Blog post – Sociolinguistics of Writing (Alina Picayo)

Good day to everyone! I hope everyone has had a lovely week. My name is Alina Fernanda Picayo and I will be writing some of my reflections and thoughts on Jannis Androutsopoulos’ Non-standard spellings in media texts: The case of German fanzines, Lillis and McKinney’s The sociolinguistics of writing in a global context: Objects, lenses, consequences and Mark Sebba’s Multilingualism in written discourse: An approach to the analysis of multilingual texts.

I want to briefly mention that I write a lot of things the way that I talk in real life so if anything I’ve said is confusing or unclear or anything at all, please feel free to mention it to me or comment on it in class. Really, all I’ve done here is give my thoughts on what I read and reflect back with things that have been a part of my life experiences. Here it is.

The main theme I see in the three articles is one of people trying to find meaning in written discourse. There’s a lot of conflict inside of people and how to make meaning or interpret meaning. Sociolinguists have not focused enough on written discourse and have treated it as if it is a thing apart from how we speak to each other. If you want to read and make meaning take a literature class or go into education, find yourself in psychology studies or something else. Everyone is just very confused. Do we take power away from what people are saying by giving importance to what they’re writing? Are we missing out on entire universes of knowledge inside of people by taking them at their word and discarding what it is that they’ve put down on paper (an act which is deliberate as it is a deliberated one). We don’t need to choose which form of communication is more valid but I understand why people are wary of written discourse. Writing has a dirty and oppressive history. It also has been a liberator and an instrument towards great freedoms. To know how to read and write marks those who are best positioned in all societies in all senses. Those who know how to write are even better positioned in society because these are the people who will get degrees in school, these are the people who have been shown how to write to get somewhere in this life, in some overall acceptable way. I know it’s an ugly thing but being able to communicate your writing in some standardized way has value. It might not be how you would like to express your thoughts but if it gets you somewhere in life, somewhere that you want to be, does it not have value? Writing is perilous territory.

I understand the need for standardization of written discourse and I understand the need to step away from the norms. I think of the Franco dictatorship in Spain and of the long history Spain has of trying to replace cultures with Castilian language, religion, customs and thoughts. Spain has more than a dozen languages and standardization of writing has allowed these languages to not be erased during times like this last century’s dictatorship. Asturian has its own academy, great literature and editorials. It is a culture and world that could not be erased even when some tried to do just that, now preserved and alive and well in the world. The graffiti I saw in the streets on the walls in the city of Oviedo was almost all in Asturian, the names of the fishermen’s boats at the wharves in Llanes or other coastal cities always in Asturian (the names usually carefully picked out to honor something or someone to protect you on your voyages). The menu in restaurants in Asturias are written in both Asturian and Castilian, just like the signs signaling how to get to Oviedo/Uviéu or wherever else from Galicia on the west to Cantabria on the East. Standardizing this language has helped to preserve these people and they continue to have a very real voice and existence, a true identity. In the very same country you will find a prominent example of people who whole heartedly believe that they are preserving their culture, honoring it, and that their identity is being suppressed on a world level and that they therefore are fighting to be represented in the world. Welcome to Cataluña. If you can’t speak Catalan or read it you have no place there and that’s how they like it. School is taught in Catalan. All street signs and airport signs are in Catalan. They might speak Castilian but that does not mean that they will. If you go there you have to speak and read and live on their terms. This would be admirable if it weren’t a language and cultural movement to promote the bourgeoisie of Spain. This has been a movement to mark an economic and social elite in a region of Spain and they want to be as separate from the rest of us as possible. It is important to mention that although I hold the current Cataluña politics regarding identity, language and culture in contempt, that their language was also oppressed and tried to be erased. They currently have their own official academy which standardizes and preserves Catalan so that it can continue to be a part of the world. The problem is what the people do with it.

So yes, sometimes standardizing orthography and what qualifies as acceptable writing can preserve and conserve a whole culture of people. Sometimes standardized means of communication attempt to unify too broad of a geography and ideals and it doesn’t work so people deviate from these norms to represent how they identify more accurately. I don’t want to talk too much about Germany because I am not German, I have not been to Germany and I do not know enough about Germany to tell you what the purpose of pushing away traditional methods of writing have been as is the case with the ‘zines. I have read Mein Kampf, and I know of some history of Germany including the changes in educational pedagogy which was implemented and that this included unifying the German languages and orthographic systems. I don’t know how much of this standardized method of writing continues to exist in schools today from those times in the 1930s and 40s. There are just some places where unifying writing just does not work or that it once worked and meant something but that the future requires different considerations than those methods which had once made sense in the past. We change with what society demands of us. I can’t really tell you why so many subcultures in Germany exist with regard to writing. My guess is that simply that where there is not sufficient representation of populaces, the people will make sure that you see them in a way that does represent them. Spanish speaking cultures, as rigid as they can be with regard to written language are still also very accepting of change. Real Academia Española reviews every single two years orthography and they publish all changes to our language. Things should be reviewed and should be changed if it is what people want. What came to mind is that people can write “ellxs” or “amigxs” using the letter x to signal referring to both females and males (instead of ‘o’ or ‘a’) in an essay and a lot of people in universities will accept it as correct (when it is used to include both genders in the content, not as a method of omitting gender in general).

With regard to the last article involving code switching and different ways that this is represented in writing…I don’t know what to say except that this is super complicated. I am a person who has been raised with three languages my entire life and who basically code switches all day long (except in English taught classes) and that is why I am saying that this is complicated business. I felt that the article was interesting and I had fun looking at the different posters but I really think that before looking at what these different multilingual posters and signs mean linguistically, that you should try seeing them culturally first. Go to different neighborhoods like El Barrio or to Chinatown and get an idea of the context of who lives there and how people live to understand the significance of these things like ads and store names. If you go into these different stores that advertise their services in different languages and if you ask people why they made certain linguistic choices, they will tell you and I think the answers are more rooted in specific cultural things than in linguistics. That’s what I think as far as the things you’ll see in the United States. I think that in different countries you will find different reasons for code switching or multilingual written representation. Like I said, it is cultural and maybe political or maybe that’s the same thing. The case with Luxembourg is a good example of how people represent several languages for political reasons. There are language laws which say what languages and at what points in education will be the formal language of instruction, the law says what is the language of administration and which one is of legislation. I think it’s great, you give everyone a place and represent them all. I found this so incredibly civilized. Maybe these types of things work well in small countries but that’s a whole different blog.