Sociolinguistics Symposium 21 (15th - 18th June 2016)

Sociolinguistics Symposium 21

logo sociolinguistics symposium 2016

University of Murcia

15th – 18th June 2016

Proposal for colloquium on the topic 

Authoritative discourse in language columns: linguistic, ideological and social issues

Drawing on its research activity, the research network Circula1 would like to propose a colloquium that examines the means by which authoritative discourse is constructed in language columns, a journalistic genre which has, to date, been the focus of very few detailed studies. This genre consists of texts which provide a linguistic commentary on language issues that cause, in varying degrees, difficulty to those speakers who want to conform to 'good usage' or to prescriptive norms, and which thereby act as conduits of linguistic ideologies. The studies are based on comparable corpora of language columns from different language communities in the Romance-speaking areas of Europe and America, leading to comparable research areas, which examine either the content of these language columns or the discourse, argumentation and rhetoric employed in the columns.

The frame concept of "authority" has been retained in order to allow us to examine in a coherent manner the two key themes of the symposium, namely attitudes and prestige. These themes will be explored in detail by analyzing a number of different areas: the models of authority referred to by the authors themselves; the language ideologies represented in the language columns; the different authoritative discourse styles employed and the genres within which they develop; the argumentative and rhetorical strategies employed; and the attitudes of those participating in the discourse (both authors and readers), as well as the construction of their interplay, depending on the media support (printed or electronic press).

Language columns (chroniques de langage, cronache linguistiche, columnas sobre la lengua) developed alongside the printed press as a mass medium which has always played an important role in the production and reproduction of language ideologies, in particular the ideology of the standard, thereby contributing to the maintenance of the notion of language purism. These texts are, moreover, also used to transmit other types of ideology or discourse.

The strategies used to diffuse language knowledge essentially centre around the background of the authors, journalists, proofreaders, and also often professional linguists. The question must therefore be asked whether the latter's role in language columns can be explained in the diffusion of a “more scientifically based” understanding of language, and indeed in the questioning of attitudes that distinguish the popularizing discourse from the strictly scientific one.

In order to interpret the attitudes of the authors’ (journalists or linguists) towards both language and the authorities upon whom they base their arguments, we take as our point of departure the view that language norms and discourse practices evolve within a given speech community ("the standard must always be made and re-made", cf. Rey 1994)2. This evolution can therefore be described as the creation of a "force field" between speakers (the population as a whole) and standard language authorities who impose the correction of deviances from the standard norm using model texts (produced by model speakers or model writers) and reference guides (cf. Pöll 2005)3.

A summary at the conclusion of the colloquium will aim to show that studies emanating from various different contexts allow a distinction to be made at the macro- or microstructural level between transverse elements, which are valid in several different sociocultural spaces, and specific elements that belong to individual discourse traditions.

1 Circula is a research group that gathers together researchers in Romance linguistics from various countries in Europe and the Americas, who work in the field of the French, Spanish and Italian speaking areas. The group takes a strongly multidisciplinary and transverse approach to the construction, conceptualisation and circulation of language ideologies in the media in the Romance speaking world from the 17th century to the present day. This approach is developed by applying concepts and methods from sociolinguistics, linguistic anthropology, textual and media linguistics, discourse analysis, rhetoric, media studies and the sociology of knowledge.

2 « […] la norme est toujours à faire à refaire », Rey, Alain 1994: « À la recherche de la norme : un dictionnaire québécois », in: Martel, Pierre/Maurais, Jacques (éds.): Langues et sociétés en contact: mélanges offerts à Jean-Claude Corbeil, Tübingen: Niemeyer, 312.

3 Pöll, Bernhard 2005: Le français langue pluricentrique?, Frankfurt etc.: Peter Lang, 63.

Organisation of the colloquium:

Format: 150 minutes


1) 10-minute introduction

2) Seven individual papers of 15 minutes, of which five will be given by members of the research group CIRCULA, and two will be given by invited speakers to complete the panorama of linguistic communities envisaged

3) 15-minute summary

Titles of the individual papers:

Circula group:

Juan Antonio Ennis (Universidad Nacional de La Plata-CONICET): Disputing authority: language-ideological debates in the Latin American Press in the 1870s

Carmen Marimón Llorca (Alicante): Nuestros queridos lectores: enunciative polyphony and discursive construction of authority in the Columns on Language (CSL)

Wim Remysen (Sherbrooke): Authoritative discourse in language columns and the emergence of the French Canadian petite bourgeoisie in the 19th century

Sabine Schwarze (Augsburg): Authoritative discourse in Italian language columns: discursive evolution caused by attitude changes of knowledge givers and consumers since the 1950s

Maria Załęska (University of Warsaw): Rhetorical strategies of constructing the expert’s ethos and authority in the Italian language columns

Guest papers:

Sara Cotelli (Université de Neuchâtel): The authority of usage: from purist-oriented to "scientific" columns about language

Olivia Walsh (University of Nottingham): The construction of authority in 20th century language columns in France — discourse based or referential?