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Auteur: Lorenza MONDADA

Co-Auteur(s): Florence OLOFF, U. Basel, Switzerland

"Was sprichst für 'ne Sproch?" Recognition and categorization of languages in multilingual interactions

Abstract/Résumé: Often, linguistic models suppose the evidence of a clear-cut distinction between languages. Each language is treated as an autonomous system, distinct from the other, characterized by specific formal features, pre-existing their implementation in language use. This picture has been questioned by studies of language contact, code-switching, or language mixing (Auer, 1999; Matras & Bakker, 2003, Sebba, 1997) – showing that speakers hybridize language in their actual practice. This paper focuses on categorization practices of the linguistic resources by speakers engaged in social interaction (cf. Mondada, 1999, 2002). It describes a multilingual situation in which the speakers a) do not always share a common language, b) use and combine different resources for communicating, c) not always know what language is spoken by their interlocutors, discovering it in the middle of the conversation. Drawn on a corpus of naturalistic observations and video recordings done in a customs office at the border where lorry drivers from various countries do paperwork in order to be allowed to transit through Switzerland, this paper explores some practices through which participants in these interactions – civil servants and customers – categorize and choose the language of their interaction. Drawing on the analytical framework of conversation analysis (Sacks et al. 1974, Schegloff 2007), two sequential positions are described, in which the categorization of the other’s language is achieved: a) in the opening of the encounter, b) in the course of a silent interaction, when a problem is discovered and generates some verbal interaction in order to be solved. In these sequential positions we analyse the way in which the civil servant discovers and categorizes the language of his partner and consequently adjusts to it, with the resources at hand. Explicit categorizations as well as tacit adjustments reveal the practice through which a language is discovered, identified, recognized and subsequently addressed or used. In this way, we aim at studying the ways in which languages are categorized in situated activities and for all practical purposes by the participants themselves. This might contribute to the theoretical discussion about what a language is, how the boundaries between one language and the other are practically and locally recognized and negotiated, and how differences between languages can be either enhanced in a hyperbolic way (as generating opacity in the communication) or relativized in a minimizing way (as not being a problem).