Con mi alma entera: Formality in Mexican Love Letters, 1865-1949

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2021-12

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Abstract

This paper presents an analysis of formality in Mexican love letters. While linguistic and historic research points to the decline of language formality, a gap exists in the treatment of Mexican Spanish the 1800s through the mid-1900s. I assembled an epistolary 625 letters in Spanish from central Mexico housed at the Papeles de Familia Archive at the INAH, the Manuel Fernando Soto Pastrana archive at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City as well as from a private collection. The epistolary represented love letters between 18 couples in the period 1865-1949. Major research questions of the study included if changes could be perceived between men and women, over the duration of an epistolary relationship, between couples of different age cohorts, and over the course of the era for which letters occurred. In particular, analysis focused on formality and romance in letter elements, particularly in salutations and closings, as well as form of address (tú or usted). I developed a Formality Scale to rank formality in salutations and closings, which showed moderate reliability, and applied to the letters’ elements. Quantitative analysis carried out using logistic, ordinal and spline regressions remained inconclusive; no direct association between age, gender or periodization (calendar time) was perceived. This likely occurred due to clustering and non-independence of the data. Nevertheless, qualitative analysis using Dell Hymes SPEAKING model, and Sue Walker’s Instrumentality Model did demonstrate a decline in formality, specifically in key, speech acts, instrumentality, mistakes and repairs. This shift from more formal to less formal was likely pragmatic. Further, both qualitative and quantitative data showed an association between romantic elements in salutations and closings in letters ranked formal or very formal between couples, a result that is in opposition to most literature on Direct Address Theory.

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Keywords

Formality, Spanish, Letters, Mexico, usted

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