the world of sociolinguistics. The words of Martinet, an outstanding structuralist linguistics whom we quote above, will serve as the vantagepoint for us, on a change of perspective that was beginning to be discerned. In this respect, M. Cohen (1956) reviewed treatment of external linguistics in strict collaboration (in many instances) with sociology, ethnography and anthropology, and Dell Hymes (1964: 3-14) provided a very interesting overview, in which he outlined three great traditions: a) The English tradition, which sees the relations between language and other aspects of the culture as an interdependence of constituent factors consisting of social events and acts.

Language is seen above all as a social activity: its inclusion in an extralinguistic context as a necessary part of its characterisation or description. In terms of language use in communicative processes, it is its control or influence on the rest that is considered. Leading names in this tradition are Malinowsky, Gardiner and Firth; b) the French tradition, which sees language as one thing, while cultural and social aspects are another, like two parallel systems or two products of collective psychology with mutual congruence. Language is considered to be common social heritage the primary function of which is functional, in that it distinguishes or expresses signifiés. Names in this tradition include Meillet, Cohen, Sommerfelt, Benveniste and Levi-Strauss; and lastly c) The North-American tradition, characterised by the attention to fieldwork and interest in the origin and significance of linguistic categories. The doyens of this tradition are Boas, Sapir and Bloomfield -although whether the latter should be included is certainly debatable. (1)

It was precisely when linguists attempted to go beyond the strict limits imposed upon itself by the discipline, when they began to be interested in the study of relationships between systems, patterns of language use and social facts, that a whole series of new disciplines began to emerge such as anthropological linguistics, ethnolinguistics, social psychology, the sociology of language and sociolinguistics. According to Shuy and Fasold (1972:1-14), the peremptory need to consider social aspects of languages results from three things: a) the desire to find a solid empirical base for linguistic theory; b) the conviction that social factors influencing patterns of use constitute a legitimate topic of research within the field of linguistic research; and c) response to the increasing concern that such sociolinguistic knowledge should be applied to urgent educational problems.

It is was within this framework, initially dominated by sociologists, anthropologists and psychologists with rudimentary knowledge concerning language, that little by little the first research began to appear carried by those who were purely or primarily linguists. At this point, sociolinguistics would add a new component to the linguistic tradition we have just been outlining, a new dimension: language as a manifestation of human behaviour, understood as a richer, more complex resource for communication, accumulated and controlled by the mind of Man, to be used to manage the forms of social and cultural organisation that there are in human societies (Lavandera 1984: 156).

In the field of Catalan linguistics, the impact of the general process described here in summary, is especially clearly seen in the thinking arising out of the annual colloquia at the Universitat de Barcelona (CLUB), under the auspices of the thematic network "Linguistic variation: dialectology, sociolinguistics and pragmatics". As I see it. in these forums a kind of interdisciplinary understanding has emerged, where linguistic diversity as an object of study has overcome the rigid formalist orthodoxy which blocked its path, the latter based on the theoretical dictates of the structuralists and generativists. What we have witnessed, then, is the birth of a corpus linguistics, which goes beyond introspection and acceptability judgements as methodological tools, and engages with language data in all its rawness.. In this way, the study of variation has gained new practitioners, beyond the dialectologist and sociolinguistics traditions.

2. Sociolinguistics. Towards the emergence of paradigmatic status

"Paradoxically, while sociolinguistics has arisen out of interest in interlinguistic diversity, it has become consolidated as a discipline concerned with the analysis of intralinguistic diversity, the diversity within a given variety. The study of bilingual communities and the coming together of diverse languages in a single community has superceded, in some cases, the study of concurrent variants in a monolingual community, and one notes the functional. parallelism. It is in this second context that such key notions as "inherent variation" and "sociolinguistic variable" have been formulated –and which characterise not just the variationist approach but also the ethnographic. The paradox, however, is more formal than real, since what is invariable is the common interest for the community and for speech as a social fact." Argenter (1997: 20)

The importance accorded the social context –already clear, as we have said, in some instances in general linguistics- has since the mid sixties been steadily giving shape to an area of linguistics which shares common interests with sociology, anthropology, social psychology, ethnomethodology, pragmatics, discourse analysis, conversational analysis, text linguistics, and more. Despite opposition to the label sociolinguistics (2) expressed by William Labov, one of the central figures in this story, this term has gone from strength to strength when it came to putting a name to an area of knowledge which is profoundly interdisciplinary, but all set to become a paradigmatic area with its own autonomy. From this perspective, knowledge of a living language is considered more complete if it enables one to show not only the structural relations of the system, but also how it functions as a medium of social communication.

As J. Argenter has it in the quotation that forms the epigraph for this section, the emergence of sociolinguistics can be seen to be more closely linked to sociological than to linguistic focuses of interest, while as it became a fully fledged discipline the latter (the linguistic) became more important, more central than the former (the sociological). This ragbag category, which gathers in the research on linguistic phenomena in relation to social factors, that is, language in its sociocultural context, has been the object of many attempts to compartmentalise it. (3) All these attempts at conceptualisation have as their common denominator the distinction made between two main blocks: one has as its object the description of linguistic aspects of societies, while the other is interested in linguistic phenomena in relation to certain social variables. The pre-eminent object of study of the first is society, while that of the second is language.

Regarding this primary segmentation of sociolinguistics, probably the dichotomies that have most prospered are those conceived by Labov and by Fishman. Labov distinguishes between the wider sociolinguistics and sociolinguistics strictly defined. The first addresses issues related to patterns of language use, its functions and the communicative situation, and would include, if only marginally, the sociology of language as an interaction of social factors languages and/or dialects. The second of these divisions is concerned with the structure and evolution of language in the social context of a speech community. Fishman proposes a separation between macrosociolinguistics and microsociolinguistics, similar in conceptual scope –but in no way equivalent- to the wider and narrower senses, respectively, of the term sociolinguistics observed by Labov (Gimeno and Montoya 1989: 24). Little by little, not without its controversial aspects, it seems that a degree of consensus has taken shape among scholars, in viewing sociolinguistics as a discipline with two or three major directions to it: a) The sociology of language; b) The ethnography of speaking; and c) sociolinguistics strictly defined. While the first would monopolise Fishman's macro perspective, the other two would together make up the micro level of inquiry. (4)

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