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Address in  Uruguayan Spanish

In my earlier research I have explored the evolution of forms of address in Río de la Plata  Spanish by considering data from dramatic and literary representations and popular music at the turn of the 20th century. I focused especially on the verbal paradigm of the informal second person (tuteo and voseo forms). I confirmed that the shift in the replacement of tuteo by voseo wasn't random, but always followed a single pattern across verbs. The first form to adopt voseo was the imperative (cantá 'sing!), followed by the present indicative (cantás 'you sing'). The present subjunctive (cantés '[that] you sing') lagged behind, and in fact, this form actually receded in urban speech. The use of plays also allowed me to establish the social, gender, and age variables that favored voseo. Speakers from the country and the lower urban classes had the highest rates of voseo; among the upper class, it was the young, in particular the young men, who were more likely to employ voseo forms, while tuteo was presented as a more polite form. The sequence of voseo adoption across verb forms has been highly robust across representation in various media, including popular songs and children's literature, which suggests it is an accurate reflection of speech.

To explore contemporary voseo, I am relying on data collected through surveys, interviews, and by using the matched guise technique. I have completed close to 1,000 paper and online surveys (about two thirds of my goal of 1,500), 53 interviews (out of a total goal of 60), and several matched guise experiments. Partial results have led to several publications. For example, I have compared the usage claiming of two vocatives in Montevideo Spanish (che and bo). The resulting article appears in Contemporary Advances in Theoretical and Applied Sociolinguistics (The Ohio State Press, 2017). The main finding is that bo is a Uruguayan innovation, which emerged as a covert prestige form among males, but is not spreading to women and becoming a regional identity marker.

Another finding based on surveys has been a comparison of the second person singular verbal paradigm of the Uruguayan capital, Montevideo, and Paysandú, a smaller city on the western littoral of Uruguay. I found that although both cities exhibit no significant differences in their use of verb forms for the imperative and the present (preferring the voseo forms cantá 'sing!' and cantás 'you sing'), they differ considerably in the frequency with which they employ voseo/tuteo forms in the present subjunctive and the preterite. In both cases, Paysandú speakers select voseo forms (cantés 'you sing-subj' and cantastes 'you sang') more frequently than those of Montevideo. The choice was also dependent on the gender of the speaker and the addressee, with men being more likely to use voseo forms in general, and to address other men in particular. Finally, the pragmatic function of the subjunctive as a deontic marker matters, so that voseo forms are more frequent in cessative contexts, less so in preventives, and least frequent in polite requests or suggestions. 

My more recent survey-based study focuses on the formal pole of address in Uruguayan Spanish. It shows that the use of formal address (usted) is in retreat across the country. While it is still used in certain contexts (e.g., sporadic business or professional encounters), it is becoming less likely in the white collar workplace, as speakers develop familiarity, regardless of rank differences. Usted use seems to be reserved for extremely deferential situations, when the addressee is perceived to be very distant from the speaker, typically as a result of age differences. Although the retreat of usted is general across the country, it is more marked in the south and west, with the east and center of the country lagging behind.  Formal address emerges as a site of ambiguity and linguistic anxiety for Uruguyan speakers, who find it difficult to reconcile distance with politeness. In the qualitative comments, several speakers described alternative strategies of politeness, once usted was no longer serviceable because of its aloof overtones.