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Stylistic diversification as a factor in language variation and change, by Sílvia Romero Galera


2.1.2 Degree of preparation of the discourse

Once the communicative situation is segmented, at the speech-turn level, the next step is to determine the speech style associated with the occurrences of the variables in question, and we have already given an instance in the previous section.

From the point of view of conversation analysis, spontaneous speech has indeterminateness –in terms of speech turn, duration, topic, number of interlocutors, etc.– as one of its most recurrent traits (see Tuson, 1995: 55). In contrast, formal speech is generally identifiable for the prearranged topic, the longer turns, perhaps preceded by a request to have the next speech turn, few overlaps, syntactically and lexically elaborated discourse respecting the roles of the participants (Tuson, 1988: 138-140). The speech modalities present in the municipal plenary session occupy a broad spectrum ranging from written contributions intended to be spoken to informal conversation. What dominates, obviously, is a combination of largely planned oral styles or usages, but there are noticeably spontaneous comments, which transgress or override the constraints of formality and which can be associated with a number of different motives such as the (dictates of the) moment, the topic and the personal characteristics of the interlocutors, among others.

At this point, we asked ourselves what factors would allow us to determine the change from neutral style to spontaneous style. Cedergren (1973) (6) identified two types of factors: on the one hand, the contexts and different paralinguistic keys of the communication channel, and, on the other, the attention paid by speakers to their production. In principal, the context and setting in which the municipal plenary sessions take place is fixed, since it is constrained by predetermined conditions having to do with the time and place of the production, with external norms that affect the interaction and a good number of stable spoken formulae that form the situational limits. Despite that, the degree of attention paid by the speaker to his/her own speech production, which can be modified by the emotion or involvement in the subject-message, is a paralinguistic aspect similarly alluded to by Cedergren which can be correlated to the emergence of one or other speech style. (7)

Regarding the effect exerted by the extent to which the discourse is prepared on the production of the speech style, we used a classificatory or categorising scale for the texts based on degree of preparation or improvisation in the production, established by Castellà (1992: 128). This classification relates a large number of linguistic modes to a graduated scale of speaking styles ranging from speech styles where there is absolute control over what is to be said –rituals, such as the greetings or leave-taking formulae– to totally improvised texts, and taking in reading and memorisation of texts on the way –for example radio news broadcasts–, texts with a prearranged structure that enable the free construction of grammatical structure –for example storytelling– and improvised texts on a prearranged topic –as for example off-the-cuff statements made by a politician. In our case, we considered that this scale would enable us to make an initial sorting of the utterances or turns in terms of degree of preparation. This operation was further enabled, in part, by the presence of numerous explicit discourse markers of a metalinguistic or performative nature, as in the case, for example, of the expressions I will read, I will read the exact words, I quote, I reproduce, turning to the written text, which mark the beginning of the oral delivery of a written text.

3. Analysis of a case

The working hypotheses, formulated in relation to the second general objective of the study – recall that this concerned the analysis of the state and direction of processes of language variation and change of the five aspects of nominal morphology–, (8) state that the reduction of structural diversity in geographical varieties will increase and will be favoured by certain social, sociological, linguistic and stylistic conditions. Thus for instance, a link is established between formal styles, more affected by written norms and prestigious oral usage; and similarly the younger generations who have been educated in Catalan, will have their effect on the introduction or production of innovative forms. The results we obtained, confirmed the trend referred to here, since they show the existence of a clear tendency to language change in the direction of the standard variety. Thus, in terms of the features under analysis, three stages or degrees of change could be discerned: (a) fairly equal alternation between traditional and new forms in the case of the demonstrative adjectives, (b) the timid advance of the variants with intervocalic /–v–/ of the feminine forms of the possessive adjectives, and (c) the almost total replacement of the local variants of the definite article and the singular weak (clitic) pronouns and first person plural weak (clitic) pronouns (see Table 1). Regarding the behaviour of the speech style explanatory factor and its influence in this process, the calculation of the probability indices confirmed that prepared speech style favoured the loss of the heritage or local variants in the case of the 3 variables analysed by means of this procedure and, therefore, the increase in the use of the reinforced forms of the definite article (el, els) and the weak singular pronouns (em, et, es), and the general variants of the demostrative adjective aquest ("this"), aquell ("that"). In the variables looked at solely in terms of percentages, the same tendency could be discerned, that is to say, loss of the analogical form of the weak pronoun for the first person plural (mos) and of the variants with /u/ in the case of the feminine possessive adjectives, which evince higher percentages of loss when in prepared speech style.

We will turn now to the probability index results in Table 1, which indicate that, over all, the production of the nominal morphology of the standard language will be significantly associated with formal speech in North Western Catalan. We observe that in the case of the masculine definite article linguistic variable, the prepared speech style explanatory factor favours the non-realisation or loss of the so-called etymological variants (lo, los), while the effect of the spontaeous speech style factor has the opposite effect. In the case of the full variants of the singular weak or clitic pronouns, the prepared speech style factor similarly favours the non-realisation of the full forms, while the spontaneous speech style factor does not favour it. Lastly, the demonstrative adjective again shows the same pattern, as expected.

Table 1. Quantification of the process of linguistic change and of the effect of explanatory factors


Probability of loss of the heritage or regional variant (9)

Probability of effect of speech style (10)

Masculine definite article


Prepared: 0.641
Spontaneous: 0.230

Singular weak pronouns


Prepared: 0.602
Spontaneous: 0.349

Demonstrative adjectives


Prepared: 0.549
Spontaneous: 0.409

Other exploitation of the data offered by GoldVarb 2.0, such as the calculation of frequencies by cross tabulation, allow us to observe that in all three cases the effect of the prepared speech style explanatory factor on the loss of the heritage (i.e. regional) variants is enhanced or increased when associated with the university education & knowledge of written Catalan factors [older Catalan speakers who went to school in the time of Franco were educated in Spanish, hence the existence of this factor]. Consequently the spontaneous speech style factor associated with secondary school and vocational training & no knowledge of written Catalan, do not favour the loss of the regional variant.

The results for the weak first person plural personal pronouns and the feminine possessive pronouns, which as we have already mentioned were analysed solely in terms of statistical frequency, since the conditions demanded by GoldVarb for calculation of probabilities were not met, followed exactly the same patterns as the variables that were processed for probabilities, confirmed too was the hypothesis we put forward: that a higher percentage of the incoming variants occurs in prepared speech style. Cross tabulation confirms the pattern found with the rest of the variables, in that the prepared speech style factor group linked with the education & knowledge of written Catalan factors, act to cause dialectal convergence.

4. Conclusions

We have sought to explain how utterances, seen from the point of view of conversational analysis and produced in the context of the full sessions of the council, can be related to various degrees of preparation versus spontaneity and that these circumstances of discourse production, especially variation in the degree of personal implication, have a significant effect on the resultant continuum. We have taken as point of departure the fact that the full sessions of the town council deal with local government business using the oral mode of production and transmission of the message within the framework of formal oral discourse. As such, the latter may combine discourse strategies taken from the written language with others associated with spontaneous oral discourse, using mechanisms of coherence and repetition associated with reduced rigour in the selection and elaboration of information.

Speech style, then, emerges as an explanatory factor favouring the incoming forms of the variables we looked at, that is, the reinforced variants of the masculine definite article, (el, els), the singular personal pronouns (em, et, es) and the non-velar variants of the demonstrative adjectives (aquest, aquell).

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Sílvia Romero Galera
Consortium for Language Normalisation

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