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Sociolinguistics from the Periphery "presents a fascinating book about change: shifting political, economic and cultural conditions; ephemeral, sometimes even seasonal, multilingualism; and altered imaginaries for minority and indigenous languages and their users."
AUTHOR: James Wilson TITLE: Moravians in Prague SUBTITLE: A Sociolinguistic Study of Dialect Contact in the Czech Republic SERIES TITLE: Prague Papers on Language, Society and Interaction / Prager Arbeiten zur Sprache, Gesellschaft und Interaktion PUBLISHER: Peter Lang YEAR: 2010
Michael Grosvald, Department of Neurology, University of California at Irvine
This book presents the results of sociolinguistic research in which the author investigated 39 university students from Moravia (approximately the eastern third of the Czech Republic) living and studying in Prague, the country's administrative, cultural and economic center. This study sought to determine to what extent the linguistic behavior of these speakers of Moravian dialects of Czech would reflect accommodation to Common Czech (CC). At least some such accommodation seemed likely to take place, given that CC is the dialect prevalent throughout Bohemia, the larger part of the country in which most Czechs live and in which Prague is located.
In Chapter 1, the author introduces his study and states his aims and objectives. He notes that the literature on dialect contact contains relatively few studies of linguistic accommodation on the part of adults who have migrated to a different speech community within the same country. The language situation in the Czech Republic also happens to be particularly intriguing, as there is a significant gap between CC and Standard Czech (SC). Despite its status as the official standard, SC is widely perceived as archaic, resulting in a situation that the author refers to as ''semi-diglossic'' (p. 2). At the same time, many speakers of Moravian dialects have a negative attitude toward CC, considering it ugly, unrefined, and so on. This is probably due at least in part to the fact that SC and Moravian varieties of Czech have some linguistic features in common not shared by CC; in fact, a widely-held lay perception is that the 'best' Czech (p. 35) is spoken somewhere in Moravia. Despite this popular belief, SC itself has no native speakers, and so any particular Moravian dialect will tend to differ appreciably from both SC and CC.
Therefore, speakers of Moravian dialects who have migrated to Prague encounter numerous sources of linguistic and cultural tension depending on whether they retain their native forms (which are often derided in Bohemia as amusing or 'hickish'), adopt forms from SC (which will often be perceived as bookish, pompous or stilted), or accommodate to the prevailing dialect of CC. Of course, the typical pattern among speakers is some mixture of these options; variations in this pattern presumably depend on speaker-specific factors such as his or her region of origin, gender, amount of time already spent in the new speech community, and any number of other social and cultural variables such as speakers' attitudes toward their native and present linguistic communities and the extent of their integration into the new community. Speakers' tendency to accommodate may also vary for different phonological, (morpho)syntactic or pragmatic features and constructions.
Chapter 2 situates this study in the context of previous work such as that of Labov (e.g. Labov 1966, 1972a, 1972b), communicative accommodation theory (Giles 1973, Giles & Smith 1979), and the dialect contact framework of Trudgill (1986). The author outlines some reasons for which dialect contact of the kind he is researching has been relatively understudied. For example, he notes a tendency -- at least on the part of many earlier researchers -- to treat speakers of a dialect as members of an isolated, 'autonomous' group. In addition, studies of dialect contact have often focused on short-term exposure, on late stages of contact at which point new dialects have already arisen, or on the linguistic behavior of adolescents and pre-adolescents. The last point appears to reflect the belief that a critical or sensitive period for language acquisition carries over to the acquisition of new dialects of a given language, and a subsequent assumption on the part of researchers that the speech of adults learning a new dialect must somehow be less worthy of study as a result. Finally, previous work has often been based on informal observation and reflection rather than systematic research.
Chapter 3 presents an in-depth discussion of the Czech language, which the author traces from its modern roots in the thirteenth century up to the present. Of particular import is the 'Germanization' period (p. 17) which started around 1620, soon after the beginning of the Thirty Years War. During this time, the Czech language was replaced by German in most official domains, although Czech was still spoken and continued to evolve. In the subsequent period of Czech National Revival, beginning in approximately 1770, revivalists decided to adopt the older version of the language as the standard rather than the version then in use. The resulting gulf between the official version and more-widely-used 'common' (p. 10) version of the language has had consequences up to the present day. Also covered in this chapter are a number of related issues concerned with language planning, linguistic research, and the status of CC in Moravia and the rest of the present-day Czech Republic.
Chapter 4 provides a description of the 'contact hypothesis' that the author's study is intended to investigate. Based largely on assertions made by the Czech linguists Sgall and Hronek (e.g. Sgall & Hronek 1992), the hypothesis states that speakers of Moravian dialects will abandon features of their own dialects in favor of CC when living in Bohemia. A second part of the hypothesis, that Bohemian speakers of CC living in Moravia will not adopt features of Moravian dialects but rather will further the spread of CC to Moravia, is beyond the scope of this study. However, both components of the contact hypothesis together illustrate the perceived asymmetry in social status among the different non-standard varieties of Czech, with speakers of Moravian dialects seemingly at a disadvantage relative to Bohemian speakers of the more-widely spoken CC. The author also points out some weaknesses of the contact hypothesis; these include its vagueness and the fact that it is ideologically driven, having initially been articulated by proponents of CC as a variety of Czech 'functionally superior' to SC and Moravian dialects (e.g. Sgall 1960).
Chapter 5 presents the author's research methodology. Interviews were conducted at a dormitory that houses domestic and international students of medicine and physical education. Because students coming from areas near Prague are not guaranteed a place in such facilities, the proportion of students from Moravia living in the dormitory was high (28%) relative to that in the country as a whole (perhaps 5 - 10%). Each participant was recorded during two interviews conducted the same day. The first interview was carried out by a native speaker of CC and provided raw data on participants' use of the linguistic forms under investigation. The second interview, conducted by the author, consisted of open-ended 'life-style' and 'attitude' (p. 78, 82) questions, probing issues such as those related to network integration (e.g. how much time was spent during off-hours socializing with Bohemians vs. other Moravians) and attitudes toward Prague and CC.
In Chapter 6, the author introduces the six linguistic variables he chose as targets of study for his quantitative analysis; three are classified by the author as phonological and the other three as grammatical. The phonological variables are V-insertion (VI), E-raising (ER), and Y-diphthongization (YD). VI refers to the inclusion of prothetic /v/ in words (or word-internal morphemes) with an initial /o/ (e.g. SC /okno/ ~ CC /vokno/ 'window'). ER refers to the raising of long mid front /e:/ -- represented in IPA with epsilon, unavailable here for typographical reasons -- to /i:/ (e.g. SC /mle:ko/ ~ CC /mli:ko/ 'milk'). YD denotes the use of diphthong /ej/ in places where SC has long high front /i:/ (e.g. SC /zi:tra/ ~ CC /zejtra/ 'tomorrow').
The three grammatical variables are Paradigm unification (PU), L-truncation, and Gender neutralization. These refer, respectively, to simplification of the third-person plural in the conjugations of particular verb classes, to the loss of final /l/ in the masculine past tense of certain verbs, and to the loss of gender distinctions in certain adjectival and pronominal plural forms.
These six characteristic features of CC do not occur consistently in all environments, their use varies widely among speakers, and individual speakers may apply them inconsistently even for particular words. Still, the author was able to establish some hypotheses about the kinds of patterns that would most likely occur. The independent variables that were incorporated into the analysis included region of origin (Central Moravian, East Moravian and Silesian), gender, length of residence in the CC community, and 'network integration' (p. 138). The author discusses his predictions in Chapter 7.
In Chapter 8, the outcomes of the analysis are presented, and the results interpreted. While other factors are also at work, network integration emerged as the most important independent variable examined in the study; Moravians with stronger connections to the local CC-speaking community tended to accommodate more. This pattern was seen clearly only for speakers who had already spent at least several years in the CC community, however, and females showed this pattern more than males. Although the accommodation analysis distinguished three regions of Moravia, no significant differentiation was found based on speakers' region of origin. Other, more complicated patterns were also found; for example, VI and YD were more influenced by length of residence in the CC community than were ER and PU.
Chapter 9 concludes the book with further discussion of issues raised by the study's outcomes, and suggests directions for future research. The author states that the contact hypothesis is generally supported by his findings: ''Moravians living in Prague do in fact accommodate to CC'' (p. 231). However, a number of more surprising outcomes were also found, leading the author to the conclusion that despite their accommodation, Moravians still use CC differently from Bohemians: many Moravians tend to use what the author terms 'a kind of ''elevated'' CC' (p. 234).
The research presented in this book is well-motivated and interesting, and the book itself is engaging and enjoyable to read. Moreover, given the relative dearth of sociolinguistic research on dialect contact in the context of within-country migration, this work is a useful and important contribution. This study is also noteworthy because of the somewhat unusual relationship between CC and SC, and the fact that a project like this one would have been difficult or impossible to carry out under the Communist regime. As the author notes, even after the fall of Communism there has not been a proliferation of systematic sociolinguistic studies of Czech dialects.
Indeed, a particular point of interest is the presentation and discussion of various aspects of different Czech dialects. In fact, the topic matter is so interesting that I would have enjoyed learning more about the individual learners who took part, and learning more about their various dialects, though some such information was presented. This is not to say that I felt there were significant gaps in the discussion or analysis; rather, the subject matter that was presented was engaging to the point that I wanted to know even more. Given the potential scope of such research, however, it is understandable that some lines of inquiry have had to be postponed, at least for the time being.
For example, the author acknowledges that the observed patterns of variation may sometimes reflect the influence of (unexamined) prosodic and other factors such as rhyme, meter and sentence position. He also notes the limitations of the quantitative approach, but the qualitative findings that are presented, while interesting, are also likely to be only part of a more complex, much broader picture. In addition, despite this study's finding that region of origin did not correlate with degree of accommodation, it would be interesting to see a more detailed examination of features of particular Czech dialects and how they may relate to the linguistic behavior of speakers of those dialects in this or in other contact situations. In addition to its own intrinsic interest, which is considerable, an important contribution of the present work is that it may serve to inspire more such research related to Czech in particular as well as other languages in general.
Giles, H. 1973. Accent mobility: A model and some data. Anthropological Linguistics 15. 87-105.
Giles, H. and P. Smith. 1979. Accommodation theory: Optimal levels of convergence. In Giles, H. and R. St. Clair (eds.), Language and Social Psychology. Baltimore: University Park Press, 45-65.
Labov, W. 1966. The Social Stratification of English in New York City. Washington, D.C.: Center for Applied Linguistics.
Labov, W. 1972a. Sociolinguistic Patterns. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Labov, W. 1972b. Some principles of linguistic methodology. Language in Society 1. 97-120.
Sgall, P. 1960. Obixodno-razgovornyj cesskij jazyk [The Czech Vernacular]. Voprosy jazykoznanija 9. 11-20.
Sgall, P. and J. Hronek. 1992. Cestina bez prikraz [Czech as it is]. Prague: H&H.
Trudgill, P. 1986. Dialects in Contact. Oxford and New York: Blackwell.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Michael Grosvald earned his doctorate in Linguistics in 2009 at the
University of California at Davis. His background includes over a decade as
a language instructor in Prague, Berlin, Taipei and the US; his interests
include the phonetics and phonology of signed and spoken languages, second
language acquisition, computational linguistics, psycholinguistics and the
neuroscience of language. He is currently working as a post-doctoral
scholar in the Department of Neurology at the University of California, Irvine.