Academic journal article Southwest Journal of Linguistics

Moving beyond a Sentence-Level Analysis in the Study of Variable Mood Use in Spanish

Academic journal article Southwest Journal of Linguistics

Moving beyond a Sentence-Level Analysis in the Study of Variable Mood Use in Spanish

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. Although mood distinction in Spanish has received much attention (Bell 1980, Lunn 1989, Silva-Corvalan 1994a), few sociolinguistic studies have considered the observation that the subjunctive-indicative contrast is a multi-layered system (Haverkate 2002) within a single statistical analysis in order to better understand how native speakers vary their use of verbal moods. The current study addresse's this issue by refining variables examined previously and identifying new factors that condition mood use and by investigating these features systematically in one multivariate regression model. The results show those that predict mood are semantic category, form regularity, time referente, hypotheticality, and task.

1. INTRODUCTION. A verbal system is generally considered to be marked with tense, aspect, and modality, and it is within the last category where the focus of the current research lies. By definition, 'modality is concerned with the status of the proposition that describes the event' (Palmer 2001:1), and it may be expressed within a single language through a mood system, a modal system, or both. It is a feature of language that continues to be of interest in various subfields of linguistics because its semantic function has been a challenge to define, due to the cross-linguistic variation in meaning and the apparent absence of one prototypical function. Attempts to arrive at a definition include the proposal of contrasts between two categories, such as realis/irrealis, fact/non-fact, and truth/ untruth, but have undergone extensive debate (Palmer 2001 ). (1) Because the current study specifically investigates the mood system, or the subjunctive-indicative alternation, and not modality as a whole, it is useful to establish as a point of departure how these binary categories have been applied to mood distinction. (2) The subjunctive has been associated with notions of irrealis, non-fact, and untruth, whereas the indicative has been linked to realis, fact, and truth (Palmer 2001).

With regard to Spanish, identifying the role(s) that mood distinction plays in the language has been the subject of debate for decades (Bell 1980, Bergen 1978, Bolinger 1975, Lipski 1978, Lozano 1975). Discussions in the theoretical literature on Spanish have resulted in multi-layered accounts that describe different levels of linguistic analysis (semantic, pragmatic) (Haverkate 2002) and in various explanations of mood distinction's function(s) (Bell 1980, Mejias-Bikandi 1994). One function attributes the contrast in verbal moods to (non)assertion (Lunn 1989, Terrell and Hooper 1974). In this understanding of mood distinction, speakers use the subjunctive when the proposition is presupposed or has not yet occurred and when they ate not committed to the veracity of the proposition. They use the indicative when these conditions are not fulfilled. While the non-assertion/assertion contrast seems to account for many subjunctive/indicative uses, sociolinguistic research has shown that mood distinction is variable (Silva-Corvalan 1994a), which suggests that one prototypical function may not explain mood use unequivocally.

Considering the observation that mood distinction in Spanish is variable, it seems as though an appropriate avenue for advancing our understanding of this linguistic phenomenon would be the variationist framework (Chambers, Trudgill and Schitling-Estes 2002). Originating with the seminal sociolinguistic work of Labov (1966), the goal of variationism is well-known: to identify linguistic and social factors that predict the frequency of a variant 'in an attempt to account for the status of the variant in the speech community, its usefulness as an indication of linguistic change, and its position and shape in the rule system of the individual' (Preston 1989:194). Furthermore, the quantitative paradigm offers a powerful, analytical tool enabling the description and explanation of synchronic and diachronic variation. …

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