Nicaragua y ¿vos, tú, o usted? : pronoun use and identity construction in an area of recent linguistic and cultural contact




Michno, Jeffrey Alan

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This dissertation answers a call for a variety of methods in analyzing personal pronouns (e.g. van Compernolle & Williams 2012; Félix-Brasdefer 2015), focusing on second-person singular pronoun use (vos, tú, and usted) by local participants (‘locals’) in a rural Nicaraguan community experiencing linguistic and cultural contact driven by tourism. Pronoun selection is shown to vary according to the amount of contact locals have with outsiders in their community. Evidence demonstrates that locals use tú, a variant previously reported as virtually absent from Nicaraguan Spanish (e.g. Lipski 1994, 2008; Páez Urdaneta 1981), with both outsiders and other locals. This practice is shown to coincide with a sense of prestige attributed to the tú form, and stigma, to vos, the form reported as ubiquitous in Nicaraguan Spanish (Lipski 1994, 2008; Páez Urdaneta 1981; Rey 1997; Thiemer 1989). Through an interactional sociolinguistic analysis, the study also answers a call by Jaffe (2009) to analyze stance using empirical approaches that consider social and historical contexts. Identified functions of pronoun switching include flirting, enhancing or reducing deference, emphasizing youthfulness, and negotiating identity status and stance in new relationships. Most notably, this study shows that locals systematically switch pronouns when they shift from direct address (e.g. ¿Cómo te llamas? ‘What is your[tú] name?’) to an impersonal stance (e.g. Tenés que trabajar para comer. ‘You[vos] have [one has] to work to eat.’). Evidence supports the view that impersonal use of second-person pronouns implies some type of generalization (e.g. with reference to a group, category, type, state, etc.), which can serve to create solidarity between conversational partners and to generate empathy over the category being generalized (Deringer et al. 2015; Gast et al. 2015). However, this study refutes the claim that impersonal pronouns “establish a direct referential link to the addressee, just like personal uses” (Gast et al 2015: 148), providing as evidence the frequent pronominal switches by locals at the address/impersonal speech boundary. Finally, this dissertation contributes a description of Nicaraguan Spanish, the least-studied Central American variety (Lipski 1994), and focuses on a particular variety spoken by historically understudied speakers from a rural region of high poverty and a low level of formal education.


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