Susan Gal (University of Chicago) will present a colloquium at 3:30 today in the Greenberg Room, with a social and dinner following.
Plain and Fancy: The Role of Qualities in the Analysis of Linguistic Variation
Abstract: Indexicality has been a key analytical term in the understanding of variation. Instead of correlations between co-occurring features and social categories, we now search for the way culturally-formulated identities are linguistically indexed or invoked. The concepts of style and indexicality have been important and productive analytical tools in the exploration of how social meaning is achieved. But some puzzles remain. How and why do people invariably attribute sensual qualities to the variants they recognize, and actually come to hear linguistic forms as being: plain or fancy, thin or thick, big or small, oily or plain, flat or curvy, good or bad? How come such qualities come in pairs? Why are matters of language apprehended in terms more suited to objects (e.g. flat, thick, oily)? This paper examines the construction of such sensuous metaphors for linguistic form and the arrangement of linguistic varieties on qualitative axes of differentiation. It suggests that speakers rely on specific cultural frameworks and a limited set of semiotic principles to recognize, produce and sometimes transform the qualities attributed to linguistic variants, to speakers themselves, and to an array of other, closely related expressive forms: sartorial and bodily signs; interactional “manner” and comportment. The paper presents ethnographic and linguistic evidence from German-Hungarian bilinguals in Hungary and from observations about English made by travelers in the United States in the early 19th century.