Opin vísindi

Socio-Syntactic Variation and Change in Nineteenth-Century Icelandic: The Emergence and Implementation of a National Standard Language

Socio-Syntactic Variation and Change in Nineteenth-Century Icelandic: The Emergence and Implementation of a National Standard Language

Title: Socio-Syntactic Variation and Change in Nineteenth-Century Icelandic: The Emergence and Implementation of a National Standard Language
Alternative Title: Félags-setningafræðilegar breytingar og tilbrigði í nítjándu aldar íslensku: Tilurð og innleiðing opinbers málstaðals
Author: Viðarsson, Heimir Freyr van der Feest
Advisor: Þórhallur Eyþórsson, Ásgrímur Angantýsson
Date: 2019-12-15
Language: English
University/Institute: Háskóli Íslands
University of Iceland
School: Hugvísindasvið (HÍ)
School of Humanities (UI)
Department: Íslensku- og menningardeild (HÍ)
Faculty of Icelandic and Comparative Cultural Studies (UI)
ISBN: 978-9935-9491-4-1
Subject: Setningafræði; Félagsmálvísindi; Söguleg málvísindi; Tilbrigði
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/20.500.11815/1347

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This thesis is a study of the interface between sociolinguistics and syntax, focusing on 19 th -century Icelandic and the implementation of a national standard language from a syntactic perspective. Icelandic is noted for relatively successful and far-reaching effects of prescriptive standard norms (see Ottósson 1987, 1990, 2003, 2005, Sigmunds- son 1990-1991, 2002, Árnason 2003b, Thomason 1999, 2001, 2007, Kusters 2003, Friðriksson 2008, Hilmarsson-Dunn and Kristinsson 2010, Viðarsson 2017b). The main reason for this success has been claimed to lie in the fact that the standard language was based to some extent on the everyday language of (rural) commoners, which gradually replaced the Danicised written norms of previous periods: “In essence, what the majority of Icelanders did was accepting their own linguistic standard” (Friðriksson 2008:99, see also Sigmundsson 1990-1991). On the other hand, the traditional narrative also emphasises that some of these aspects involved the ‘revival’ of traits characteristic of Old Norse (see Ottósson 1987, 1990, 2003, 2005). The fact that these features include representatives from across the whole linguistic spectrum, including not only phonology, morphology and the lexicon (in addition to spelling), but also syntax, appear to put Icelandic standardisation squarely at odds with common assumptions about relatively limited awareness of abstract linguistic structure (e.g. Labov and Harris 1986, Cheshire 1987, Laycock and Mühlhäusler 1990, Cheshire et al. 2005). At the same time, there has been very little emphasis laid on investigating actual language use as found in linguistic corpora to substantiate frequently made claims with regard to standardisation. According to Labov’s I NTERFACE P RINCIPLE (cf. Labov and Harris 1986 and much later work), also referred to more specifically as the A NTISOCIAL S YNTAX H YPOTHESIS (Ingason et al. 2011, Ingason et al. 2013), the social embedding of variation is to be found primarily on the surface, particularly the words and the sounds of a language. Abstract linguistic structure, in contrast, is claimed not to be evaluated socially and the same has been suggested with regard to deliberate change, as these both rate low on Laycock and Mühlhäusler’s (1990) D EGREE OF I NTERFERENCE H IERARCHY . With respect to variation at a (broad) syntactic level, my overarching conclusions based on the three case studies reported on in this thesis are on the one hand that the Interface Principle appears to be overstated, while on the other hand the extent of historical variation in Icelandic is grossly understated. The present study attempts to address and to problematise common conceptions of the socio-syntactic interface insofar as the traditional Icelandic standardisation nar- rative is concerned (see e.g. Ottósson 1990, 2005) by studying the language use of speakers from a range of different social backgrounds and in a range of different text types. The main focus will be on three linguistic variables that differ in their level of abstractness. These variables concern the position of the finite verb vis-à-vis adverb(s) in subject-initial embedded clauses (Vfin-Adv vs. Adv-Vfin), where all slots of the construction are lexically unspecified, the free form of the definite determiner (hinn vs. sá ‘the’), where the determiner is lexically specified but other elements are not, and the (non-standard/frowned upon) use of the generic pronoun maður ‘one’, treated here as a fully specified univariate variable. The variables are studied on the basis of 19 th -century Icelandic corpora featuring three different genres, viz. private letters, newspapers/periodicals and, finally, student essays, used in and partly developed as a part of the project Language Change and Linguistic Variation in 19 th -Century Icelandic and the Emergence of a National Standard (19LCLV). This research was sparked in part by an accumulation of evidence that attests to much more present-day variation in the adoption of standard norms than the conven- tional standardisation narrative suggests (see e.g. Árnadóttir and Einarsdóttir 2007, Heimisdóttir 2008, Leonard and Árnason 2011, Angantýsson 2017b), revealed also by studies on ongoing changes that have been frowned upon such as Dative Substitution (“Dative Sickness”) and the New Passive (“Castrated Passive”) (see e.g. Svavarsdóttir 1982, Svavarsdóttir, Pálsson and Þórlindarson 1984, Jónsson and Eyþórsson 2003 and Nowenstein 2017 on the dative, and Sigurjónsdóttir and Maling 2001 and Þráinsson, Eyþórsson, Svavarsdóttir and Blöndal 2013 on the passive). The general consensus among linguists is that prescriptive dicta typically have no influence on speakers’ actual language use (cf. e.g. Anderwald 2014b) and recent years and decades have also seen critical discussion of nationalistic ideology in historiography, including and beyond language (cf. e.g. Leerssen 1999, Hálfdanarson 2005, Elspaß 2014). What the three linguistic variables treated in the present work show is that there is a clear uptake of the standard norms in the newspapers and periodicals as well as in the student essays, where language use gradually shifts towards the codified norms. This effect is much less pronounced in the private letters, although there is also some evidence that speakers’ social status and/or sex/gender plays a role in the adoption of these norms. The results suggests that the implementation of standard norms was indeed only ‘partly successful’ (cf. Elspaß’s 2016 “successfulness measures”). The level of abstractness of the linguistic variable does not appear to be a relevant conditioning factor. The least successful variable in terms of norm implementation appears to be the one which is the most lexically specified, the generic pronoun maður. This variable exhibits a temporary slowdown in the newspapers during the late 19 th and early 20 th century, but a steady increase throughout the 20 th and 21 st centuries. The definite determiner variable, argued to be intermediate between the generic pronoun and verb-adverb placement with regard to lexical specification, overwhelmingly occurs with the non-standard variant in the private letter corpus and nearly categorically with dates. The newspapers exhibit a strong standardisation effect in the latter half of the 19 th century, which remains in some linguistic contexts, but not all, throughout the 20 th and 21 st centuries. The most abstract of the variables, verb-adverb placement, in contrast, seems to exhibit the greatest effect of standardisation, even in the private letters. However, this is presumably partly due to the different social embedding of the non-standard Adv-Vfin variant vis-à-vis the other variables. The fact that the frequency of Adv-Vfin was highest in precisely the group of speakers most likely to respond to prescriptivism in the first place, the higher echelons, highlights the interaction between prescriptive linguistic change and social factors.

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