Dissertation: teaching Spanish in Brazil

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Thu Mar 15 15:15:45 UTC 2007

A Macro- and Micro-Sociolinguistic Study of Language Attitudes and
Language Contact: Mercosur and the teaching of Spanish in Brazil

Dissertation Director: Anna Maria Escobar

Dissertation Abstract:

This is a macro and microsociolinguistic study on the teaching of Spanish
as a foreign language in Brazil after the formation of Mercosur, in 1991.
Spanish being a pluricentric language, which variety(ies) of Spanish
should be used for teaching the language in Brazil? The alleged lack of
teachers trained for the task opened a breach through which the
centripetal forces in charge of the international spread of Spanish
entered Brazil. Such forces act side by side the centrifugal forces led by
the agents of language use: the Spanish teachers from different origins,
especially those from the River Plate region.

The study explains how the centripetal forces shape the teaching of
Spanish in Brazil, by studying: a) the voice of the Spanish media as a
reflection of the centripetal forces, by means of Critical Discourse
Analysis, b) the attitudes of teachers of Spanish in Brazil, their
students, and laypeople, to the regional varieties of Spanish, by means of
matched-guise tests and open questionnaires, and c) the use of Spanish in
the classroom by River Plate teachers, by means of linguistic analysis of
class recordings.

The results expose a conflict among Spanish varieties in Brazil. One
specifically focused on the Peninsular (Northern-Central Spain) and the
Rioplatense varieties, and tightly tied to political, economic,
educational and cultural factors that interplay among them in overt and
covert dynamics. While the press analysis shows a process of
commodification of the language aligned to the Peninsular variety, the
study of attitudes presents a split in the participants' preferences,
favoring the Rioplatense variety in measures of solidarity and evaluation,
and the Peninsular variety in measures of power. When the focus turns to
the agents of the centrifugal forces, the actual variety in use leans
towards a pan-Hispanic combination of features favoring Latin American

In terms of language policy and planning, such results show that the
action of the centrifugal forces can actually limit the effects of the
centrifugal forces. In terms of language analysis, further research is
required to follow up on the evolution of the particular combination of
Spanish varieties currently in use in Brazil.



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