Committee: Gregory Guy (chair), John Singler, Renée Blake, Sonia Das, Tjerk Hagemeijer (University of Lisbon)
This dissertation focuses on the variety of Portuguese spoken in São Tomé, the capital of São Tomé and Príncipe, and its surroundings. From the sixteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century, Forro, Angolar, and Lung’ie (three native creoles) were the most widely spoken languages on the islands. However, the massive arrivals of contract laborers starting at the end of the nineteenth century, and the use of Portuguese as a lingua franca completely changed the sociolinguistic setting. As a consequence, a process of linguistic shift (from creoles to Portuguese) started to take place. This shift was intensified from the 1960s, with the rise of the nationalist movement, the independence of the country (in 1975), and the generalized access to education. Since then, children have been growing up with the local variety of Portuguese as their first (and often only) language. The objective of this research, therefore, is to investigate the emergence of a Santomean variety of Portuguese, with special reference to rhotics and subject pronoun expression (SPE), and to explore the differences between Santomean Portuguese andother varieties of Portuguese. In a larger context, I am also interested in understanding the social and ideological phenomena that explain the linguistic choices, linguistic change, and language shift in São Tomé and Príncipe. The study is based on 15 months of ethnographic fieldwork and sociolinguistic interviews with fifty-six native speakers of Santomean Portuguese, aged between 12 and 73 years old, who were born and raised in the capital of São Tomé and its surroundings.
The results of the study show that the use of the rhotics is an innovative and distinctive feature of Santomean Portuguese. Some Santomeans use the strong-R (the historical trill) in word positions that would be considered non-standard to European and Brazilian norms. This reflects a change in progress led by the younger generations. Within the strong-R category, the rhotic fricative has emerged as a variant that clearly distinguishes two generations, Santomeans over forty years old and those under 39. This dividing point also marks the year of the independence of the country, a milestone in the history of São Tomé and Príncipe and the formation of its national identity. This suggests that fricative rhotics are a marker of Santomean identity. Surprisingly, however, the ideologies that surround this use of the rhotics are highly pejorative. Regarding SPE, less social significance is attached to this feature. One reason for this might be the fact that it is a feature that has maintained a usage that is similar to European Portuguese. My results show that most of the linguistic constraints on SPE in Santomean Portuguese are similar to those of studies of other Portuguese varieties. The one element that differs from previous studies is social: highly educated people favor the use of overt subjects, while in European Portuguese null subjects are highly favored, and usually used more by educated speakers. I believe that this study of rhotics and SPE captures the nature of Santomean Portuguese: it reflects a combination of creole influences, linguistic conservatism, and innovation. Indeed, the history of the islands is reflected in its languages: the creole influence that relates to the African origin of Santomean Portuguese, conservatisms from European Portuguese that recall the colonial society that endured for 500 years, and innovations that mark development of São Tomé as an independent nation.