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A ‘new’ speech style is born

The omnipresence of structure and agency in the life of semiotic registers in heterogeneous urban spaces

Bente A. Svendsen and Stefania Marzo

Abstract

The aim of this paper is to contribute to the sociolinguistic discussion about the need for a unified sociological theory, by applying realist social theory (RST) (Carter and Sealey, this volume) to the total linguistic fact (TLF) (Silverstein 1985) or to the semiotics of ‘new’ speech styles in heterogeneous urban spaces. We explore, with data from Belgium (Flanders, Limburg) on Citétaal and Norway on so-called kebabnorsk, the ways structure and agency are omnipresent in the enregisterment of these semiotic registers. Through media discourse analyses, we investigate essential parts of this enregisterment process, in particular the invention and diffusion of labels and the assignment of stereotypical indexical values to these speech styles and to their alleged speakers. We demonstrate, in line with other studies, that media in interplay with scholars is a key force in the enregisterment of these speech styles. In the analysed media discourse, kebabnorsk and Citétaal are constructed as a ‘mixed language’, as a countable and uniform entity, the use of which inevitably results in unemployment. The alleged language users are constructed as a homogeneous group, namely ‘young people with migrant backgrounds’. It is shown that social structure, including asymmetric power relations and language hegemonies, are omnipresent in the valorisation of these registers and that media discourses rely on language ideologies of unity and purity, ideologies central to a monolingual orientation. We advocate a translingual orientation towards language and communication in which communication transcends languages and involves negotiation of mobile resources. This orientation captures the ontology of language and communication and has, as such, the potential to empower the language users’ individual agencies.

Riassunto

Lo scopo di questo lavoro è di contribuire alla discussione sociolinguistica sulla necessità di una teoria sociologica applicando la cosiddetta realist social theory (RST) (Carter e Sealey, questo volume) sul total linguistic fact (TLF) o sulle nuove pratiche di parlato in spazi urbani eterogenei. Saranno utilizzati dati provenienti dal Belgio (Fiandre, Limburgo) sulla cosiddetta Citétaal e dalla Norvegia sul cosiddetto kebabnorsk, per analizzare in quale misura ‘structure’ e ‘agency’ siano onnipresenti nell’enregisterment di questi registri. Attraverso un’analisi discorsiva dei media s’indagheranno parti essenziali di questo processo di enregisterment, in particolare l’invenzione e la diffusione delle etichette attribuite a questi registri e l’assegnazione di valori indessicali stereotipati a queste pratiche di parlato e ai loro presunti parlanti. Dimostreremo, in linea con altri studi, che i media in interazione con gli studiosi costituiscono una forza fondamentale nell’enregisterment di questi stili di discorso. Si rivelerà che kebabnorsk e Citétaal vengono costruiti come ‘linguaggi misti’, come delle entità fisse, calcolabili e invariabili, il cui impiego porterebbe alla disoccupazione. I presunti utenti sono considerati come un unico e omogeneo gruppo, ossia ‘giovani con background migratorio’. Dimostreremo che la struttura sociale tra cui le relazioni di potere asimmetriche ed egemonie linguistiche sono fondamentali nella valorizzazione di questi registri semiotici e che i discorsi dei media partono da ideologie linguistiche di unità e di purezza, centrali dell’orientamento monolingue. Verrà proposta una visione ‘translinguale’ su lingua e comunicazione in cui la comunicazione trascende la lingua. Questa visione cattura meglio l’ontologia di lingua e comunicazione per potenziare le cosiddette ‘agencies’ individuali degli utenti di lingua.

Samenvatting

Dit artikel wil een bijdrage leveren aan de sociolinguïstische discussie over de nood aan een sociologische theorie, door de realist social theory (RST) (Carter en Sealey, dit volume) toe te passen op de total linguistic fact (TLF) (Silverstein 1985) en op de zogenaamde ‘nieuwe’ spreekstijlen in heterogene stedelijke contexten. We verkennen, met gegevens over de zogenaamde Citétaal uit België (Vlaanderen, Limburg) en het zogenaamde kebabnorsk uit Noorwegen, hoe ‘structure’ en ‘agency’ alomtegenwoordig zijn in het enregisterment van deze spreekstijlen. Door middel van een analyse van mediadiscours onderzoeken we essentiële onderdelen van dit enregisterment proces, in het bijzonder de uitvinding en verspreiding van labels en de toewijzing van stereotiepe indexicale waarden aan de spreekstijlen en hun vermeende sprekers. Er wordt aangetoond, in lijn met vorige studies, dat de media in samenspel met wetenschappers een belangrijke schakel vormt in het enregisterment van de deze omgangsvormen. Zo blijkt dat kebabnorsk en Citétaal worden geconstrueerd als ‘mengtalen’, als telbare en uniforme entiteiten, waarvan het gebruik onvermijdelijk leidt tot werkloosheid. De vermeende gebruikers van deze registers worden ook beschouwd als een specifieke en homogene groep, namelijk de ‘jongeren met een migratie-achtergrond’. We tonen aan dat de sociale structuur, waaronder asymmetrische machtsverhoudingen en taalhegemonieën, fundamenteel is in de valorisatie van deze taalregisters en dat het media discours gebaseerd is op taalideologieën van eenheid en zuiverheid, die typerend zijn voor een monolinguale visie op taal. Ten slotte pleiten we voor een translinguale visie die de ontologie van taal en communicatie dekt en meer aandacht schenkt aan de agency van taalgebruikers.

Funding source: This work is partly supported by the Research Council of Norway through its Centers of Excellence funding scheme, project number 223265.

Acknowledgement

We would like to thank the three anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments to the first draft of this paper.

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