[lg policy] dissertation: Acquisition as Becoming: An ethnographic study of multilingual style in 'la Petite Espagne'

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Tue May 18 14:50:00 UTC 2010

Author: David Divita
Dissertation Title: Acquisition as Becoming: An ethnographic study of
multilingual style in 'la Petite Espagne'

Linguistic Field(s): Anthropological Linguistics
                            Discourse Analysis
                            Language Acquisition

Subject Language(s): French (fra)
                            Spanish (spa)

Dissertation Director:
Richard Kern
Milton Azevedo
Claire Kramsch
Mairi McLaughlin

Dissertation Abstract:

To date, most sociolinguistic research on style has attempted to map
patterns of variation at levels of social aggregation that abstract away
from the individual. In this dissertation, however, I take the individual
as a point of departure, focusing on the ways in which her phenomenal
experiences of a sociolinguistic landscape inform the styles that she
constructs. To that end, I draw on seven months of ethnographic fieldwork
that I conducted at a social center for Spanish seniors (i.e., people over
the age of 62) in Saint-Denis, France. My research sample is comprised of
women, aged 62 to 80, who participated in a wave of female migration from
Spain to Paris during the 1960s to work in a burgeoning domestic service
industry in the capital's most affluent neighborhoods. All of them arrived
in France without speaking any French; now, more than 40 years later, they
have acquired the language to comparable levels of proficiency, but they
make use of their linguistic repertoires in idiosyncratic ways. My project
explores the origins and expression of this variation as a means of getting
at the subjective dimension of language acquisition and use.

As conceived in this project, language acquisition entails more than
learning grammatical and lexical forms; it also describes the subjective
process of becoming multilingual. To understand the mechanics of this
process, I conducted comparative case studies of three individuals I
observed in the field, juxtaposing discourse analysis of their language use
with detailed reconstructions of their biographical trajectories. My
analysis shows that, although these women have acquired French under the
same social and historical conditions, they have done so in variable ways
and to variable ends; they now engage differently in multilingual practices
(namely, code-switching and bilingual discourse-marking) as a means of
constructing styles that are both socially intelligible and individually
marked. Through recourse to poststructuralist sociolinguistic theory, I
illustrate how an individual's experience of a sociolinguistic landscape,
as well as her perceptions of those experiences, not only inform the social
meanings (such as the personae and stances) that she is given to construct,
but also the very means through which she constructs meanings. My
investigation of style among multilingual subjects underscores the ways in
which an individual's memories, experiences and ideological associations,
accrued over time, inform the linguistic practices in which she now engages.

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