Verum a fontibus haurire. A Variationist Analysis of Subjunctive Variability Across Space and Time: from Contemporary Italian back to Latin

Title: Verum a fontibus haurire. A Variationist Analysis of Subjunctive Variability Across Space and Time: from Contemporary Italian back to Latin
Authors: Digesto, Salvatore
Date: 2019-07-12
Abstract: This dissertation investigates the use of the subjunctive in completive clauses governed by verbs in Italian, both synchronically and diachronically, and in Vulgar Latin. By making use of the tools provided by the Variationist Sociolinguistic framework (Labov 1972, 1994), the current study sheds light on the underlying conditioning on variability using actual usage and speech-surrogate data. Contemporary actual speech data comes from LIP (De Mauro et al. 1993) and C-ORAL-ROM (Cresti & Moneglia 2005) corpora, providing spontaneous discourse in casual and careful speech as well as sub-sample divisions representative of geographical variation. In order to measure any changes in the underlying conditioning on subjunctive selection, a diachronic benchmark is established: a corpus of speech-like surrogates of 16th to 20th century Italian, COHI (Corpus of Historical Italian), and a corpus of Vulgar Latin (Cena Trimalchionis, from the Satyricon by Petronius). The subjunctives were extracted in adherence to the principle of accountability (Labov 1972), using the method developed by Poplack (1992): every complement clause governed by a matrix verb (governor) that triggered the subjunctive at least once was included. This method enables us to circumvent the issue of the lack of consensus in the literature on exactly which contexts, i.e. verbs and/or meanings, should trigger the subjunctive in discourse. This issue surfaces as well from the meta-linguistic analysis of a compendium of 58 Italian grammars and treaties (CSGI, Collezione Storica di Grammatiche Italiane), constructed for the purpose of this research. A series of linguistic and extra-linguistic factors proposed by formal and prescriptive literature are operationalized and tested against the corpora of both Italian and Vulgar Latin, in order to ascertain the nature of variability in discourse: i.e. whether the use of the subjunctive is semantically motivated, productive in speech or undergoing desemanticization and lexicalization. Despite widespread assumption of a change that occurred after the political and the subsequent linguistic unification of Italy, i.e. that the subjunctive has lost ground in favour of the indicative when it was supposedly used categorically in the past, quantitative and statistical evidence shows that subjunctive selection is largely determined by lexical identity of the governor as well as embedded suppletive forms of essere, and that this pattern has been operative at least since the 16th century. On a more socio-linguistic aspect, this study confirms the linguistic prestige that the subjunctive has acquired in contemporary speech, being selected with a wider range of infrequent and singleton governors by highly educated speakers. Also, the highly lexicalized pattern on variability was found to be largely shared amongst the four main urban centres of Florence, Milan, Rome, and Naples, thus countering the assumption of divergent linguistic behaviour between northern and southern varieties of Italian. The study also shows that despite the significant time span targeted, no evidence of desemanticization has been found. Likewise, the variationist analysis on the Vulgar Latin subjunctive shows that subjunctive choice was already largely determined by, and restricted, to a few governors, identified as ‘volitive’ and ‘emotive’ matrices. These governors remained strong predictors for the selection of the subjunctive in Italian as well, suggesting that this lexical pattern has been transferred and consistently retained in the daughter language.
CollectionThèses, 2011 - // Theses, 2011 -