Authoritative Discourse in Language Columns: Linguistic, Ideological and Social issues

by Sabine Schwarze (Volume editor) Carmen Marimon-Llorca (Volume editor)
©2021 Edited Collection 198 Pages
Series: Sprache - Identität - Kultur, Volume 20


In this volume the team of the research group CIRCULA jointly addresses one of the topics of greatest interest to understand the relations between language and society: the representation of authority in discourses on language. And it does so through the analysis of the columns on language, a journalistic genre in which opinions of the language are accepted or rejected according to the criteria of some type of authority. The panromanic scope of the works – Latin America, Spain, Canada (Quebec), France, Belgium, Switzerland and Italy – and the wide range of dates – XIX and XX centuries, which cover the entirety of its existence – allow a contrastive, diatopic and diachronic approach to the relations between language and power through this particular type of metalinguistic discourses in the press.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • The Holoptic Eye and the Future of Romance (José del Valle)
  • Preface (Carmen Marimón Llorca & Sabine Schwarze)
  • Discussing language, asserting authority: Standard language ideology in Montréal’s Le Pays (1852–1871)1 (Wim Remysen)
  • Language, politics and secularization: Language-ideological debates in the Latin American Press in the 1870s (Juan Antonio Ennis)
  • The construction of authority in 20th-century language columns in France (Olivia Walsh)
  • The questioning Authority. Evaluative strategies and argumentation in the column “La Academia española trabaja” [The Spanish Academy at work] (1959–1964)1 (Carmen Marimón Llorca)
  • The argument from authority in Doppagne’s Franco-Belgian language column: Polyphonic interplays and construction of epistemic authority (Franz Meier)
  • The authority of usage: Columns on language, from the purist- to the “scientific” (Sara Cotelli Kureth)
  • «Il torto e il diritto del non si può»: Neopurism vs the power of usage in Italian linguistic chronicles of the new millennium (Fabio Rossi)
  • The authors of the volume
  • Series index

José del Valle

The Holoptic Eye and the Future of Romance

This book makes me believe in the future of Romance! (No pun intended) I know this will sound polemical, but, for decades now, Romance linguistics has been living a fragile, aimless existence; preserved by fewer and fewer university curricula either as a noble concession to an equally noble antiquarian desire or (much less romantically) as the sad outcome of institutional inertia. A sad story, of course, for those who thrive in the analysis of its fascinating historical emergence in nineteenth-century academic circles. The “Romance languages” and the “Romance world” were, of course, historical construals involved in social processes and the legitimization of cultural hierarchies; but also a CORPUS that lent itself to experimentation in the development of a modern comparative epistemology. Systematic comparison of linguistic structures along diachronic and synchronic, diatopic and syntopic axes was the key hermeneutic exercise for the development of truly explanatory theories of language change. Once made to lay sideways by Saussure, they yielded geometrically balanced theories of language. Of language, period.

However, for sociolinguists, by definition, there is never a period after (or before) language. Language is always already social, embedded in people’s lives as it is created and as it is in turn projected on to the community from which it emerges. Within this social paradigm of language study, the extraordinary importance of the immediacy of verbal communication pushed researchers to place their energy at the service of the pursuit of contextual detail. Truth be told, comparison has always been an interest of sociolinguists; however, perhaps due to the material demands of the associated research methods, focus on the syntopic dimension became central.

The CIRCULA group offers a refreshing project to bring comparison to the forefront. Not as a nostalgic return to a bygone era, but as a contemporary necessity of scholarship that aims at both local and global relevance. The present book, in particular, offers an exploratory raid into the comparative analysis of the public sphere through two of its central constituents: language and the press. The authors focus on a specific genre, linguistic columnism, and offer us, firstly, a CORPUS that lends itself to the exploration of new pathways for comparison. Secondly, they draw a series of thematic lines and draft a conceptual ←7 | 8→landscape through which to understand language as both an instrument and an object with which and on which social struggles are waged.

The studies included in this volume offer a broad and diverse view of two central glottopolitical processes: the discursive construction of the publicly recognized authority on which linguistic power is to rest, and the displacement of social anxieties and struggles to language as an object of public discourse. Much has happened since Jürgen Habermas first formulated his theory of the public sphere as a condition of Modernity. The nation-State as the main space in which people’s lives unfold has been further questioned by experience and theory alike; huge holes have been poked in the idea of languages as bounded and natural objects; the traditional press as a central institution for the administration of power has been undergoing a major crisis. Linguistic columnism, as defined by the present volume, opens a window with a revealing view of how these social processes have played out in the world.

In the Romance world, that is. And what is the intellectual principle that justifies placing these objects precisely within the “Romance world”? Is it an outdated criterion? Is it a haphazard selection? Perhaps. But perhaps, who cares? If the structural and institutional remains of the old Romance linguistics paradigm is the platform from which to launch the project, so be it. Readers should note that, while still very grounded in Europe, the volume’s geographic net is cast so as to cover a geopolitical space in which traditional center-periphery dynamics are erased. Thus, the justification may very well be found not so much in the object itself as in the eye of the beholder: a holoptic eye, like that of a fly, that standing on the ruins of the old Romance tradition manages to see it differently, a de-centered version of the old cultural architecture.

Carmen Marimón Llorca & Sabine Schwarze


This volume Authoritative Discourse in Language Columns: Linguistic, Ideological and Social Issues brings together seven papers plus a theoretical introduction written by members of the international research group CIRCULA. This group, formed in 2013 in Augsburg, Germany, and led by Sabine Schwarze, aims to study the transmission of linguistic ideologies through the press. Since its foundation, the Circula research group has held four editions of the biannual ILPE Conference (Idéologies linguistiques dans la press romane, founding conference 2013 in Augsburg, Germany), created the open-access journal CIRCULA on linguistic ideologies (11 issues between 2013 and 2020), participated in many conferences and research projects, and produced numerous publications – four collective volumes: Marimón Llorca/Santamaría 2019, Remysen/Schwarze 2019, Marimón Llorca/Remysen/Rossi 2021, and Pano Alamán/ Ruggiano/Walsh 2021. In this volume, the Circula research group addresses a topic of paramount importance in understanding the relationship between language and society: the representation of authority in metalinguistic discourse, specifically the discourse found in newspaper language columns, a journalistic genre with a long tradition in which opinions about language are accepted or rejected according to criteria based on some type of authority, for example, institutional, political, academic, or personal authority. Language columns have been somewhat neglected in academic research until recent years; their study, however, is essential to understand the course of ideas about language in linguistic and social communities. The pan-Romance scope of the language columns included here – ranging from Latin America (Argentina, Chile and Colombia) to Canada (Quebec) to Europe (France, Belgium, Switzerland, Spain, Italy) – and the wide range of dates from the 19th and 20th centuries, which cover the entire period of the genre – allows for a contrastive, diatopic and diachronic approach to the study of the relationship between language and power in this particular type of metalinguistic discourse in the press. It is, in any case, a starting point, the ultimate objective of which is to make available to the research community a corpus of Romance language columns that enables and encourages the (comparative) study of this type of text.←9 | 10→

While each chapter focuses on the relationship between language and authority in a particular language and location, numerous commonalities between the different works examined are apparent. The representation in these documents of norms vs. usage, institutionalism vs. individualism, the “elite” vs. “the common people”, liberal vs. conservative orientation, prescriptivism (or even purism) vs. descriptivism, fixity vs. variation, nationalism, etc., form a type of conceptual capital which is replicated throughout these works, and identifies them as one of the epicenters of public debate on language and linguistic thought in the 19th and 20th centuries across many different linguistic and social communities. As Florian Columas points out, ideologies serve to “organize thoughts, feelings, and one’s position in the world. Language ideologies are an obvious example of this”. 1 Some of the questions that the seven chapters that make up this volume seek to answer include the means by which public figures of authority are constructed, the linguistic resources used to create authority, and the political and social implications of language debates.

The first chapter written by Wim Remysen, Discussing Language, Asserting Authority: Standard Language Ideology in Montreal Le Pays (1852–1871), analyses the language-related articles published in the Le Pays newspaper. Remysen draws attention to over 100 extracts which demonstrate that, for the newspaper’s editors, arguing over language was a means of cementing their authority “while weakening that of others” (p. 27). Remysen uses numerous examples to shows the extent to which discussion about the standard language or the “correct” use of French in mid-19th-century Québec was politically instrumentalized. The language debate thus becomes an excuse and a battlefield in which left-wing and conservative political positions – represented by Le Pays – face each other, whose medium of expression was the newspaper La Minerve, all in the midst of the emergence of a Quebec bourgeoisie in dispute for power and for being the holder of the voice of authority.

The 19th century is also the focus of Juan Ennis’ chapter on Language, Politics and Secularization: Language-Ideological Debates in the Latin American Press in the 1870s, which analyzes three moments of public language debate during the 1870s in three Latin American countries. These include the debates in the language columns of Juan de Arona, in La Estrella de Chile; Miguel Antonio Caro, in El Tradicionista, which he founded in Bogotá; and Gutiérrez in La Libertad, a liberal Buenos Aires newspaper. In all three cases, the language ←10 | 11→debate is almost always intertwined with political-ideological debates and has less to do with prescribing “good” or discouraging “bad” usage than with the question of who has the authority to intervene in the management of language. It is in the notion of authority that Ennis can observe a confluence of language-ideological debates, political disputes, and the incipient expansion and institutionalization of modern, scientific forms of discourse on language. Indeed, in both Remysen’s and Ennis’s work, the link between language and politics seems to lie precisely in the foundation of authority in language and in society.

Olivia Walsh, in The Construction of Authority in 20th Century Language Columns in France, analyzes a large corpus of language columns published throughout the 20th century in the French press, in order to determine how the authors of these columns “construct the authority necessary to pronounce on language usage and impose particular language ideologies” (p. 68). To do this, she defines the concept of “cognitive” authority (that which is recognized by others) and examines through which means, for example, grammars or dictionaries, columnists legitimize that authority. She concludes that, whether these sources are being used to reinforce a particular point of view or to show disagreement, the very fact of referring to them confers authority on columnists. Walsh also focuses on the question of “usage” and the different ways in which it is understood, either as “bon usage” (‘good usage’), which is associated with a more prescriptive attitude, or as “the use that ordinary people make of the language”, typical of a descriptive approach.

In The Questioning of Authority. Evaluative Strategies and Argumentation in the Column “The Spanish Academy at work” (1959–1964), Carmen Marimón addresses the issue of how authority is constructed in language columns through the analysis of the 32 articles written by the Secretary of the Royal Spanish Academy (Real Academia Española, RAE) in the ABC newspaper. The means used to evaluate language usage allow us to also access both the value system shared by a particular community at a given time, as well as the personal and social attitudes apparent in that community, while simultaneously sustaining arguments based on interlocutors’ subjectivity. However, despite the author’s effort to construct a particular type of discourse that reflects his institutional and personal communication strategy, it is observed how from ideological positions close to the Franco regime, the linguistic authority he represents is delegitimized and questioned in favor of a reactionary purism that does not want to lose its control over society, over the press or over language itself.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (July)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 198 S., 3 Tab.

Biographical notes

Sabine Schwarze (Volume editor) Carmen Marimon-Llorca (Volume editor)

Sabine Schwarze is since 2004 Professor of Romance Linguistics (Chair of Romance Linguistics French/Italian) at the University of Augsburg; publications on the history of language and translation theory, on the history of language standardization as well as on the history of text and media, especially in Italy and France and in the century of Enlightement; Current research projects in language ideology research, historical text typology and discourse linguistics; Fondation with Wim Remysen of the research group and the revue Circula. Carmen Marimón Llorca is Senior Lecturer of Spanish Language at the Department of Spanish Philology at the University of Alicante. She has done work on rhetoric, discourse analysis, lexicography and, in general, on various aspects of textuality. She is editor of the journals Acta Universitaria, CIRCULA and Discurso y Sociedad. She is a member of the Instituto Universitario de Lenguas Modernas Aplicadas (IULMA) in collaboration with which she has directed and taught numerous seminars and courses. At present, she is main researcher of the Project Linguistic columnism in the Spanish press from its origins. Multidimensional analysis, characterization and applications (METAPRES-COLING).


Title: Authoritative Discourse in Language Columns: Linguistic, Ideological and Social issues
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