The social life of ideophones : exploring linguistic landscaping in Basque publics
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In this paper, I focus on the analyzing the processes of production, emplacement, and uptake of ideophonic signage in the Basque Autonomous Community of Spain (Blommaert 2013). I place this focus within an ethnographically situated linguistic landscape, by which I refer to a set of literacy forms that can provide insight into language ideological frameworks that surround such linguistic practices. Specifically, I analyze the potential uptakes of visual-written ideophonic signage in public spaces and their relation to language ideologies about Basque identities, revitalization and speakerhood that circulate in the BAC. I argue that this use of Basque ideophony evokes a local kind of intimacy through processes of rhematization, creating an iconic relationship between sound and sense that comes to link Basque people and tourists to the language through ‘qualia’ mapped onto these linguistic forms (Gal 2005, 2013). This mode of iconization (Irvine and Gal 2000) enacts an oppositional stance toward Standard Basque, as either taken up by Basque speakers who are insecure about their fluency or by tourists who are in need of a branded cultural experience. That is, these ideophones are able to publicly stage this intimate connection between sound, sense, and place by presupposing and opposing the authoritative place of Standard Basque, which marginalizes ideophones and other nonnormative modes of speaking. Furthermore, the same ideophones that index and iconicize linguistic intimacy for some (and in some cases the same) Basque natives also simultaneously do the metacultural work of displaying Basqueness—and of selling “localness” to the tourist (Urban 2001, Coupland 2012). These Basque ideophones work to interpellate a Basque public (Warner 2002, Webster 2017b) that responds to the intimacy of Basque orality and finds in it a marker of authenticity and belonging. As written forms of intimately oral language use devalued in Standard Basque then, these signs push back against the Basque standardization—and ideologies of anonymity implicated therein—in its own terms. Instead, they foreground ideologies of authenticity (Woolard 2016) to exploit their “localness” as uniquely Basque sounds that are untranslatable and that one must learn through various modes of socialization and acquisition within local Basque communities. Analyzing the use of ideophony in signage brings to the fore the ways that verbal art can become a crucial site for making social critique via aesthetic (and poetic) resistance. Furthermore, this study reinforces the importance for scholars of language minority movements to verbally artistic language use and literacy practices in everyday, non-normative contexts more broadly, which often reveal vastly heterogeneous assemblages of ideologies surrounding concepts of publics and language.