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  • Author: Catherine Travis x
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A Study in Polysemy

Abstract

This paper considers the cultural values manifested in the use of the diminutive suffix -ito/-ita in a corpus of conversational Colombian Spanish. It will be demonstrated that this suffix is highly frequent (occurring approximately 600 times in the 70,000-word corpus), and that from its core uses in relation to children and expressing small size it has taken on the pragmatic functions of expressing affection, hedging speech acts and expressing contempt. Wierzbicka (1992) has shown that the frequent use of the diminutive in languages such as Russian and Polish plays a valuable role in realizing the cultural goal of the expression of good feelings towards others. The same can be said of its use in Colombian Spanish, but analysis of the diminutive in conversation reveals that it goes beyond this to realize a range of essential cultural ideals in interaction. Based on a semantic analysis of some of the central uses of the diminutive, I propose a set of cultural scripts to capture the role played by the diminutive in a variety of speech events, scripts which form an important part of the basis for interaction in Colombian society.

Abstract

Dizque has developed from the verb decir ‘say’ and the complementizer que, originating in a phrase meaning something like ‘it is said that’. This article presents an analysis of this expression as used in contemporary Colombian Spanish based on a corpus of naturally occurring spoken and written data. It is shown that the range of use of dizque extends from functioning as a purely evidential marker, encoding reported speech and hearsay with a notion of doubt implied in some contexts, to a marker of epistemic modality, encoding extensions of the notion of doubt implied in its evidential use and nothing about source of information. This development is particularly interesting because it mirrors that seen for reported evidentials in languages that have a grammaticized system of evidentiality. This demonstrates that lexical and grammatical evidential devices may follow similar paths of semantic change, and suggests that this specific change, from reported speech to doubt, is representative of a cognitive phenomenon related to the nature of reported speech itself.

Abstract

This paper investigates the conditioning of the variation between two first-person plural forms in contemporary spoken Brazilian Portuguese, an older pronoun nós used with first-person plural agreement and a newer pronoun a gente, derived from an NP meaning ‘the people’, used with third-person singular agreement. This is part of a broader change in the language involving the breakdown of verbal agreement as third-person marking extends to the domains of first- and second-person. We consider the conditioning of use of these forms in spoken Brazilian Portuguese from Fortaleza and uncover a phenomenon that as yet has not been noted in relation to this variation, namely frequency. We find that the high type frequency of a gente contributes to the spreading use of this form, and the high token frequency of nós in specific constructions slows it down. We predict that these highly frequent constructions (such as nos temos ‘we have’, digamos ‘let’s say’ and vamos + V-INF ‘let’s V’) may remain a last vestige of nós in Brazilian Portuguese as a gente comes to take over the realm of first-person plural.