When linguistic variety is paramount: shared reflections on the meanings and uses of Portuguese in Greater Boston (Massachusetts, USA)
International Conference BIG Cities, Small LANGUAGES, Leibniz-Zentrum Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft [Leibniz-Centre General Linguistics]
Based Giuseppe Formato’s doctoral research and the ongoing postdoctoral research of Graça Cordeiro on the cultural meanings of the Portuguese language in Boston, this project aims to discuss the paradoxical relationship between a language conceived as unique and the plurality of its uses and representations in a complex urban context. This reflection begins with GF’s research on the impact that teaching a given Portuguese variant / dialect has on the motivation / demotivation of those who learn the language to approach their cultural heritage. These heritage learners are descendants of immigrants from different world regions where Portuguese exists in a multitude of varieties that are enrolled in Portuguese courses. While some acquire Portuguese easily, others feel disconnected. Through interpretative phenomenological analysis based on a sample of heritage learners enrolled in a Portuguese course at a university in Boston, this research focused on how the attitudes and identity processes of these learners manifest themselves throughout their language classes. Findings point to the importance of the link between the language variety taught and the variant of the student's heritage in identity construction and consequently in the way in which this adequacy is vital for their academic success. GF’s study is one aspect of the ethnographic research that GC has developed on the social construction of ‘Portuguese-Speaker’ in Massachusetts. The divergent relationship between the “Portuguese language”, in the singular, based on a political, ideological, and normative definition, and the plurality of its daily practices derives from the national, regional, and dialectical diversity of the different immigrant “heritages” in this urban territory, as well as the emergence of new ways of speaking Portuguese. These new ways of interacting reveal an increasingly pluricentric language in a more globalized world that challenges the borders of official recognition of only two linguistic standards, European and Brazilian.
Keywords: heritage learner,linguistic variety,ideal-selves,pluricentricity,language acquisition,Portuguese