Social identity, salience and language change: The case of post-rhematic 'quoi'

Beeching, C. (2007) Social identity, salience and language change: The case of post-rhematic 'quoi'. In: Ayres-Bennett, W. and Jones, M., eds. (2007) The French Language and questions of identity. Legenda, pp. 140-149. ISBN 9781904350682

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Item Type:Book Section
Additional Information:This chapter appears in a volume on 'French Language and Questions of Identity' edited by two scholars of French linguistics at Cambridge University, who specialise in French sociolinguistics, Professor Wendy Ayres-Bennett and Dr. Mari Jones. The chapter arises out of a paper given at a conference organised at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, in July 2004. By comparing rates of usage of stigmatised expressions in three corpora of spoken French, dating from 1970, 1990 and 2002, this paper evaluates the usefulness of ethnographic and sociolinguistic theory in exploring language change. Like Farrar and Jones (2002), the author eschews an �either-or' approach and considers that both intra-systemic and extralinguistic factors come together and, coupled with frequency (Bybee et al, 2001) effects, lead to fluctuations in usage which may, or may not, result in a shift in the social semiotic of a linguistic element and/or its form-function configuration. As Haspelmath (1999) observes, grammaticalisation (and semantic bleaching more generally) is irreversible. Desemanticised particles lend themselves to emblematisation, flagging a social identity in a manner similar to phonological variants. It seems that, overall, Traugott and Dasher's (2002) theory is upheld but there may be interesting �rearguard' actions, due to a term's increased salience, which brake or disrupt such regularity in an apparently systematic way. Empirical evidence is adduced to demonstrate how questions of identity may constitute the missing link between synchronic and diachronic variation. The rapid rise in the frequency of post-rhematic quoi in the last 30 years appear to reflect a possible democratisation in French society, due to an identification with previously stigmatised groups of people and their modes of speech. This article breaks new ground in relating social trends and questions of identity with the use of specific linguistic items.
Uncontrolled Keywords:social identity, salience, language change, post-rhematic 'quoi'
Faculty/Department:Faculty of Arts, Creative Industries and Education
ID Code:6729
Deposited By: R. Upload account
Deposited On:22 Jan 2010 15:13
Last Modified:27 Sep 2013 16:29

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