Key note (1)

Augusto Soares da Silva
UniversidadeCatólica Portuguesa –
Centre for Philosophical and Humanistic Studies
Faculdade de Filosofia e Ciências Sociais, Braga Portugal

Portuguese, pluricentricity and Brazilian Portuguese: A case of a reverted asymmetry?

Portuguese is a pluricentric language with two well-established national standardized varieties, namely European Portuguese (EP) and Brazilian Portuguese (BP) and non-dominant varieties, such as, among other, Mozambican Portuguese (MP) and Angolan Portuguese (AP) which are both at an advanced stage of nativization. The EP standard is also applied in the Portuguese-speaking African countries, as well as in East Timor and other Asian territories. While Portuguese is receding in Asia, its position in Africa remains strong, especially in Angola and Mozambique (Baxter 1992; Gonçalves 2005, 2013). Interestingly though, Brazilian media have great impact on the use of Portuguese in Africa. Moreover, there is an Afro-Brazilian continuum (Petter 2009, Álvarez López et al 2018), which emerged from a shared Bantu substratum and contact-induced changes. All this leads to the hypothesis of a convergence between African varieties (especially MP and AP) and Brazilian variety.

In this study we will address three issues. Firstly, we will briefly sketch the evolutionary relation between the four national varieties of Portuguese, the standardization and distance of African varieties and the increasing pluricentricity of Portuguese (Oliveira 2016, Soares da Silva 2016). Secondly, we will review some social factors that point towards a relatively rare state of symmetric pluricentricity, such as the balance between the time supremacy of EP and the spatial supremacy of BP, the strong codification of EP and BP standards and the increasing awareness of the international importance of the bicentricity of Portuguese in socio-political and economicterms.

The results of the lectometrical and socio-cognitive research whichpointed to a diachronic divergence applying as much to BP as to EP (Soares da Silva 2010, 2014) seem to reinforce this claim. Finally, we will observe that the great impact of BP, which benefits from wide exposure in Portugal and other Portuguese-speaking countries (in contrast to the minimal exposure to EP in Brazil), as well as the convergence between MP-AP and BP given the Bantu contact zone, seem to go in the opposite direction and point towards a process of reverted asymmetry. Purist movements arising in Portugal against BP and any development towards pluricentrism, as well as other romantic (but also rationalist) attitudes towards the question of convergence and divergence between BP and EP will be analyzed.


Álvarez López, L., P. Gonçalves & J. Avelar (eds.) (2018). The Portuguese language continuum in Africa and Brazil. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Baxter, Alan N. (1992). Portuguese as a pluricentric language. In M. Clyne (ed.), Pluricentric languages. Differing norms in different nations, 11-43. Berlin: De Gruyter.

Gonçalves, P. (2005). A formação de variedades africanas do Português: argumentos para uma abordagem multidimensional. In A. Moreira et al. (eds.), A língua portuguesa: presente e futuro, 223-242. Lisboa: Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian.

Gonçalves, P. (2013). O Português em África. In E. P. Raposo et al. A. Gramática do Português. Vol. I, 157-178. Lisboa: Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian.

Oliveira, G. M. de (2016). The system of national standards and the demolinguistic evolution of Portuguese. In R. Muhr (ed.), Pluricentric languages and non-dominant varieties worldwide. Part II: The pluricentricity of Portuguese and Spanish. New concepts and descriptions, 35-48. Frankfurt a.M: Peter Lang.

Petter, M.M.T. (2009). O continuum afro-brasileiro do português. In C. Galves, H. Ganues & F. R. Ribeiro (eds.), África-Brasil - Caminhos da língua portuguesa, 158-173. Campinas: Editora da Unicamp.

Soares da Silva, A. (2010). Measuring and parameterizing lexical convergence and divergence between European and Brazilian Portuguese. In D. Geeraerts, G. Kristiansen & Y. Peirsman (eds.), Advances in Cognitive Sociolinguistics, 41–83. Berlin: De Gruyter.

Soares da Silva, A. (2014). The pluricentricity of Portuguese: A sociolectometrical approach to divergence between European and Brazilian Portuguese. In A. Soares da Silva (ed.), Pluricentricity: Language variation and sociocognitive dimensions, 143–188. Berlin: De Gruyter.

Soares da Silva, A. (2016). The cognitive approach to pluricentric languages and the pluricentricity of Portuguese: What’s really new? In R. Muhr (ed.), Pluricentric languages and non-dominant varieties worldwide. Part II: The pluricentricity of Portuguese and Spanish. New concepts and descriptions, 1334. Frankfurt a.M: Peter Lang.

Key note (2)

Cilene Rodrigues
Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio), Brazi

Pluricentricity and Migration within Tupi-Guarani Languages

Formation of pluricentric languages (PCLs) might involve long distance migrations. A group of individuals of a population A spreads across the territory carrying A's language, but reaching unconnected distances with respect to A. In addition, migrating groups might cross international borders, being, as a result, subject to different political regulations that might affect their language. With that in view, we will assess some historical migrations and their linguistic consequences within Tupi-Guarani, one of the main language families of South America, focusing on varieties of Guarani. The following topics will be addressed:

(a) Consequences of migrations to PCLs

(b) How ecological factors might interact with migrant PCLs

(c)  How the political status of a PCLs might affect its linguistic properties

Evidence from archeology, linguistics and genetics indicates that Proto-Tupi emerged ~5.000y ago, in central-western Amazon, in a territory bounded by the rivers Amazon, Tocantins, Madeira and Guaporé (arguably within the area that corresponds to the actual Brazilian state of Rondônia) (Rodrigues, 1964; Lathrap, 1970; Brochado, 1984; Noelli, 1998). This is the Madeira-Guaporé Region (MGR). The first Tupi languages (which are currently language families) started branching out ~3.000B.P. (Rodrigues, 1964; Urban, 1992, 1996), and, around this time, Tupi-Guarani people (one of the Tupi branches) fanned out in a radial fashion. The reason(s) for their dispersal is unknown (see Noelli, 2008 for a hypothesis based on demographic growth), but it was fast and took them far from MGR. Tupi-Guarani tribes expanded northward (Emerillon-Wayampí) and southward through routes in the east (Tupinambá) and in the west (Southern languages). The Tupi-Guarani languages are composed by approximately 40 languages divided in 8 groups by Rodrigues (1985) based on phonological and grammatical similarities.  

~2.000B.P. some Tupi-Guarani tribes were already in the south of the subcontinent, in the Paraná-Paraguay basin, occupying lands that are now part of four modern countries: Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil (Mello, 2000, Rodrigues 2007). These south most Tupi-Guaranis are currently called Guaranis and, their languages form Group I in Rodrigues’ (1985) classification, in which they are analyzed as variants/dialects of the same language (see also Rodrigues and Cabral, 2012). These grouping is confirmed by recent studies such as Michael et al. (2015). The Guaranian branch composes a monophyletic group, in accordance with Rodrigues’s proposal.

We might consider independent Guarani varieties to be PCLs (Clyne 1992), particularly as migrant PCLs (type 10 in Muhr’s  (2016) types of pluricentricity).  Although the linguistic consequences of the Guarani historical migration are not well-studied yet, we already know that it might have caused the preservation of the vowel system of Proto-Tupi-Guarani and a slight reduction in the consonantal inventory (Rodrigues, 2020). It might also have caused loss of cultural traits (Walker et al. 2012). Nevertheless, a better understanding of the overall consequences of this migration requires an analysis of social and linguistic factors, especially language contact, which clearly affected Paraguayan Guarani (PG) (Estigarribia 2015, 2020) and might have affected Aché and Xetá (Rodrigues, 1978; Röbler 2008).  

Another important factor in understanding ancient migrating PCLs is the interaction between ecological factors and human expansions. The underlying question is whether human migrations preserve familiar habitats or not. Grollemund et al. (2015) based on phylogenetic data from 400 modern bantu languages, concludes that the Bantu expansion, within the African territory ~5.000y ago, explored savanna corridors, avoiding rainforests.  Populations that moved into rainforests presented a slow migration rate, delaying the occupation of the new area. Similarly, phylogenetic studies on Guaranis suggest that their migration followed the margins of main rivers and tributaries, preserving, thus, ecological features of original habitat (O’Hagan 2014, O’Hagan et al. 2019). They might have as well explored different waterways trajectory. This is an important migratory topic as it converses with questions related to language contact and resultant linguistic diversity.

A third and crucial theme on the study of PCLs relates to their social and political use. Some social and political facts about PG set it apart from other Guarani varieties. PG is the Tupi-Guarani language with most speakers: 46.3% of Paraguayans home use both Guarani and Spanish and 34% only Guarani, with bilingualism concentrating on urban centers. (Estigarribia, 2020). In 1992, PG was declared an official language of Paraguay and education on Guarani became mandatory. In 2019, it was also listed as an official language of MERCOUL. This formal status in not observed in other Guarani varieties, although all speech communities of Guarani present a strong ethno-linguistic and cultural awareness. In addition, due to a long-lasting history of contact, PG exhibits some degree of mixing with Spanish. The result of this mixing is called Jopara by locals. Jopara adds lexical and functional items from Spanish (e.g. articles and plural markers) to the grammar of Guarani. Jopara’s linguistics status is, however, inconclusive, see Estigarribia (2015), where it is taken it to be a code-switching system. Although, bilingualism is very common among speakers of other varieties of Guarani (e.g. most of Brazilian Guaranis are speakers of Brazilian Portuguese as well.), no systematic language mixing is observed.


Brochado,  J.  P.  1984.  An  ecological  model  of  the  spread  of  pottery  and  agriculture  into  eastern  South  America. Ph.D. dissertation. Champaign, IL & Urbana, IL: University of Illinois.

Clyne, M. 1992 (ed.) Pluricentric Languages: Differing Norms in Different Nations. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Grollemund, R., S. Brandfor, K. Boston, M. Meade. 2015. Bantu expansion shows that habitat alters the route of human dispersals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 112: 13296-13301.

Estigarribia, B. 2015. Guaraní-Spanish Jopara in a Paraguayan novel. Journal of Language Contact, 8: 183-222.

Estigarribia, B. 2020.  A grammar of Paraguayan Guarani. London: UCL Press.

Lathrap, D. W. 1970. The Upper Amazon. New York: Praeger.

Mello, A. A. S. 2000. Estudo histórico da família linguística tupí-guaraní: Aspectos fonológicos e lexicais. Ph.D. dissertation, Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina.

 Michael, L., N. Chousou-Polydouri, B. Erin Donnelly, V. Wauters, S. Meira, Z. O’Hagan 2015. A Bayesian phylogenetic classification of Tupí-Guaraní. LIAMES, 15: 193-221.

Muhr, R. (ed.) 2016. Pluricentric languages and non-dominant varieties worldwide. Berlin: Peter Lang.  

Noelli, F. S. 1998. The Tupi: Explaining origin and expansion in terms of archaeology and of historical linguistics. Antiquity, 72: 648-663.

Noelli, F. S. 2008. The Tupi expansion. In H. Silverman and H. William (eds.) Handbook of South American archaeology. New York: Springer. 659-670.

O’Hagan, Z. 2014. A Computational-phylogenetic Classification of Tup´i-Guaran´i and its Geographical Spread. Paper presented at Language Variation and Change, University of Chicago. 

 O’Hagan, Z., Michael, L., N. Chousou-Polydouri, Michael, L.  2019. Phylogenetic classification a northeastern Amazonian Proto-Tupí-Guaraní homeland. LIAMES, 19: 1-29.

Röβler, E-M. 2008. Aspectos da gramática achê: Descrição e reflexão sobre uma hipótese de contato. MA thesis, Universidade Estadual de Campinas.

Rodrigues, A. D. 1964. Classificação do tronco linguístico Tupi. Revistade Antropologia,  12: 99-104.

Rodrigues, A. D. 1978. A  língua  dos  índios  xetá  como  dialeto  guaraní. Cadernos  de  Estudos  Linguísticos, 1: 7-11.

Rodrigues, A. D. 1985.  Relações  internas  na  família  linguística  tupí-guaraní. Revista  de  Antropologia, 27: 33-53.

Rodrigues, A. D. 2007. Tupí languages in Rondônia and in eastern Bolivia. In.: L. Wetzels (ed.) Language endangerment and endangered languages. Leiden: CNWS Publications. 355-363.

Rodrigues, A. D., A. S. A. C. Cabral. 2012. Tupian. The indigenous languages of South America: A comprehensive guide. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. 495-574.

Rodrigues, C. 2020. Founder effect in Tupian languages. Revista Diadorim, 22: 65-97.  

Urban, G. 1992. A história da cultura brasileira segundo as línguas nativas. In Cunha, M. C. (ed.) História dos Indios no Brasil. São Paulo: FAPESP/SMC/Cia das Letras. 87–102.  

Urban, G. 1996. On the geographical origins and dispersions of Tupian languages. Revista de Antropologia, 39: 61-104.

Walker, R. S., S. Wichmann, T. Mailund, C. J. Atkisson. 2012. Cultural phylogenetics of the Tupi language family in lowland South America. PLoS ONE 7(4): e35,025.

Key note (3)

Liliana Sánchez
University of Illinois Chicago

Is Quechua II a pluricentric language family?

Pluricentric languages have been defined as languages that comprise two or more “standard” varieties of the language (Ammon 1989) or, at least, two or more centers of diffusion of a prestigious variety of what is conceptualized as the same language (Muhr & Marley 2015).  In this talk, I will discuss whether the concept of pluricentric languages can be applied to the complex reality of a large family of minoritized languages such as the Quechua languages.

Torero (1964) and Parker (1963) proposed a classification of Quechua languages with two main subfamilies: Quechua I/A and Quechua II/B. While all varieties of Quechua I/A are spoken within the boundaries of Peru, a sub-group of varieties of Quechua II/B languages corresponding to the Chinchay sub-family (QIIB-C) (Cerrón Palomino 1988) are spoken across different countries in South America including Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, and Argentina.  Some of these varieties are represented more prominently in terms of number of speakers as well as in terms of their vitality. In fact, they are spoken and taught outside the boundaries of their original countries of origin, partly due to immigration to other South American countries, North America, and Europe, and partly due to academic interest in them. 

Albeit the Quechua family of languages is among the most widely spoken indigenous languages of the Americas, not all the varieties have similar levels of vitality. Most Quechua I languages are endangered or severely endangered and the vitality of Quechua II languages varieties differs within national boundaries (Ministerio de Educación de Perú 2018). For instance, in Peru and Bolivia, the southern varieties such as Cusco Quechua-Collao varieties are considered vital (Eberhard et al. 2021) but even within that context, dialectal variation is great and some local varieties may be experiencing language shift towards Spanish. In the same vein, some Ecuadorian Quichua varieties are considered vital although language shift is rapidly occurring, despite the symbolic power of these varieties (Haboud 2004).  The Quichua variety spoken in Argentina is not considered endangered yet (Eberhard et al.  2021) although it has a much lower numbers of speakers in total numbers and as a percentage of the total population of the country, while the Inga Kichwa variety of Colombia is considered endangered (Eberhard et al. 2021).

While Quechua languages have been historically minoritized in the different countries where they are spoken, important changes regarding indigenous languages revitalization and access to intercultural bilingual education have taken place in the legislations of Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, and also in Colombia and Argentina. These in turn have resulted in the continuous growth and evolution of languages polices that promote these languages. Some of these policies date back to the second half of the 20th century, but they have become more prevalent in the early 21st century. As a result, the development of official alphabets, as well as other “standardized” forms of the local and regional Quechua languages in the different countries have become part of state mandated policies involving intercultural bilingual education programs and to a lesser extent other state services for indigenous populations. One could think of these “standardized” forms as evidence in favor of adopting a pluricentric perspective regarding the Quechua languages. While indeed there is an emergence of different “standardized” varieties, the extent to which they are adopted by the indigenous populations seems to be a problematic issue for considering the family of languages a pluricentric one. 

At the same time, the diffusion of Quechua languages outside theiroriginal countries in North America and Europe is characterized by the prevalence of the Ecuadorian, Bolivian, and Southern Peruvian varieties with greater vitality in South America. These have become the prestigious varieties taught outside the countries of origin to the exclusion of those varieties with lower numbers of speakers and certainly, for obvious reasons, to the exclusion of the endangered ones.  This complex situation forces us to evaluate what the notion of pluricentric languages means for a minoritized family of languages spoken across different countries and how can this notion help or hinder revitalization and reclamation efforts of  the indigenous populations in the countries where the languages are spoken.


Ammon, U. 1989. Towards a descriptive framework for the status/function/social position of a language within a country. In: Ammon, U. (ed.). Status and function of languages and language–varieties. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 21–106.

Cerrón Palomino, R. 1987 Lingüística Quechua. Cuzco, Perú: Bartolomé de Las Casas.

Eberhard, D., Simons, G &  Fennig, C. (eds). 2021. Ethnologue: Languages of the World.

Twenty-fourth  edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Online version: htttp://

Haboud, M. (2004). Quichua language vitality: an Ecuadorian perspective. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 2004(167), 69-81.

Ministerio de Educación del Perú. 2018. Lenguas Originarias del Perú. Lima: Ministerio de EducaciónOnline version: es/registrobibliografico/lenguas-originarias-del-perú.

Muhr, Rudolf & Marley, Dawn (eds.). 2015. Pluricentric Languages: New Perspectives in Theory and Description. Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang.

Parker, Gary J. 1963. La clasificación genética de los dialectos quechuas. Revista del Museo Nacional 32:241–252.

Torero, A. 1964. Los dialectos quechuas. Anales Científicos de la Universidad Agraria 2:  446–478.

Key note (4)

Sebastian Greußlich
Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn

The pluricentricity of Spanish, Spanish in the Americas and mass media –
three major topics in interdependency

As far as Spanish is concerned, it is precisely in the three major fields of activity proposed for this conference that debates have been most intense and progress in research has been most dynamic during the last three decades, i.e. since the seminal volume published by Michael Clyne has set the tone for a series of important issues related to pluricentricity. In order to retrace the basic lines of these developments and to highlight some most important achievements as well as a series of crucial insights which are most relevant for the current state of affairs, the following issues shall be covered: 1. Advances in codification; 2. The restructuring of regional variety hierarchies; 3. The emergence of new implicit norms, first and foremost driven by the impact of mass media consumption; 4. The growing visibility of the non-dominant varieties of Spanish; 5. The Spanish language as an economic and symbolic resource in transformation. Since this conference is held „in honour of the pioneers of our field of research“, these issues shall be put into a larger perspective in order to appreciate the dynamics of its development and change.

Ad 1)

The efforts made by the ASALE and its integrating Academies in terms of codification have brought about impressing fruits.  Nevertheless, different concepts persist of how a dictionary and, eventually, a grammar should be organized. Not all of these concepts are strictly pluricentric in nature. The considerable number of publications in this field reflects this state of affairs.

On the national level, a series of dictionaries have been published each of which represent either a differential or an integral account. As is well known, the evaluation of their adequacy and usefulness has stimulated controversial debate that is still going on.

On the global level, the Diccionario de Americanismos (2010) and the Nueva gramática de la lengua española represent both the advances in codification and the inevitable contradictions that are brought about by codification in pluricentric environments. Here, opinions on their status and practical use are divergent, too.

Ad 2)

As has been noticed for several years now, it is not so much the sheer presence of a trait but rather its specific functional and systematic status that is essential for the normative order of Spanish pluricentricity. Restandardization is an important consequence of advances in codification and growing awareness of variety-related divergence and otherness.  A reconfiguration of the normative order is taking roots. Second order pluricentrism, i.e. normative claims related to formerly regional varieties anchored within a given diasystem, are acquiring ever more explicit and visible forms, supported not least by regional media companies.  

At the same time, the Coserian supra norm (sp. supraejemplaridad) of a literary kind is still relevant as a reference point. Indeed, the great literary tradition in Spanish language is generally recognized as a common heritage for the entire Hispanic world. However, the evaluations of the normative significance of this Hispanic norm as a reference point differ along with different political agendas and perspectives.

Ad 3)
International private media companies act as new agents on the scene (CNN en español; Telefónica). The effective impact of media consumption on idiomatic behaviour is still an uncertain issue even within media sciences (but consider the case of TV Globo's influence on Brazilian Portuguese). Nevertheless, it is largely documented that the sheer time dedicated to media consumption has increased throughout the Hispanic world during the recent decades.

A phenomenon of increasing importance which results from the restandardization processes just mentioned is the linguistic adaptation of media products to the habits of regional audiences. The research of the ALFAL-project on Spanish in the media has long demonstrated that a complex set of regional norms for the mass media can be found empirically. At the same time, it has been observed that the creation of media norms as alignment with customer preferences has become ever more noticeable since then.

Since this type of media-induced norm by definition disposes of a high degree of diffusion into society, it may have effects of competing standardization in parallel with official codification; depending on genre styles and discourse norms it may also have contrary effects inasmuch as colloquial registers or regional dialects gain unprecedented public presence when being reflected in the speech habits of characters in movies and television series.

Ad 4)

Not least by the impact of mass media, the visibility of non-dominant varieties increases. As a concomitant effect, the symbolic value of marginal linguistic habits and varieties also increases. Important aspects of the so called glocalization effect are fostered by mass media and, notably, digital media.

Nevertheless, restandardization tendencies induced as an effect of globalization and strengthened by mass media may produce different effects. Whereas a prominent second level pluricentrism has gained ground in Spain (cf. Andalusian and Canarian Spanish), in the Americas, however, this effect inside particular countries seems to be less evident. Rather, supranational mass media norms are taking root there.

Concurrently, new types of discourse-bound norms are currently emerging based on digital media. Active participation is least restricted here and new discourse settings including particular linguistic norms may emerge spontaneously and in a relatively unstable short-term manner. This phenomenon defines a communicative mode which is structurally unprecedented and has the potential to undermine and modify the established notion of linguistic normativity.

Ad 5)

As a consequence, non-dominant varieties may gain specific dignity as a symbolic representation of identities which are marginal in a geographic or social sense.  At the same time, traditional normativity is losing ground for three complementary reasons: First, the increasing public presence of the media accompanied by private economic interests which treat language as an asset.

Second, a growing tendency of public institutions towards an inclusive mode of codification with regard to different types of varieties can be observed. Thereby, variation as such becomes an object of consideration. At the same time, normative orientation necessarily becomes more limited (see above).

Third, new modes of spontaneous long-distance communication emerge on a digital basis. They are not strictly governed by codified linguistic norms. Nonetheless, as a regular communicative habit, they may also tend to undermine normativity in the traditional sense. The implications and consequences for pluricentricity within Hispanic linguistic culture will be a major focus of research and debate in the future. The work in this particular field has just begun.

Selected Bibliography:

Amorós, Carla (2014): Las lenguas en la sociedad. Madrid: Síntesis.
Greußlich, Sebastian/Lebsanft, Franz (2020): El español, lengua pluricéntrica: Discurso, gramática, léxico y medios de comunicación masiva. Göttingen: V & R unipress/Bonn University Press.

Lara, Luis F. (22004): Lengua histórica y normatividad. México D.F.: El Colegio de México.

Lebsanft, Franz (1998): „Spanische Sprachkultur: Monozentrisch oder plurizentrisch?“, in: Europäische Sprachkultur und Sprachpflege“, in: Albrecht Greule/Franz Lebsanft (eds.), Europäische Sprachkultur und Sprachpflege. Tübingen: Narr, 255–276.

Lebsanft, Franz/Mihatsch, Wiltrud/Polzin-Haumann, Claudia (2012):
El español, ¿desde las variedades a la lengua pluricéntrica?. Madrid/Frankfurt a.M.: Iberoamericana/Vervuert.
Oesterreicher, Wulf (2000): „Plurizentrische Sprachkultur – der Varietätenraum des Spanischen“, in: Romanistisches Jahrbuch 51, 281–311.

Key note (5)

Reglindis de Ridder
Stockholm University, Sweden

The localisation of children’s television and its sociolinguistic implications
in pluricentric language areas

Including a special section focussing on the localisation of global audio-visual media in pluricentric language areas is highly relevant in this age of streaming. Yet, even the age of traditional cable and satellite television witnessed an increase in new local and international channels competing with their more established counterparts. This often means that a wide range of different programmes is offered and, in many language areas, this usually implies importing a substantial amount of foreign content. Such imported content, subsequently, has to be localised or translated to accommodate the linguistic needs of the local target audiences. In pluricentric language areas, this begs the question: in which national variety is the imported content translated?

Depending on the translation mode (f.i. dubbing or subtitling), commercial considerations need to be taken into account as well. Dubbing, for example, is significantly more expensive than subtitling. Providing separate dubbed versions in all national varieties therefore, is hardly feasible without economic incentives. Moreover, dubbing is the main translation mode for children’s content. This is also the case for content aiming at children below the age of seven in so-called ‘subtitling countries’, as these children are not yet expected to be able to read subtitles.

One of the assets of the streaming platforms is that they, at least technically speaking, can offer a wider range of different language settings. The audio settings can include the original version next to dubbed versions, and even audio description for viewers with a visual impairment. By the same token, the subtitle settings can include different languages and national varieties.

In this keynote, I will look at past and present practices and call for more research into such audio-visual translations in pluricentric language areas. It is important to establish to what extent both speakers of non-dominant and dominant national varieties in pluricentric language areas are exposed to each other’s national varieties in different media and to what extent this may affect their own language use and, in some cases, possibly even contribute to gradual language change.

In general, sociolinguistic interest in the language used in audio-visual fiction has increased in recent years (e.g. Bednarek, 2010; 2018; Boberg, forthcoming; Stamou, 2018; Tagliamonte, 2014). Although such often scripted language certainly differs from naturally occurring ‘authentic’ language, sociolinguists have started to acknowledge its significance as a research object. Large reference corpora used for corpus linguistics research, therefore, may also include scripts from films and television series, but also audio-visual translations. Research interest into linguistic and sociolinguistic aspects of such audio-visual translations in language areas that produce a lot of translations is gaining ground as well (e.g. De Ridder & O'Connell, 2018; De Ridder, 2020; Di Giovanni, 2011). In pluricentric language areas, parents sometimes report that their children copy other national varieties they hear in imported television programmes. For example, in the United States, Canada and Australia, some children have started to copy the British English variety from a popular animation series Peppa Pig. Dutch-speaking parents in Belgium too have reported that their children copy the Netherlandic Dutch variety they hear more often nowadays in dubbed animation (De Ridder, 2021). Yet, such phenomena are often downplayed as temporary phenomena. As Androutsopoulos (2014) pointed out, language contact through audio-visual media leading to language change, is often dismissed by variationist sociolinguists, but would benefit from more research. Some research has revealed that media can indeed have an impact on language change (e.g. Boberg, 2000; Muhr, 2003; Stuart-Smith et al., 2013; Stuart-Smith & Ota, 2014), but also on language attitude and linguistic stereotyping (Lippi-Green, 2012).

Children’s television has been studied for a long time focussing on topics like the psychological impact on children’s behaviour of exposure to violence, or the influence of media on children’s views on body image, gender and ethnicity. Children are considered to be more vulnerable to media, yet, the influence the linguistic output of such media has on their linguistic development is also important. That is why, the impact of television on children’s cognitive development and, more specifically, language acquisition has been studied (e.g. Christakis, 2009; Christakis et al. 2018; Krcmar, 2014; Krcmar et al., 2007;  Linebarger & Walker, 2005). Particularly, since children acquire their language in early childhood and the first five years, more specifically,  constitute the so-called ‘critical period’ (Penfield & Roberts, 1959) in language acquisition, after which it becomes muchharder to learn the language.

Children start watching television at an early ageand a lot of content aims at pre-schoolers in this ‘critical period’ of language acquisition. So, not an insignificant amount of the language output children are exposed to originates from the programmes they watch. That is why it is important to study to what extent this impacts on their language acquisition, particularly, in pluricentric language areas. Children, whose vocabulary starts to grow significantly at the age of three, can learn new vocabulary from watching audio-visual content, especially, when this is accompanied by social interaction with, for instance, a co-viewing parent (Roseberry et a. 2009). However, research shows that three-year-olds also acquire new vocabulary by merely watching audiovisual content unsupervised (Krcmar et al. 2007, Roseberry et a. 2009). Since children are in the crucial early stages of acquiring their language, the exposure to the language used in children’s media can affect their language acquisition, but also their language attitude towards language varieties including their own. Children’s television is often criticized for being out of touch with reality because of the lack of diversity in the portrayal of children. Linguistically too, however, children’s media can be out of touch with reality because of the lack of linguistic diversity and the overexposure to one variety.

The more recent emergence of streaming platforms disrupted audio-visual media and changed media consumption. These mostly American content providers are feared to flood smaller countries with their content. As a result, attempts have been made to protect the local markets, for instance by creating local streaming platforms. The EU promotes European audio-visual works and their circulation in Europe, by doing so, it also counters the influx of American productions. The role of audiovisual translation, however, is often underestimated. Qualitative localisation is important to attract a larger audience and broaden the audience’s horizon. Still it needs to take into consideration local language policies and preferences for instance in terms of the linguistic standard used (De Ridder, 2020). This also may have to be regulated as well. What is often underestimated is the importance of making audio-visual content accessible to a wide range of different audiences with special needs and linguistic preferences. Such linguistic preferences are particularly relevant in pluricentric language areas. While companies like Pixar and Disney are known to go great lengths in localising their animation for smaller markets including parts of language areas in which non-dominant varieties of a language are used, these existing localised versions, for example, are not always available on streaming platforms, although technically speaking this should not pose any problems. This shows that content providers fail to adequately assess the implications of neglecting the linguistic particularities in different markets they try to reach.


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Key Note 6

Rudolf Muhr
Austrian German Research Centre, Graz, Austria

Pluricentricity, linguistic self-determination and diversity struggling with centralisation and revisionist tendencies:
An overview of current developments

In this key note I shall give a concise overview of recent developments in the realm of pluricentricy and language policies hat have emerged over the past 5-7 years. The most outstanding development is the movement of pluriareality by (mostly) German linguists that started to reconsider the German language to be a pluriareal language and not a pluricentric one which has been the generally agreed view. The supporters of this concept maintain that there is no national variety (NV) of Austrian German as there is overlapping between Austria and Germany and that there are not enough specific linguistic Austrian features that would justify to speak of a NV. Another new development is the attempt to prove the pluriareal concept with empirical data. A cornerstone of this is the so-called "Variantengrammatik" (Grammar of variants), which attempts to prove, on the basis of 950 grammatical phenomena, based on a corpus of regional newspaper texts, that there are no NVs of German due to the regional distribution. Two recent publications (Dollinger (2019) and Muhr (2020)) have challenged the pluriareal approach from different angles and shown that the concept is neither theoretically nor empirically tenable. The “Variantengrammatik” turned out to be based on a heavily biased corpus. A check of the results on a very large corpus showed that 85% of the data displayed at the web site of the project were false. This is shown in detail in Muhr (2021) based on a multitude of different sources.  It is an blatant attempt by members of the dominant variety to downgrade the NV of Austrian German (and other NVs) to a purely regional phenomenon that ignores the social-semiotic value of linguistic features of NVs and their function for the personal of single speakers and collective identity of nations.

This concept fits into a larger tendency that has become evident in recent years: the restriction of linguistic rights of other than the dominant national languages through new laws that massively change the language regime of nations. An example for this tendency is the directive issued by the Chinese government that the Mongolian language is no longer the language of instruction in Inner Mongolia. The same happens with the Uyghur language in Xinjiang that may not be used in schools any longer and is being replaced by Chinese. A similar development can be observed in the Russian Federation which is a multilingual federation where a majority of ethnicities have their own territorial autonomy. New amendments to an education bill that will make minority languages lessons in ethnic republics optional, and which limit their teaching to a maximum of two hours a week. Until the summer of 2017, minority languages were compulsory subjects in schools in most ethnic regions of the Russian Federation. Depending on the region, their prominence in the classroom varied from one hour per week in primary school to equal terms with the Russian language throughout the curriculum. In Latvia a similar law of 2018 drastically reduces education in the minority languages (including Russian) from the school year 2019 onwards. The law “provides that for instruction in grades 1-6 … at least 50 % of the curriculum [is] taught in Latvian and for grades 7-9 – at least 80 %. There is the same tendency but by far not that rigorous as in Russia. A language conflict that even influences the rise of a European state into the EU is the one between Bulgaria and Northern Macedonia and it concerns the Macedonian language. The Bulgarian government claims that there is no Macedonian language and that it is only Bulgarian. If Macedonia does not give up the name of its national language, Bulgaria will bloc the negotiations with the EU. This is a drastic interference in the most fundamental affairs of a (neighbouring) state. It follows the same pattern of downgrading a national language/variety into a subordinate variety of another nation.

Ever since the Balkan states Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro became independent after the break up of Yugoslavia there has been conflict over whether there are four national languages or just four national varieties of one language, which even resulted in a online petition favouring the pluricentric model and was signed by more that 10.000 people mostly with an academic background. In one of my courses about pluricentric languages I asked a Bosnian student of mine what argument she could make against the view that the four languages are just national varieties. She thought about the question for a moment and then said: “We do not want to be together with them any more!” Languages obviously are grounded in the shared experiences of human collectives – something that often seems to be forgotten by those who look at the language situation from the outside without sharing traumatising experiences that lead to the split of nations and the establishment of new political and linguistic entities.