Author Archives: Cecelia Cutler

Meredith’s questions on Sebba (Nov. 11)

1. One of the main features distinguishing written texts from spoken language is their permanence, more specifically their ability to have a potentially very large number of readers across a number of cultural and historical contexts, or at least a wider audience than the author originally imagined. Does Sebba’s insistence on the importance of historical context confine the interpretation of these texts to single-purpose linguistic interactions between an author and a fixed number of interlocutors at a fixed point in time?
2. Should linguists only concern themselves with a historically specific analysis of multilingual written texts, just as we do with spoken language? If so, does this reflect the tendency to study writing as a derivation of spoken language rather than a separate variation of language in its own right?
3. Certain memes (“you’ll read this first”) have developed a sort of metadiscourse around language-spatial relationships that plays on the idea that there is a very fixed and predictable language-spatial hierarchy. Do you agree with Scollon & Scollon’s claim that certain locations in/on a text are necessarily privileged (top/center/etc.)? Does this vary too much according to other variables (font size, etc.) to be predicted? How culturally specific is this hierarchy?

Questions for Lillis & McKinney (2013)
1. Lillis & McKinney critiques the speech/writing binary, among other binaries such as formal/informal, official/unofficial, etc. In what contexts do we see a gray area between speech and writing, and what impact does this have on how we study it?
2. How does conceptualizing writing as a finished product limit the ways in which we study it and “skew conceptualisations of the nature of what the object is–as something rigid rather than dynamic”?

Meredith Hilliard

NOV 11th Discussion Questions – Alina Picayo

In the German fanzines article, we see a German orthographic appropriation of English loan words which reflect German pronunciations such as “Blählist” (for playlist) and “Pönks” (Punks). There are countries such as Iceland, where rather than adopted any loan words, neologisms based on words that already exist are made to keep their language theirs and as unaffected by the outside world as possible. How do you feel about loan words being introduced into your own languages and/ or how do your countries deal with these types of issues?

What are some other deviations from the standardized orthography in subcultures outside of music scenes that you have seen in your own country and what can it be attributed to (socially, artistically or politically speaking?

There is a strong correlation between the non-standard spellings found in subculture literature and the phonology it aims to represent versus some standard pronunciation in some cases which connects the spoken word with the written word. What are your thoughts on why this occurs?

Language contact – from borrowing and codeswitching to codemeshing and translanguaging — Ilaria Porru

This week’s readings focused on various aspects of language contact and bilingualism, with a special emphasis on codeswitching, codemeshing and translanguaging.

It is a common habit to think of language as something unique. It is expected to say that there is only one language, just as one has only one soul. However, multilingualism should be considered as a linguistic phenomenon intrinsic to the language itself. Although multilingualism is quite widespread and the theme of language contact has been of great interest to scholars since ancient times, before Weinreich (in the 1950s) few have dealt with it. One of the reasons why this occurred is politics. Countries based on a clearly nationalistic ideology would have had no interest in encouraging plurilingualism, in the mistaken belief that respect for linguistic diversity was an obstacle to the authority of central power. Over time language has been identified with the State and therefore there is a tendency to conceal the presence of multiple languages rather than considering it as a richness. Languages come into contact and influence each other thanks to a natural tendency of human beings, who seek ways to get around communication barriers by finding a compromise between two different languages (Winford, 2003: 2).

Garrett (2004) states that bilingualism and multilingualism are the most common outcomes of language contact. Bilingual and multilingual situations, though, vary considerably in terms of intensity and stability. An example of that, are diglossic communities. The notion of diglossia was introduced by Charles Ferguson (1959) to describe the situation in which two languages are used in a complementary way under different circumstances. In diglossic communities one of the varieties, indicated as language High (H), is used in official and public domains, while the other variety, designated as Low (L) is used in private and informal domains. Among the factors that make a language H for the bilingual are its usefulness, its role in social advancement and its literary and cultural value, all aspects that are transmitted to the individual from the environment in which they find themselves (Winford, 2003: 112). It is therefore very likely that in an undifferentiated environment, the status related to languages is the same for most bilingual speakers, but there are many other factors to keep into account, including the order and age at which languages are learned, the extension of written use, relative knowledge and emotional involvement in languages. Furthermore, the environment can make certain types of linguistic situation prevail over others.

Sankoff (2002) questioned the extent to which “external” social factors produce different linguistic outcomes. Contact among languages is certainly influenced by social forces, often consequence of conquests and migrations. In the first case, we generally see the imposition of the language that belongs to the dominant group.
When two languages are in contact because of migration, the most common outcome is assimilation. Although there are exceptions, immigrants find themselves at the center of social pressures, aimed at rapid cultural and linguistic adjustment. Therefore, the attitude towards one’s own language is controversial: on the one hand there is the will to preserve it, but at the same time there is a growing need to feel part of the new society by assimilating to the language of the host country. (Milroy and Muysken, 1995: 141-142).

Even though these external factors are important, they’re not the only important aspect determining language change. As Sankoff (2002) shows with her literature review, both internal and external constraints play a role in shaping language contact outcomes.
While phonological and lexical interference are very common, morphological and syntactical borrowings are less spread. According to Sankoff, “it is clear that individual strategies, individual practices in bilingual discourse, add up to community-level change” (2002: 659).

The concept of individual strategies used by bilinguals is discussed also by Otheguy et al. (2015) where the idea of idiolect is introduced. Otheguy et al. underline that each one of us speak a “personal language”: a speaker can have more phonemes than other, use a different morphology or lexicon. While two idiolects are never exactly the same lexically or structurally, there are large areas of overlap among the idiolects of people who communicate with each other, and this gives us the illusion that we speak the exact same language. The idea of language, which can be seen as a social/political convention, is deconstructed. What we actually speak is our own idiolect rather than our language, something that no one else speaks. The difference between monolinguals and bilinguals is that the first ones can use most of their lexical and structural repertoire more or less freely, whereas bilinguals can do so only in certain environments. Translanguaging refers to using one’s idiolect, that is, one’s linguistic repertoire, without regard for socially and politically defined language labels or boundaries.

Bilingual education tends to separate languages, according to Otheguy et al., resulting in the schools’ inability to truly develop the multilingual capacity of students.
I am not sure about this point. Even though it is common practice to separate languages in a “formal” environment, this doesn’t seem to affect code-switching or translanguaging in the bilingual communities (or monolingual ones for that matter). Is it really possible to allow free translanguaging to speakers? Is the compartmentalization of languages really preventing bilinguals to code-switch?

Nowadays, code-switching is no longer stigmatized as it used to be. As Woolard (2004) writes, since the mid-twentieth century the dominant characterization of conversational codeswitching changed from one of linguistic deviance, corruption and incompetence to that of systematicity, meaning and skill. It is used to confirm and establish identity and can be situational and metaphorical. It can be used in an indexical way, even though not all researchers agree that codeswitching always signals a macrosocially informed contrast in identities. Nevertheless, much remains to be done before a more complete understanding of code-switching and its boundaries is accomplished.

Questions on Otheguy’s reading:

1. How can bilingual schools promote or simply avoid sanctioning code-switching?
2. What would the consequences to that be?
3. Is it really possible to allow free translanguaging to all the speakers?


If you’re interested in corpus linguistics using social media data, check out Jack Grieve’s work @JWGrieve.

Jack Grieve
Corpus Linguistics, Dialectology, Forensic Linguistics, Language Variation & Change
University of Birmingham,