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Style in syntax

Investigating variation in Spanish pronoun subjects


Miguel Ángel Aijón Oliva and Maria José Serrano Montesinos

This book merges variationist sociolinguistics, discourse analysis and cognitive science into a new, comprehensive approach to variation in syntax. It is based on a view of grammatical constructions as creative stylistic choices that generate particular meanings in context. This can be so because linguistic variants – traditionally regarded as synonymous forms differing only in ‘extralinguistic’ significance – are based on cognition and reflect human perceptions of real-world events. The analysis of the variable expression and placement of Spanish pronoun subjects will show that not only the intrinsic referential values of pronouns, but also their formal arrangement within the clause, may affect the contextual interpretation of utterances and discourse. Besides, social and pragmatic factors will not be approached as predefined external variables constraining the occurrence of syntactic variants, but rather as dynamic features whose meaning is incorporated into that of the linguistic form. In other words, language and any other social semiotic systems will be seen as co-constitutive. The book aims to take an important step towards the configuration of a scientific theory of variation.


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1. Advancing the study of syntactic variation 11


1. Advancing the study of syntactic variation Human language is inherently variable and multi-faceted; any linguis- tic theory intending to be comprehensive and explanatory should take facts of variation into account. Nevertheless, it is well known that their study has generally remained a peripheral concern for main- stream linguistic science, usually devoted to the search for categorical, axiomatic principles of language structure. In turn, particular variants and statistical tendencies have most often been disregarded as anecdo- tal features of usage and not really worthy of scientific consideration. But, of course, not all the blame is to be put on ‘theoretical’ linguistics and its traditionally scarce interest in language as actual communica- tion. On the other hand, analytical approaches that do acknowledge the relevance of variation and diversity – mainly (socio)linguistic variationism, but also other lines within sociolinguistics and pragmat- ics, such as anthropological-ethnographic linguistics or interactional linguistics – have not been able to define systematic connections be- tween their empirical findings and any general linguistic theories, much less to develop their own explanatory models. This has resulted in variation studies remaining confined to the description and compar- ison of linguistic features, varieties and speech communities, with little intent to formulate general principles of the relationship between variation, communication and the human mind. The aim of this book is indeed to take a step towards the con- struction of a theoretical model of linguistic variation as communica- tive choice. The focus will be put on morphosyntax, due to its centrali- ty as...

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