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Prescription and use in the history of the Brazilian Portuguese subjunctive: a study in plays from the XVIIIth to XXth century

Grant number: 14/02414-0
Support type:Scholarships abroad - Research
Effective date (Start): August 01, 2014
Effective date (End): June 30, 2015
Field of knowledge:Linguistics, Literature and Arts - Linguistics - Historical Linguistics
Principal Investigator:Rosane de Andrade Berlinck
Grantee:Rosane de Andrade Berlinck
Host: Shana Poplack
Home Institution: Faculdade de Ciências e Letras (FCL). Universidade Estadual Paulista (UNESP). Campus de Araraquara. Araraquara , SP, Brazil
Local de pesquisa : University of Ottawa (uOttawa), Canada  


The subjunctive has traditionally been associated with the notions of (i) possibility, probability, doubt, and assumption, and (ii) obligation, necessity, desire and intention. These values are well-known as part of a grammatical tradition that keeps them conscientiously associated with the subjunctive. It is also well-known, yet little accepted, that there is a trend toward replacing the Portuguese subjunctive forms with the indicative in contexts in which only the subjunctive is prescribed. This theme has been the subject of several recent studies, mainly devoted to the analysis of the variable expression of the subjunctive in present synchronies (Almeida 2010; Bittencourt 2012; Callou and Almeida 2009; Domingos 2004; Meira 2007; Neta 2006; Nicolau 2003; Pimpão 1999 2009 2012; Ribas and Barros 2013, among others). The contrast between prescription and the findings of descriptive studies guided by rigorous empirical analysis perfectly illustrates the clashes between 'standard' and 'use' and 'prescription' and 'praxis' that I seek to assess and understand. We could say that one of the overall objectives of this proposal will come to a "norm of the use" as opposed to the "use of the norm." However, it is important to note that in addition to mapping this contrast, what I want ultimately is to measure the acting of prescriptive forces on the advances of the apparent replacement process of subjunctive forms by the indicative or infinitive. What I propose is a study on the variable use of the subjunctive in Brazilian Portuguese from a historical perspective that will analyses and compare this phenomenon using data from plays (mostly comedies) and personal letters from the 18th to the 20th centuries. The choice of these data source meets the search for variation in written text. Parallel to the empirical analysis, a meta-analysis, which will gather information from grammars and similar works, will provide a framework of the 'norm' throughout the period analyzed in relation to which it will be possible to contrast the use(s) identified (cf. Poplack e Malvar, 2007; Poplack, Lealess e Dion,2013). Within this broader proposal, the stage in Sociolinguistics Laboratory, University of Ottawa, mainly comprise the step of analyzing the phenomenon in data coming from plays, but also will discuss the results of the meta-analysis (step 1). For the selection of plays, I will focus on comedies and burlesques, applying to them the criteria adopted in Poplack and Malvar (2007) for the presence of popular characters and linguistic features typical of less formal registers (lexical selection, use of elements and constructions attested as innovative with respect to standard grammar). The results of the analysis of data from the plays will be compared, at a later stage of the study, the analysis of data obtained in personal letters. The theoretical and methodological basis of the research is, first, the principles and methodology of the theory of linguistic variation and change (Weinreich, Labov & Herzog 1968, Labov 1972, 1994, 2001) and and discussions about standard, genre, style and register (Coseriu 1979, Faraco 2008; Bakhtin 1992, Marcuschi 2008; Eckert e Rickford 2001, Biber e Conrad, 2009).Data analysis will follow the variationist approach, including (i) a survey of a representative sample of data in plays and in personal letters, with emphasis on the contexts that suffer some form of evaluation by the prescriptive standard, (ii) the sample analysis according to the factors groups defined from the hypotheses, (iii) the quantification of the data analyzed using the statistical program Goldvarb (Tagliamonte 2006), and (iv) the interpretation of the quantitative results in the light of the theoretical assumptions that underlie the study. (AU)