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Seminar: I’m talking tú vos: variation and change in second-person singular familiar forms in Chilean Spanish, Matthew Callaghan, 4 May, ANU, 3.30pm

Australian National University, Evolution

Date: 19 February 2018

Seminar: I’m talking tú vos: variation and change in second-person singular familiar forms in Chilean Spanish

Speaker: Matthew Callaghan, PhD exit seminar

Venue: Engma Room (5019), HC Coombs Building, ANU

When: 4 May 2018, 3.30pm-5.00pm

Panel: Catherine Travis (Chair), Elisabeth Mayer, Daniel Martín and Rena Torres Cacoullos


In this seminar I will discuss the main findings and conclusions of my PhD project, analyzing a change in progress in the Chilean second-person singular (2sg). I will show that the Chilean 2sg has undergone a significant grammatical change in the last 50 years, and investigate the social and linguistic factors conditioning the variants.

Dialects of Spanish use a variety of combinations of so-called ‘polite’ (typically usted) and ‘familiar’ (tú and/or vos) 2sg pronouns (with accompanying verbal morphology) to express social deixis. Chilean Spanish is interesting in that it utilises two familiar forms (the pronouns tú and vos, with corresponding verbal agreement known as tuteo (1) and voseo (2) respectively), both of which contrast with the polite form based on usted.

(1) No po si tú tienes razón.

‘No you-TÚ are-TÚ right.’

(2) Vos cachái que ese estadio lo hicieron,

‘You-VOS know-VOS they made that stadium,’

(3) ... Pero tú tenís que trabajar po.

‘But you-TÚ have-VOS to work.’

While both forms have existed since Spanish colonisation, until the mid 20th century standard tuteo was reportedly used by the educated classes, while ‘vulgar’ voseo (Bello, 1833) subsisted in parallel amongst the rural and urban working classes. This system has been said to be undergoing a process of change, whereby traditionally stigmatised voseo verb forms have expanded into the speech of young people from all the social strata, often without the more salient vos pronoun (e.g. Torrejón, 1986). In the speech of young Chileans, tuteo and voseo often co-vary within the same interaction by the same speakers, and even within the same sentence (e.g. Helincks, 2012). Furthermore, the two paradigms often mix, with a hybrid form having emerged of a tú pronoun with a voseo verb form (3).

The patterning of these forms can only be understood through the study of their use in spontaneous speech. Here, I report on such patterning in a stratified corpus of recorded naturally occurring unmonitored conversations between friends, family and colleagues, totalling 9 hours of speech by 36 people. Applying the variationist method (cf. Labov, 1972, 1981), I quantitatively analyse over 1000 instances where tuteo and voseo exist in variation. I show that, in both real and apparent time, voseo has increased significantly at the expense of tuteo, and that this change is being led by young educated male speakers. I also report on linguistic conditioning, specifically, the effects of subject expression, TAM, priming, verb-type and lexical frequency, clause type, polarity, and discourse type.

This research is the first to apply spontaneous naturally occurring conversational data to the study of voseo in Santiago, Chile. It also contributes methodologically with the first truly rigorous definition of the variable context, and the addition of a focus on language internal factors (as well as social factors), which provides insight into some of the variation which has not been satisfactorily explained through the lenses of social deixis and pragmatics. 

BELLO, A. 1833. Advertencias sobre el uso de la lengua castellana dirigidas a los padres de familia, profesores de los colegios y maestros de escuela. In: LENZ, R., BELLO, A. & OROZ, R. (eds.) El español en Chile.

HELINCKS, K. 2012. La variación social y estilística del voseo chileno en diferentes géneros televisivos. Revista internacional de lingüística iberoamericana, 185-211.

LABOV, W. 1972. Some principles of linguistic methodology. Language in Society, 1, 97-120.

LABOV, W. 1981. Field methods of the project on linguistic change and variation, Southwest Educational Development Laboratory.

TORREJÓN, A. 1986. Acerca del Voseo Culto de Chile. Hispania, 69, 677-683.

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