Talking To Strangers--a Sociolinguistic Experiment: Variation In Initial Dyadic Interactions Between Spanish-speakers In Early 21st Century Buenos Aires, Argentina




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What are the chances of a dyad of Spanish-speaking strangers using informal address in casual, initial interactions in Buenos Aires, Argentina, today? To discover the pattern(s) of contemporary address, the Principal Investigator (PI) conducted a sociolinguistic experiment focusing on strangers' initial interactions to minimize the influence of Brown and Gilman's (1960) dimensions of power and solidarity on address variation. To gather natural and reported speech, the PI used mixed methodologies: participant observation, TV news, survey questionnaires, and interviews. She enhanced the authenticity of reported speech via the use of her new tool--a photo interlocutor prompter sheet. The research consisted of a triangulated quantitative exploration of extra-linguistic variables with qualitative insights gained via one-on-one interviews. Quantitative findings revealed: (i) older speakers use informal to address younger interlocutors, (ii) symmetrical dyads of Junior generation (18-29) and Middle generation (30-49) speakers use informal address--regardless of gender, and (i) even symmetrical dyads of Senior generation (50+) females use informal extensively. While many of the interviewed Argentines equated the increase in informal address with the loss of good manners, others viewed "Argentine Light", a term used to label the use of informal with strangers in casual interactions, as a less prejudicial way of speaking. Based on feedback, the PI attributes strangers' spontaneous use of informal address to Brown and Gilman's (1989) dimension of `affect' i.e. likability, affinity. This synchronic sociolinguistic experiment, which benchmarks the pervasiveness of "Argentine Light" in Buenos Aires, serves as a model litmus test for future sociolinguistic fieldwork.