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University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics

Abstract

In Brazilian Portuguese there are three common ways to express first person plural: Traditional standard 'nós' with concord ('nós falamos' 'we speak''); Nonstandard 'nós' without concord ('nós fala' 'we speak'); Emerging standard 'a gente' with concord ('a gente fala' 'we speak'). In this paper, variation involving these forms is analyzed as two binary variables, concord with 'nós' and alternation between 'nós' and 'a gente.' This variation is vigorous and ongoing: concord is a stereotype; alternation is a marker. We analyze 1517 tokens from 40 speakers in Vitória, the capital of the State of Espírito Santo, and 1757 tokens from 32 speakers in the rural area of Santa Leopoldina, a small town of the same State. In terms over overall ternary distribution, the samples differ in only 4.6 percentage points with respect to nós with concord; 20.4 percentage points with respect to 'nós' without concord; and 15.7 percentage points with respect to 'a gente' with concord. The relative weights of age group in separate binary analyses show different directions in the cases of 'nós' with concord vs. 'nós' without concord, and 'a gente' with concord vs. 'nós' with or without concord in the two communities. In Vitória, the youngest age group favors 'nós' with concord and 'a gente' with concord, suggesting change in the urban community toward increased frequency of concord in line with other urban centers in Brazil. In Santa Leopoldina, we find decreasing use of 'nós' with concord in three age groups with an uptick in concord by the 7-14 year group. Furthermore, in Santa Leopoldina, the intermediate group of 26-49 favors of 'a gente' with concord, suggesting age grading. This use is more frequently by speakers who have greater contact with Vitória, such as in agricultural trade. It is reinforced by the effect of the interviewer in Santa Leopoldina: a gente with concord is favored if the interviewer is an outsider. Thus, rural and urban communities are on the same plane as far as overall distribution of 'nós' with concord is concerned, but exhibit different trajectories of ongoing progress, with distinct reflexes in the community: urban progress is community-wide change, while rural progress show age grading for a gente with concord, and change in progress is slower for 'nós' with concord. In both cases, direction is toward the dominant urban norm of agreeing forms. Nonetheless, even though 'a gente' with concord, an urban feature preferred in cities, penetrates the rural community, speakers still exhibit more 'nós' without concord, a local loyalty feature.

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