Sociolinguistic Studies, Vol 2, No 1 (2008)

Political Oratory, Power and Authority in a Medieval Mediterranean Kingdom

Joan Argenter
Issued Date: 25 Jul 2008


Historical linguistic ethnography deals with verbal productions in the context of the conditions under which they came into being and the cultural meanings attributed to them at the time. The research procedure in ethnography is fieldwork, but historical linguistic ethnography is based on the examination of texts. Research, however, proceeds not from texts themselves, but from the questions addressed to texts.
The linguistic/interactional material presented is drawn from political oratory in medieval Catalan society. The questions to be answered are: How did specific verbal practices interact with political life? What was the role played by codes, code-choice and code-switching? What were the sociopolitical factors that gave rise to and made sense of these verbal resources?
In Catalonia, political oratory arose out of clerical oratory. The Church abandoned Latin as the language of preaching when a Catalan language fully separate from Latin developed the lexical and syntactic resources that enabled it to serve as a vehicle for complex discourse. At the same time, a Catalan proto-state was emerging.
The political oratory in question was performed at the Cort, an incipient institution of political representation. This was simultaneously a political assembly, a frame defining participants’ roles, a communicative setting, a performance frame, and a traditionally patterned speech event. In this article a particular Cort is analyzed as one such complex event.
The argument developed here with respect to political oratory, conflict and social control takes two analytic notions, one from linguistic anthropology and one from interpretive philology, as its points of departure. “Formalization” in discourse renders control invisible and prevents conflict from surfacing. “Figura” transforms the interpretation of historical time and events. Codeswitching is a feature of both in the material presented. The skilful management of these verbal resources in the Cort served power-exercising, authority-making and consensus-building discourse.

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DOI: 10.1558/sols.v2i1.1


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