Authentic Language : Övdalsk, metapragmatic exchange and the margins of Sweden’s linguistic market

Sammanfattning: This compilation thesis engages with practices that in some way place stakes in the social existence of Övdalsk (also älvdalska, Elfdalian, Övdalian), a marginal form of Scandinavian used mainly in Sweden’s Älvdalen municipality. The practices at hand range from early 20th century descriptive dialectology and contemporary lay-linguistics to language advocacy and language political debate. The four studies focus on the logic by which such practices operate, on the historically produced visions that they bring into play, as well as on the symbolic effects that they have produced. Study I provides a zoomed-out account of the ordering of Övdalsk in Sweden’s linguistic market. Focusing on a relatively recent debate over the institutional regimentation of Övdalsk, it analyses the forms of agreement upon which the exchange in question has come to rest. The contention has mainly developed over the classification of Övdalsk, percolating in the question of whether Övdalsk ‘is’ a ‘language’ or a ‘dialect’. Analysing this debate, the study takes interest in the relationship between state power and metapragmatic exchange. Study II deals with the history of linguistic thought and research on Övdalsk. It analyses the genesis of some durable visions of the relationship between Övdalsk and linguistic authenticity, focusing on the research practice of the Swedish dialectologist Lars Levander (1883–1950), whose work on Övdalsk commands representative authority to this day. By engaging with Levander’s techniques of scholarly objectivation, as well as with their language theoretical fundaments, the study seeks to create some perspectives on, and distance to, the canonical representations of Övdalsk that have precipitated from Levander’s research. Study III looks into the reuse and reordering of such representations. It provides an ethnographic account of a metapragmatically saturated exchange over Övdalsk grammar, in which descriptivist artefacts play an important part. Through an analysis of texts, in situ interaction, and interviews, the study seeks to grasp the ways in which textual renditions of grammar interrelate with practically sustained, socially recognized models of language and language use (i.e. registers). Study IV tracks the ways in which such visions of authenticity have been drawn into institutionally and politically invested metapragmatic exchanges. It looks into a process of naming of roads in Älvdalen, in which ideas about the contrast between Swedish and Övdalsk played a central part. In all studies, various visions of Övdalsk authenticity and authentic Övdalsk constitute a central theme. The thesis maintains that such visions must be understood in relation to the practices in which they hold currency. Following Silverstein, this epistemological stance entails an engagement with the dialectic between historical formations and situated exchange. Through this analytical orientation, the studies seek to account for the visions of authenticity that have been at the forefront of various symbolic struggles over Övdalsk. Thus, in addition to their respective analytical accounts, the separate studies seek to add shifting temporal horizons to the superordinate heuristic, combining a deep historical backdrop with accounts of protracted institutional processes and analyses of situated linguistic interaction. Ultimately, this mode of analysis provides an in-depth understanding of the object of inquiry.

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