Constructing us. A book on grammar and meaning

The book Constructing us. The first and second persons in Spanish media discourse, by Miguel A. Aijón Oliva, has just been published by De Gruyter as part of its renowned collection in Romance linguistics.

The book presents a monographic study of a topic that has constituted the focus of much of the research conducted within the CoSoLen group’s projects over the years ‒ the first and second grammatical persons. These are watched as a complex array of functional strategies for the development of cognitive representations of the speaker and other people and entities. In a language like Spanish, grammatical person is the most basic and pervasive linguistic resource for the configuration of reference and viewpoint. The choice of some person entails a particular viewpoint of the participants involved in communication and of the events they take part in. For the same reason, it can also strongly condition others’ interpretations of discourse, as well as of the participants and the situation as a whole.

Thus, speakers can explicitly associate the content of discourse with their own selves by way of singular first-person choices. They can just as well displace the viewpoint towards a broader human group where they are still included ‒ through the plural first person ‒ or else towards their interlocutor or audience ‒ through the singular and plural second persons, which are further divided into two different grammatical subparadigms. Of course, one can also opt to avoid first- and second-person elements altogether and contemplate discourse as apparently unrelated to the participants. If language is the most important semiotic code by which social life is developed, the scientific interest of the ways people construct ‒ or avoid to construct ‒ themselves as well as others through linguistic choices becomes evident.

The basic starting point for this approach to the first and second persons is that they do not exist outside the forms chosen to make them present in discourse, that is, they are meanings constructed through linguistic choices. While such forms are most often used to index entities from the extralinguistic world, the construction of certain communicative roles, such as speaker, addressee and so on, together with the sets of rights and duties they respectively involve, is only possible by way of language. When people formulate first-person-marked elements ‒ which in Spanish include deictic pronouns, verbal endings and clitics, and possessives, among others ‒ what they do is turn themselves into the speaker, with all the consequences this may have on how they are perceived by others within the communicative context, as well as on their actual chances to achieve their goals. Even if the social value of language has (most) often been approached from the perspective of the evaluations attached to particular linguistic forms ‒ with no clear explanation of how such attachment came into being in the first place ‒ it is hypothesized that, at least at levels beyond phonology and prosody, the social values of linguistic elements are not independent of their intrinsic meanings themselves. In other words, if formal choices become associated with particular social values in the communities where they are used, this must have some connection with what they communicate at the semantic, discursive and cognitive levels.

The study is based on contemporary Peninsular Spanish as reflected in a corpus of written and oral media discourse. Media communication is a multidimensional domain of human activity where a wide array of textual genres and speaker identities come together, making it possible to observe how linguistic choices are used for the construction of meanings at multiple levels. The Corpus de Lenguaje de los Medios de Comunicación de Salamanca (MEDIASA) contains slightly more than 300,000 words equally distributed between a written-press subcorpus and a radio one, both of which are further subdivided into several textual genres. The materials of the corpus are subjected to quantitative and qualitative analysis in order to obtain an exhaustive picture of first- and second-person usage and its meaningful repercussions in media interactions.

The analysis first addresses each of the Spanish first and second persons separately, then combines them all in an investigation of grammatical choice as the construction of sociocommunicative styles....

Proyecto I+D "Cosolen"