Robert Borges (linguist)

I am a linguist with a background in sociolinguistics, language description, and linguistic typology. My main research interests center around the relationship between social identity, multilingualism, and language change.

The prominent theme covered in my research is language change, especially the relationship between change on the one hand, and social identity and multilingual language practice on the other. My research has progressed from a strictly diachronic perspective to include aspects of synchronic variationist linguistics, and more recently second language acquisition and psycholinguistic perspectives on multilingualism. Nevertheless, the underlying questions in my research remain diachronically oriented. Throughout my studies and career as a linguist, I have been engaged with inter- and multidisciplinary approaches to the study of language, relying on data-driven and usage-based accounts of language as a basis for both research and teaching.

Recent Research

My most recent project was a postdoctoral research fellowship at the Hugo Valentin Centre, Uppsala University in Sweden (2017•07–2019•06), where I contributed to the line of research on socio-cultural phenomena and processes of change related to the ethnic dimension in human life. Find me in the Uppsala University employee "Katalog".

My research project New Speakers of Wymysorys: the reconstitution of the local language and sociolinguistic identity in Wilamowice operates under the main hypothesis that "new speakers" provide an ideal context to observe the instantiation of linguistic innovation and the spread of these innovations within a speech community in situ. In brief, a new speaker here refers to an individual who has learned a language with little or no exposure in the home via educational programs outside the home after a community-level shift (Orourke, Pujolar, and Ramallo 2015:1). Situated in already volatile speech communities thanks to language shift, new speakers tend to play an active role in the community and represent larger and more influential proportion of the overall speech community than learners of non-threatened languages. Such contexts are conducive to the observation of the development interlanguage features that spread through dense networks of minority language users and ascend to the status of or model for other language learners, replacing the ``native'' variety as target.

As a critically endangered language, Wymysorys serves as an ideal case in the study of new speakers. Wymysorys is a West Germanic langauge, spoken in the southern part of Poland, at the boarder of the Silesian and Lesser Poland Voivodships. The language became threatened due to severe oppression by communist authorities after WWII; speakers were required to hide their affiliation with the language for survival. Today there are approximately fifty speakers of the language; about half of them are elderly (>80) "native speakers" and the rest are teenagers and twenty-something new speakers, who learned the language through grassroots revitalization efforts that began ca. ten years ago, led almost exclusively by children.

Although the project is still ongoing, preliminary results are encouraging. The area of grammatical gender and case, for example, has been explored in a variationist perspective; these analyses show, on the one hand, that feature variants are subject to the constraints expected from the acquisition process (if compared to related languages like Dutch and German) but on the other hand, there is some evidence of ideolectal restructuring of the gender / case system among some new speakers (presented at the Polish Academy of Science, October 2, 2018). Whether these varieties go on to serve as model or target for other learners remains to be seen (pending analysis of most recently collected data — September / October 2018).

Latest News

Paper at The Society for Pidgin and Creole Linguistics summer meeting

2019•06•11 I presented a pilot study on language use in the Surinamese Parliament, together with Margot van den Berg (Utrecht University) at the SPCL summer meeting in Lisbon. The title of our talk was Language contact and language choice in parliamentary speech in Suriname. And here is our abstract:

In this paper, we will present preliminary results from a pilot study of language use in the Surinamese Parliament “De Nationale Assemblée” (DNA). As Suriname's main legislative body, the DNA meets frequently (multiple times per week) to conduct its business in public meetings. Public DNA meetings are audio video recorded and published on the body's Youtube channel since 2011. To date, the DNA has published over one thousand recordings of their public meetings. Meetings follow a rather rigid set of rules for conduct (DNA 1990), and although there is no mention of language in the Reglement van Orde, Dutch is the default language of communication. The Dutch is of a regional character, and despite the formality of the meetings, members regularly switch to Sranan, the country's lingua franca, during these meetings. Occasionally other Surinamese languages, such as Ndyuka for example, are used.

Parliamentary debates contain impactful information and special, formalized and often persuasive and emotional language. They are therefore considered an important resource for many disciplines in digital humanities and social sciences. Corpora have been constructed from parliamentary debates, for example, within the EU (Fiser and Lenardic 2018) and utilized in e.g. in discourse analysis and sociolinguistics (Hirst et al. 2014; Rheault et al. 2016; Bayley 2004). In order to study language use in the DNA, we rely on a newly constructed corpus of spoken language data that has been extracted from recordings of the DNA’s public meetings. Corpus construction has been automatized using an innovative combination of ELAN (Sloetjes & Wittenburg 2008) and its built in recognizers, elan2split (Cavar 2016), Python, and Google's speech recognition API. Our corpus currently consists of approximately 7 hours of recorded DNA meetings. The uncorrected transcripts yeild ca 36,000 words / 5,700 utterances from 29 participants.

We will provide a brief overview of the corpus building methodology and discuss preliminary results of our investigation into:

  • feature variation, focusing on auxiliaries, verb-preposition combinations, and the Dutch pronominal er;
  • pragmatic aspects of language use such as persuasion and negotiation;
  • language choice among Surinamese parliamentarians.

Our findings show that (a) the influence of Sranan on the Dutch morphosyntactic and discourse structure is pervasive among Parliamentarians' speech, despite the formality of the setting, and that (b) language choice is agentive – the use of Sranan, as non-default language, carries added meaning when used in the DNA context. Thus, our findings contribute to a better understanding of the impact of language contact on Surinamese parliamentary language, an understudied language style, and Surinamese society as a whole. They further showcase the utility of parliamentary resources in linguistic research.

References:

Bayley, Paul, ed. 2004. Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Parliamentary Discourse. Discourse Approaches to Politics, Society, and Culture. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Cavar, Damir. 2017. Elan2Split. https://bitbucket.org/dcavar/elan2split

DNA, De Nationale Assemblée. 1990. Reglement Van Orde Voor De Nationale Assemblée (S.B. 1990 no. 43).

Fiser, Darja and Jakob Lenardic. 2018. ‘Parliamentary Corpora in the CLARIN Infrastructure’. In: Selected Papers from the CLARIN Annual Conference 2017, Budapest, 18-20 September 2017. 147. Linköping University Electronic Press, Linköping Universitet / Department of Translation, Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, pp. 75-85.

Hirst, Graeme, Vanessa Wei Feng, Christopher Cochrane, and Nona Naderi. 2014. ‘Argumentation, Ideology, and Issue Framing in Parliamentary Discourse’. In: Proceedings of the Workshop on Frontiers and Connections between Argumentation Theory and Natural Language Processing in Forlì-Cesena, Italy, July 21-25, 2014, edited by Elena Cabrio, Serena Villata, and Adam Wyner, pp. 50-56.

Rheault, Ludovic, K. Beelen, C. Cochrane, G. Hirst G. 2016. ‘Measuring Emotion in Parliamentary Debates with Automated Textual Analysis’. In: PLOS ONE 11.12.

Sloetjes, Han and Peter Wittenburg. 2008. ‘Annotation by Category: ELAN and ISO DCR’. In: LREC 2008.

Penultimante News

Vetenskap på kvällen: Minoritetsspråk i Sverige och världen

2019•05•11 I gave a talk about my research at the the UPPLADOC Science Evening. We even made it into the national news.

For more news see the News Mainpage.