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


As I see it , there are a number of points where the ethnography of speaking could bring some interesting improvements to variationist methodology. The securing of a greater balance between qualitative and quantitative analysis is a potential instance. On this point, I should like to point out, that while it is obvious that Labovian methodology places special emphasis on quantification, it is no less true that from its beginnings Labov employed various different methods of observation. The other major issue where the ethnography of speaking has much to tell us is in the subcategorisation of functional variation. Since stylistic variation occupies pride of place in pragmatics, variationism could profit from the accumulated experience in a host of different research. Despite the fact that segmentation of the stylistic continuum continues to generate many discussions, if any of the disciplines succeeded in approaching it in a reasonably acceptable way, it is surely pragmatics. Here at home, the research gathered together in the 1998 volume Oralment. Estudis de variació funcional, (Orally. Studies of functional variation) edited by L. Payrató, has to be considered as the most complete reference text.

It is no coincidence, therefore, that one of the participants, S. Romero should orientate her doctoral thesis (Romero, 2001) along the precise lines mentioned here. This work, taking pragmatics as its basis, shows how the use of the quantitative methods of sociolinguistics could pay a successful role in the analysis of a communicative situation as fixed as are the council plenary sessions (general meetings). This linguistic manifestation of the local government was characterised based on the table of components speech events put forward by Hymes (1962/1968: 110.124) and situational parameters for variation put forward by Biber (1994: 40-41). The article of this author has contributed to this monographic issue is a sample.

3.4 The historical vertex

The lack of interest in the historical perspective in the different paradigms of modern linguistics has been partially offset by the emergence of historical sociolinguistics. Ever since Labov correlated language variation and language change, in the sense that change presupposed prior variation, but not vice versa, interest in the description and explanation of language change in progress has once again found a place on research agendas.

As already mentioned in section 3.2, the bias to synchronism that variation studies took on from their outset was decisive in relegating historical sociolinguistics to second place. At this moment in time, here at home we have only B. Montoya and A. Mas working on historical aspects, with admirable perseverance, but the methodological approach that they adopt, centred on the study of the language of written texts, according to the now familiar parameters of linguistic and social variation, still tends to have relatively little impact. Notwithstanding, as A. Mas argues in the excellent synthesis which he offers us in this issue of Noves SL, "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 spoken language of today". (7)

Synchronic study of linguistic change, in contrast, has occupied pride of place in variation studies. The concept of "apparent time" has flourished, constituting as it does, a notable epistemological novelty in an area where the diachronic perspective has traditionally ruled the day. It consists in giving maximum priority to one of the social variables through which variation shows its systematic nature: study the pattern of change that defines the different age groups in a speech community.

One proof of the success this approach has had here, is the presence of the age variable in the majority of research studies on variable phenomena in Catalan. Indeed, in some of them (e.g. Carrera 2002) it has become the most relevant interpretive dimension. It can also be seen that this factor is becoming ever more present in the field of dialectology. Probably the largest-scale project of this sort has been L. Pons (1992) on yodisation (replacement of palatal / l / by /j /) and apitxament (substitution of voiceless fricatives) in Barberà del Vallès, Catalonia (Pradilla 2002).

In view of all this, the time has probably come to undertake studies of language change in real time, that is, by contrasting methodologically comparable speech data gathered at different points in time. This will mean going back to studying speech communities first explored in the eighties and above all at the beginning of the nineties. Such studies would be of vital important in validating, or otherwise, the predictions made by research dating from that time, and in particular, setting the seal of approval, paradigmatically speaking, on the theoretical and methodological underpinning of variation sociolinguistics. To this end, the group co-ordinated by M. T. Turell in her 1995 publication putting the finishing touches to the methodological design of a new research project, develops this approach, an approach lacking until then.

3.5 The geolinguistic vertex

When we analyse the positions taken up by linguists with respect to the relationship between dialectology and the sociolinguistics of variation, we find a range of opinions that go from asserting they are identical to arguing for separate taxonomies//. In the middle of this range, there are a whole series of proposals with a common denominator: the reinforcing or underlining of ties between these two perspectives and a wish to reconcile differences. F. Moreno’s approach, in section 3, above, recognises, as we have seen, the concerted variation of a whole series of different factors, but accepts the possibility of studying each factor separately to the detriment of the rest. In this respect, he warns that the indiscriminate criticism levelled at dialectology only had a degree of justification in the case of local monographs. In the case of geolinguistics, the upscaled methodology means that its inherent diatopic interest compensates the partial sacrifice of other aspects. What no one has questioned, however, is that dialectology and sociolinguistics focus research interest on speech, on performance, and assume therefore the heterogeneous nature of language. The sociolinguistics of variation can therefore be considered heir to a tradition.

The veritable point of conflict is to be found in the consideration of social and stylistic factors. Looking through the vast literature on dialectological research, one can hardly fail to see the central interest in geography. And, at the same time, we find fascinating indications of social approaches that constitute unmistakable precedents for sociolinguistics: Gauchat, the A.I.S of Jud and Jaberg, Rohlfs, the A.L.E.I.C of Bottiglioni, and so forth. The very emergence of the labels social dialectology, urban d dialectology, socio-dialectology, the new dialectology, etc. can be seen as a kind of bridge between the two. As a consequence of this terminology and lack of precision in delimiting the conceptual scope of the different labels, we not infrequently see differences in cataloguing within the same work. (8)

Even though variationism incorporates some of the theoretical pillars of dialectology and shares certain specific fundamental interests, the latter former constitutes, in my opinion, a discipline that responds to overall principles and methodological orientations which are distinctly different. Silva-Corvalán (1989:15) pin-points some of these differences: the obtaining of linguistic data by recording spontaneous conversation, the use of quantitative methods of analysis, the recognition that the linguistic homogeneity of even the smallest place is a myth; consideration of the subjective attitudes toward the different dialectal variants; the techniques for the obtaining and identification of different language styles and the assumption that all individuals are capable of communication in more than one style, of which the spontaneous style is the most difficult for the researcher to obtain.

In the regions where Catalan is spoken in the Spanish State, the coming of democracy (after Franco) has meant a new ordination of the power structure which has allowed the language native to the area to be used in formal areas of communication. Education and the media are the two most emblematic ambits from which the standard model of the language has been transmitted with greater or lesser intensity, depending on the territory. The emergence of this new referential variety has created a certain dynamic of change in relation to the colloquial geographically based varieties. It was in view of such developments that J. Ponsoda at the Universitat d’Alacant has set in motion a project designed to evaluate the impact of the model language of the school on traditional geographical dialects. In this framework, J.M. Baldaquí and C. Segura wrote their doctoral theses on this same topic. Representing the group, Segura has offered us a sample of her doctoral thesis (Segura 2001), which presents a very useful methodological hybrid on a solidly geolectal base. Thus, the variables age and contact with the normative variety have enabled Segura determine the direction of change taken by variable phenomena in the county of Baix Vinalopó (Valencia).

4. Corollary

The sociolinguistics of variation, within the wider sociolinguistics framework, has continued to advance along the difficult road towards consolidation of its paradigmatic status. The theoretical reticence expressed by modern linguistics (in the structuralist and generativist traditions) as well as the unbending attitude of traditional linguistics in its dialectologist and historical variants, has not smoothed the way. Even so, having overcome a period of manifestly hostile dialectic, the interdisciplinary debate has had some patently favourable consequences for all concerned.

In the area of Catalan language research, alongside the ubiquitous sociology of language, variationism has participated in a similar way in achieving the consensus that makes possible the study of the multilevel phenomenon of language, depending on the primary interests of the researchers in question.

The multidimensional approach I have presented here, has witnessed how the theoretical and methodology transactions have, thanks to self-criticism and mutual dialogue, contributed to upping the quality of research. Transferences too, both the incoming ones, and those export, can and do have beneficial influence on language science. In short, as I see it, the dogmatism that emanates from doctrinaire orthodox has a paralysing effect which needs to be combated. In an area of knowledge with boundaries as diffuse as sociolinguistics has, we need to promote mechanisms of understanding that will enable us to make advances in a general explicative theory of language in which all of us working on it will a suitable niche will find where we can fit in with ease.

5. Bibliography

ARGENTER, J. "Els fenòmens de la diversitat i la variació lingüístiques, i llur pertinència en l’estudi del llenguatge". A: LLORET, M.R. et al. (ed.) Anàlisi de la variació lingüística. Barcelona: PPU, p. 15-44, 1997.

ARGENTER, J. "La variació lingüística: el fet i la seva significació. Caplletra 25, p. 11-20, 1998.

BIBER, D. "An Analytical Framework for Register Studies". A: BIBER, D.; FINEGAN, E. (ed.) Sociolinguistic Perspectives on Registers. New York: Oxford University Press, p. 31-36, 1994.

CARRERA, J. L'alternança A/E al Segrià. Doctoral thesis, Universitat de Barcelona, 1999. Publicada amb el títol Escola catalana i variació fonètica. Una evolució del vocalisme àton a Alguaire i a Lleida. Lleida: Pagès, 2002.

CARRERA, J.; FERNÁNDEZ, A. M.; PRADILLA, M. À. "De fonètica contrastiva: els africats alveolopalatals del lleidatà i del barceloní". 13è Col·loqui Internacional de Llengua i Literatura Catalanes-AILLC, Girona [in press].

FERNÁNDEZ, A. M.; PRADILLA, M. À. "Características de las africadas alveolopalatales del catalán oriental central". V Congreso de Lingüística General, Leon, in press.

GIMENO, F; MONTOYA, B. Sociolingüística. València: Servei de Publicacions de la Universitat de València, 1989.

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