5dez 2022
06:30 UTC

Speakers’ perceptions of variation in Sri Lanka Portuguese

This paper provides the first account of folk perception of variation in Sri Lanka Portuguese, an endangered Portuguese-based creole spoken in Eastern and Northern Sri Lanka by c. 1300 speakers scattered across the districts of Ampara, Batticaloa, Jaffna, and Trincomalee.
The Portuguese-lexified creoles of South Asia, currently spoken by small and close-knit communities in India and Sri Lanka, are among the many languages which have been somewhat neglected in both qualitative and quantitative studies of sociolinguistic variation (Cardoso 2014). This shortage of sociolinguistic studies is due to several factors ranging from the lack of normative infrastructure (no existing standard variety), the small samples and data sets to a
limited prior linguistic and ethnographic knowledge that prevents the identification and interpretation of variable forms and constructions and its social and dialectal conditioning.
Based on the qualitative analysis of metalinguistic comments produced by speakers in interviews conducted as part of a recently produced documentation corpus (Cardoso 2017; Cardoso et al. 2019), this paper examines Sri Lanka Portuguese speakers’ metalinguistic awareness, attitudes and perceptions towards their language, its status, and its relationship to the lexifier Portuguese and the adstrate Lankan languages. Moreover, it reports on the linguistic features that speakers believe to distinguish or characterize certain geographically- or socially defined communities
and the aspects of how this perceived variation is evaluated socially.
The results show that speakers consider Sri Lanka Portuguese as a relatively homogeneous language, acknowledging nevertheless some perceptually salient lexical, phonological and morphosyntactic differences among and within SLP-speaking communities. The commentary focused mainly on variation in lexical choices, the use of Tamil-origin words, and the pronominal paradigm. These linguistic differences are attributed to (i) the influence of the locally dominant language, Tamil, (ii) the different levels of linguistic competence among groups within each speech community, and (iii) dialectal differences. In addition, there seems to circulate among some speakers a belief that views the Trincomalee speech community as the largest and well-preserved speaking community, contrasting with the southernmost communities of Ampara and Batticaloa where the number of proficient speakers is said to be rapidly dwindling – a belief that indeed matches the surveyed linguistic trends of language shift affecting this language community (Pereira 2022).
These findings demonstrate the potential of using folk perception to investigate the sociolinguistic intricacies of creole communities and to inform further quantitative analysis that evaluate the social and linguistic conditioning of variation as encountered in modern varieties of Sri Lanka Portuguese.