The Handbook of Hispanic Sociolinguistics provides a comprehensive, state-of-the-art overview of theoretical and descriptive research in contemporary Hispanic sociolinguistics. Section II is devoted to morphosyntactic variation matching different theoretical aspects as well as a review of the most important contributions in this area both in Spain and America. One of the chapters is María José Serrano’s dealing with morphosyntactic variation in Spain.
From the nineties onwards, major developments began to take place in the variationist approach to syntactic variation in the Spanish language spoken in Spain, which developed the methodology of this field as did other studies carried out in the Americas. Unsurprisingly, early research in this area was undertaken by means of sociolinguistic methodology according to the Labovian correlational paradigm, which involves the basic prerequisite that variants should be the same in terms of their meaning and differ only in their social and/or stylistic value (Labov 1978:2). Verbal alternations, dequeísmo, terms of address and expression/omission of the pronominal subject , as well as several change in progress phenomena were studied from a correlational methodology.
Approximately halfway through the nineties, it became apparent that it was not sufficient to address the study of variation as alternation between forms identical as for their descriptive meaning, according to Labov’s orthodox variationist prescription and the need to use the methodological mechanisms and tools of discourse analysis and pragmatics began to be considered as a natural and obvious analytical extension in morphosyntax. It is crucial to take into account the semantic-pragmatic level in all analyses of variation. Notorious examples of that are dequeísmo phenomenon and verb tense variation, as well as variation between expression and omission of subject. The analysis of purely discursive phenomena began to be addressed during this period. It was observed that particles traditionally known as adverbs, adverbial speech, interjections and tags acquired a value in speech that could be analyzed sociolinguistically from their discursive-pragmatic functions under the discourse markers label.
The involvement of the abovementioned discursive-pragmatic level in syntactic variation is also evident in a monographic collection of studies on syntactic variation published in 1999 Estudios de Variación Sintática. That edition includes a theoretical paper in which the main aspects of this subject are dealt with once again. In addition to discussing the discursive-pragmatic level as a fundamental basis to achieve explanation, as had been suggested and was becoming apparent, it points out that syntactic variation entails differences in communication purposes that must be encompassed within the interaction between the speakers. Thus the notion of communicative interaction in the study of syntactic variation as constructing social meaning is stressed. Moreover, the need is to accomplish a balanced attention to qualitative and quantitative paradigms of variation. The interactional perspective has been developed particularly in the area of pronominal terms of address and politeness; it is noticeable that a better description of morphosyntactic variables may be obtained when they are linked to socio-pragmatic and speaker-hearer interactive factors.
In spite of the important contributions of the discursive-pragmatic and interactional communicative approach reviewed in the previous section, it is necessary to move beyond it and towards an internal and explanatory description of variation. Knowledge of the relationship between speaker and usage and variable shifting or choice is a neglected subject in correlational variationism, since it assumes a behaviorist approach that observes and sparingly explains speakers’ actions according to their social category, the communicative situation and/or other social and psychological factors. Only speakers’ belonging to a particular language community, social class or group has been clearly described. As is known, Labovian variationism analyzes fairly closed sets of individuals with predictably or plausibly different behaviors about a specific (socio) linguistic variable which seems to be deemed as homogeneous itself.
Without leaving aside the basic and natural notion of linguistic variation and the need to study it in-depth, a leap forward can be made if style is regarded as a means of creating meaning at many levels, including the linguistic proper. From the highlighted studies in both previous sections, the conclusion may be drawn that morphosyntactic variation is a communicative resource for constructing different styles. That would imply that the variation frequently observed in grammatical phenomena according to social and stylistic factors is not random, nor does it just respond to symbolic preferences of groups assignments, but rather variants are elements of style that convey the ability to create and construct meanings.
To sum up, the theoretical and empirical studies carried out so far enable us to reach the conclusion that syntactic variation analysis has overcome its traditional association to the phonetic-phonological level and its relegation to mere formal, correlational and probabilistic issues.
One of the most important challenges in morphosyntactic variation is to subsume discursive-cognitive properties of grammar and sociolinguistic variation to explain the construction of meanings in interaction. This view is as yet undeveloped for the Spanish language spoken in Spain. A research trend carried out by I+D project «Los estilos de comunicación y sus bases cognitivas en el estudio de la variación sintáctica en español FFI2009-07181/FILO) is currently underway to study syntactic variation as the construction of socio-stylistic meaning, starting from the cognitive motivations of some grammatical alternations in different varieties of the Spanish language.