SPCL Summer Meeting in Lisbon

2019-06-05 23:58

I presented a pilot study on language use in the Surinamese Parliament, together with Margot van den Berg (Utrecht University) at the SPCL summer meeting in Lisbon. The title of our talk was Language contact and language choice in parliamentary speech in Suriname. And here is our abstract:

In this paper, we will present preliminary results from a pilot study of language use in the Surinamese Parliament “De Nationale Assemblée” (DNA). As Suriname's main legislative body, the DNA meets frequently (multiple times per week) to conduct its business in public meetings. Public DNA meetings are audio video recorded and published on the body's Youtube channel since 2011. To date, the DNA has published over one thousand recordings of their public meetings. Meetings follow a rather rigid set of rules for conduct (DNA 1990), and although there is no mention of language in the Reglement van Orde, Dutch is the default language of communication. The Dutch is of a regional character, and despite the formality of the meetings, members regularly switch to Sranan, the country's lingua franca, during these meetings. Occasionally other Surinamese languages, such as Ndyuka for example, are used.

Parliamentary debates contain impactful information and special, formalized and often persuasive and emotional language. They are therefore considered an important resource for many disciplines in digital humanities and social sciences. Corpora have been constructed from parliamentary debates, for example, within the EU (Fiser and Lenardic 2018) and utilized in e.g. in discourse analysis and sociolinguistics (Hirst et al. 2014; Rheault et al. 2016; Bayley 2004). In order to study language use in the DNA, we rely on a newly constructed corpus of spoken language data that has been extracted from recordings of the DNA’s public meetings. Corpus construction has been automatized using an innovative combination of ELAN (Sloetjes & Wittenburg 2008) and its built in recognizers, elan2split (Cavar 2016), Python, and Google's speech recognition API. Our corpus currently consists of approximately 7 hours of recorded DNA meetings. The uncorrected transcripts yeild ca 36,000 words / 5,700 utterances from 29 participants.

We will provide a brief overview of the corpus building methodology and discuss preliminary results of our investigation into:

  • feature variation, focusing on auxiliaries, verb-preposition combinations, and the Dutch pronominal er;
  • pragmatic aspects of language use such as persuasion and negotiation;
  • language choice among Surinamese parliamentarians.
Our findings show that (a) the influence of Sranan on the Dutch morphosyntactic and discourse structure is pervasive among Parliamentarians' speech, despite the formality of the setting, and that (b) language choice is agentive – the use of Sranan, as non-default language, carries added meaning when used in the DNA context. Thus, our findings contribute to a better understanding of the impact of language contact on Surinamese parliamentary language, an understudied language style, and Surinamese society as a whole. They further showcase the utility of parliamentary resources in linguistic research.


Bayley, Paul, ed. 2004. Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Parliamentary Discourse. Discourse Approaches to Politics, Society, and Culture. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Cavar, Damir. 2017. Elan2Split. https://bitbucket.org/dcavar/elan2split

DNA, De Nationale Assemblée. 1990. Reglement Van Orde Voor De Nationale Assemblée (S.B. 1990 no. 43).

Fiser, Darja and Jakob Lenardic. 2018. ‘Parliamentary Corpora in the CLARIN Infrastructure’. In: Selected Papers from the CLARIN Annual Conference 2017, Budapest, 18-20 September 2017. 147. Linköping University Electronic Press, Linköping Universitet / Department of Translation, Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, pp. 75-85.

Hirst, Graeme, Vanessa Wei Feng, Christopher Cochrane, and Nona Naderi. 2014. ‘Argumentation, Ideology, and Issue Framing in Parliamentary Discourse’. In: Proceedings of the Workshop on Frontiers and Connections between Argumentation Theory and Natural Language Processing in Forlì-Cesena, Italy, July 21-25, 2014, edited by Elena Cabrio, Serena Villata, and Adam Wyner, pp. 50-56.

Rheault, Ludovic, K. Beelen, C. Cochrane, G. Hirst G. 2016. ‘Measuring Emotion in Parliamentary Debates with Automated Textual Analysis’. In: PLOS ONE 11.12.

Sloetjes, Han and Peter Wittenburg. 2008. ‘Annotation by Category: ELAN and ISO DCR’. In: LREC 2008.