Language and dialect variation in the Spanish FL classroom in Brazil

Bugel, Talia

Indiana-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, United States of America


This paper presents the interface of a macro study of attitudes towards two varieties of Spanish and a micro study of the language variety found in six classrooms where Spanish is taught as a foreign language in Brazil.

In South-Eastern Brazil (including the states of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro), the Peninsular and the Rioplatense varieties of Spanish are predominantly present in the foreign language classroom, used by the teachers. The choice of one variety or a combination of them carries significantly different meanings regarding the identity and culture of the different Spanish-speaking communities, and how these are pictured by Brazilians. These meanings are grounded on notions such as the “originality” and “purity” of the Peninsular variety and the “derived” and “mixed” character of the Rioplatense variety. These notions stem from extralinguistic macro factors, linked both to the age-old cultural prestige of Spain and to its current symbolic wealth as a member of the European Union, among other factors.

The study uses a matched guise survey of attitudes towards these two Spanish varieties and a descriptive analysis of phonological and morphological features of the speech used by teachers in class. Results show that the extralinguistic macro factors have a strong influence on the identity parameter of the native Rioplatense Spanish speakers acting as foreign language teachers in the area. Such an influence is manifested in their self-monitoring of their speech inside the classroom, in order to avoid some of the characteristic features of their Rioplatense native variety.

The analysis of such an interface of macro and micro-sociolinguistic factors unfolds an example of how social structures affect verbal practices. These, in turn, contribute to the reproduction of the current social and political status of language varieties at different levels of prestige. This study shows how such diverse levels of prestige play a role in the patterns of spread of Spanish varieties.


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