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 Circula 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). 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).

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.

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

Juan Antonio Ennis (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 (Warsaw): Rhetorical strategies of constructing the expert’s ethos and authority in the Italian language columns

Guest papers:

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

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