Pluricentric Languages: New Perspectives in Theory and Description

by Rudolf Muhr (Volume editor) Dawn Marley (Volume editor)
Conference proceedings 318 Pages

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of contents
  • Preface
  • I. Theoretical aspects of pluricentricity and the description of variation
  • Manufacturing linguistic dominance in pluricentric languages and beyond
  • The transformation of language situations: the habitat model
  • The vocabulary of non-dominant varieties of English in the Oxford English Dictionary
  • The determination of standard variants: Language performance in pluricentric Spanish
  • Pronominal constructions and subject indetermination in varieties of Portuguese – A global view on norms
  • You and I in Sweden-Swedish and Finland-Swedish supervision meetings
  • II. “New” pluricentric languages and non-dominant varieties
  • Bengali as a pluricentric language
  • Catalan as a pluricentric language
  • A variety in formation? Morphosyntactic variation in Ukraine-Russian speech and press
  • Portuguese in East Timor as a non-dominant variety in the making
  • In search of a standard: Spanish in a small, upstate NY community
  • The Spanish of La Mancha: A New Non-dominant Linguistic Identity? Perspectives of Young Speakers
  • South Schleswig Danish: Caught between privileges and disregard
  • Attitudes of speakers of non-dominant varieties of Hungarian towards their own variety and the dominant one
  • III. Pluricentric languages with diglossia and/or multiglossia: Challenges for linguistic description and pluricentric theory
  • Pluricentricity and sociolinguistic relationships between French, English and indigenous Languages in New Caledonia
  • Functional dominance in non-dominant varieties of Cameroon English Pronunciation
  • IV. Pluricentricity and terminology
  • The codification situation of terminological variation within pluricentric languages

← 6 | 7 → Preface

This volume comprises a selection of 17 papers that were presented at the “3rd International Conference on Non-Dominant Varieties of Pluricentric Languages” which was organized by the “Working Group on Non-Dominant Varieties of Pluricentric Languages” and was held at the University of Surrey, Guildford (UK) on the 3rd and 4th of July 2014. The main aim of the conference was to strengthen the theory and extend the description of pluricentric languages around the world. During the past conferences it became clearer that the standard theory of pluricentricity would not apply to complex multilingual language situations such as those found in former colonies where nativised varieties have developed alongside diglossic or multiglossic language use. It also became apparent that other theoretical problems had to be considered when pluricentric languages in the making are included, such as second level types of pluricentricity and formerly unrecognised pluricentric languages, whose status is unclear.

The first two conferences have also shown that the scope of what constitutes pluricentricity is far wider than what was originally envisaged. When Michael Clyne coined the term “pluricentric languages” in 1984, it made sense to restrict it to national standard languages of the “larger” pluricentric languages. However, it is now clear that many other languages should be included, such as Catalan in Europe and Bengali in Asia. A further objective of the conference was to work on a more viable definition of what pluricentricity actually means in the context of research on non-dominant language varieties.

The papers in this volume fall into four main categories:

Section (1) comprises papers about theoretical aspects of pluricentricity and methods of description of variation in pluricentric languages: It is introduced by Rudolf Muhr’s paper, which presents key factors that are likely to establish and support linguistic dominance in pluricentric languages. Gerhard Leitner shows that the inclusion of the specific language situation (habitat) is necessary for the description of complex language situations like those that exist in post-colonial contexts.

Danica Salazar presents the first paper that gives a thorough account of the way vocabulary from NDVs of English is included in the OED. Carla Amorós Negre deals with the practical and theoretical problems of multi-national standardisation of Spanish. Amália Mendes and her colleagues from Portugal and Brazil explore an extensive amount of data from virtually all national varieties of Portuguese around the world. The specific usage of two key features of ← 7 | 8 → Portuguese (pronominal constructions and subject indetermination) gives clear indications of the different national varieties. The section is closed with a paper by Sofie Henricson and her colleagues from Sweden and Finland who research the specific pragmatic and interactional differences in supervision meetings that exist between Sweden Swedish and Finland Swedish.

Section (2) contains a number of pioneering papers about “new” pluricentric languages and “new” non-dominant varieties that have not been described or dealt with in any detail before. Aditi Gosh’s paper is the first one about Bengali as a genuine pluricentric language. Bengali is not only a very “large” language by the number of speakers, it is also a pluricentric language, since it has the status of a national language in both Bangladesh and India. Gerhard Edelmann shows on the example of Catalan how complex and intricate the situation of a pluricentric language can be due to political and geographical fragmentation. Salvatore Del Gaudio and Olga Ivanova have investigated the even more complex situation of Ukraine Russian. It is marked by strong language contact with the linguistically very close Ukrainian language. However, the authors found indications that there is a specific Ukraine variety of Russian. In the light of the latest political developments, its future development is totally unclear.

Quite in the same vein are the papers by Susanna Afonso and Francesco Goglia about Portuguese in East Timor and by Juan Thomas about US Spanish. The authors present findings that indicate linguistic developments in both cases that might lead to the development of distinct national varieties of both languages in the respective countries. Similar processes are going on in Peninsular Spanish, as Nativad Hernández Munoz shows, if on a national rather than on a transnational level. The speakers of La Mancha seem to develop strong awareness for a regional variety that in the near future might play a role on the level of “second level” pluricentricity (within a national variety). Karoline Kühl’s contribution also points in this direction. Her findings about South Schleswig Danish - a regional spoken variety of Danish in Germany – show that there is bilingual language usage, but also a high amount of stigmatisation due to the uncodified status of this variety. Finally Máté Huber and Timea Molnar present data about attitudes towards the NDVs of Hungarian in the neighbouring countries, indicating a strong awareness for these varieties in the Hungarian language community.

Section (3) showcases pluricentric languages that are used alongside indigenous languages. Both papers in this section are concerned with the usage of English and French in two rather different multilingual countries which have a colonial past in common. Anu Bissoonauth researches the usage of these languages in New Caledonia – a cluster of islands in the Pacific Ocean, where about ← 8 | 9 → 40 native languages are used. Kelen Fonyuy presents research on how the pronunciation of English and the usage of English and French in Cameroon are used to convey different social attitudes.

The fourth and last section deals with the pluricentricity of special languages. Tanja Wissik shows that the terminology of the academic educational system in Austria, Germany and Switzerland is marked by substantial differences that deserve intensive research.

Together with the authors, we hope that this collection will be well received and will help to intensify the discussion about theoretical, methodological and practical issues related to the description of pluricentric languages.

This hope is shared by the organisers of the conference at the University of Surrey and the members of the “Working Group on Non-Dominant Varieties of Pluricentric Languages” (www.pluricentriclanguages.org).

We would like to thank the regional government of the Austrian Bundesland Styria for the financial support of this publication and those who – in addition to the editors - acted as reviewers and helped in the editing of the manuscript: Catrin Norrby (Stockholm, SE), Johan de Caluwe (Ghent, BE), Augusto Da Silva (Braga, PT), Nils Langer (Bristol, UK), George Lüdi (Basel, CH), Günther Leikauf (Graz, AT), Josep-Àngel MAS (València, ES); Flemming T. Stubkjär (Odense, DK) and Klaus Zimmermann (Bremen, DE).

Rudolf Muhr, Dawn Marley

Heinz L. Kretzenbacher and Anu Bissoonauth

Graz, Guildford, Melbourne, Wollongong - March 2015← 9 | 10 →

← 12 | 13 → Manufacturing linguistic dominance in pluricentric languages and beyond1

Rudolf Muhr*

(Austrian German Research Centre, Universität Graz, Austria) rudolf.muhr@uni-graz.at

Abstract: This paper examines how linguistic dominance is brought about and which measures support and maintain it. It is shown that the dominance of a specific national variety of a pluricentric language is supported on five functional levels. The relevant factors that lead to prolonged language contact with the DV and not with the NDV are economic and demographic power, the status of a language in international organisations, electronic media like satellite TV (SAT-TV), and language teaching organisations. Further factors are the existence of well-equipped norm-setting institutions and the application of exonormative principles of codification that stigmatise native characteristics of NDVs and sometimes even lead to a misleading spelling. It is demonstrated that linguistic dominance is a complex process on different levels that may differ substantially in different pluricentric languages. The structural advantages of DVs can only be overcome by NDVs by thorough endonormative codification of native norms, their purposeful dissemination abroad via SAT-TV and language teaching organisations.

1. Introduction

It is now common knowledge that pluricentric languages (PLCLs) are usually marked by an asymmetric relationship between their national varieties.2 The so called “mother variety” usually holds the highest prestige and therefore its linguistic and pragmatic features are usually given preference throughout the whole language community – even in the non-dominant varieties (NDVs) of the ← 13 | 14 → language. The central question that arises from this kind of collective behaviour is how linguistic dominance is maintained when the area of a language has been split up into different nations that are usually keen to act independently.

The main objective of this paper therefore is to detect and reflect the mechanisms and measures that establish and keep linguistic dominance stable and unchallenged over long periods of time after the split into different nations has occurred. To find this out, I will examine the practice of different PLCLs and compare them. Another objective is to find out what NDVs can possibly do to overcome dominance of another variety and their dependence on it. The present paper extends Muhr (2012) (which mainly dealt with linguistic non-dominance) in focussing on the main characteristics of linguistic dominance and how it is established and maintained.

2. Linguistic dominance: A multi-level definition3

Linguistic dominance can be defined as a social act whereby a certain language or variety and its characteristics are systematically given preference over other languages or varieties of the same language, resulting in a social habit accompanied by the respective language attitudes of purporting superiority towards other languages or varieties of the same language. The social-symbolic value of “other” languages or of “other” varieties of the same language is downgraded and their status lowered. This act of deliberate choice may be backed by educational, political or even legal measures.

3. Functional levels of dominance

As mentioned above, the central question to be answered is: How is linguistic dominance of a certain variety of a PLCL established and managed, so that it lasts for a long period of time? The characteristics and measures for the establishment and maintenance of dominance of a single language on the linguistic market4 against other (competing) varieties of the same language seem to be situated on three functional levels that ensure the dominance of one variety.

← 14 | 15 → 3.1 Functional level (1): Political and economical power: Non-linguistic preconditions for dominance of one specific variety of a pluricentric language

As already mentioned by Clyne (1992), a prerequisite for dominance is always political, economic and cultural (sometimes also military) power. Dominance is therefore exerted if a variety has all or at least some of the following characteristics:

1.The national variety has a large number of speakers (relative to the total number of speakers of that language) which represent the majority of the speakers of that language, thus generating predominant social power;

2.The nation using this variety has considerable economic power, which provides the financial means to promote the variety by different measures such as codifying institutions and institutions that spread the variety abroad and promote its status;

3.This nation also has considerable political power which usually results in political leadership that in turn leads to high status and the imitation of linguistic and social behaviour by other nations using varieties of the same PLCL.

The characteristics on this level ensure dominance by the number of speakers and the role of a leading nation on the level of economics and politics providing opportunities and prestige by anyone who is a member of this nation or adapts his linguistic behaviour to it. This will lead to the preference of the specific dominant variety of this nation in international organisations (UN, EU, WTO etc.)5 as well as in the national and international media.

The following table (1) shows that in 26 international organisations6 only 13 languages ← 15 | 16 → are used as official languages. The three most important languages are English, which is used in 80%, French in 54/62%,7 Spanish in 46/62% of all organisations. The status as “language of international organisations” clearly supports the dominant variety (DV), as it is very unlikely that norms of the NDVs are accepted in this context (except possibly in semi-official conversation).


However, if a PLCL is small by the total number of its speakers (examples are Albanian, Armenian, Basque, Catalan, Guarani, Occitan and Quechua) the differences in economic and political power within such a PLCL are of little importance, as decisions on the accepted norms are mostly decided in norm setting institutions that are backed by specific groups and interests.9 This also holds true for the following characteristics on level (2) as the “smaller” PLCLs are not usually disseminated and spread via satellite-TV (SAT-TV).

← 16 | 17 → 3.2 Functional level (2): Language spread via electronic media and international language teaching organisations that promote language contact in other varieties and contribute to its dominance via predominance

Political and economical power per se is not enough to ensure that a specific variety gains particular esteem.10 The prestige of the supporting nation needs to be transferred to its variety. The prerequisite for this is (a) language contact, (b) language instruction and (c) language codification by well -equipped academies/ publishers, as well as the availability of reliable reference books and text books for language learning. This establishes the predominance of the norm of a certain variety against the norms of other varieties in foreign language teaching, literature, tuition and in international certification of language skills.11

A particular role to achieve and enforce dominance (indirectly) is achieved by the regular consumption of programmes broadcast via SAT-TV providing language contact with a specific (D-)variety. SAT-TV enables access to virtually any speaker of the respective language community. The effects of satellite TV are massive – particularly in NDVs where language awareness for the native variety is weak and affinity of the social élites to the dominant variety is strong. The study by Muhr (2006) showed that the linguistic influence of TV programmes coming from a dominant nation on the lexicon of a NDV is particularly strong with the younger generation and may result in the stigmatisation of most traditional lexical items of the NDV, in this case Austrian German, which for that reason is gradually shifting to German German. The existence of such channels is taken as a means that supports (a) the knowledge and (b) the familiarity with the variety that is distributed via SAT-TV and exerts influence on the linguistic repertoire of speakers who have a high level of TV-consumption.12

To check the amount of language spread via SAT-TV, 31 of the 36 PLCLs that have been identified so far and are displayed at the web site of the “Working Group on Non-dominant Varieties of Pluricentric Languages” (WGNDV)13 have ← 17 | 18 → been researched in respect to the number of SAT-TV-stations broadcasting from the dominant nation(s) and the non-dominant ones.

Table (2) also shows that certain nations conduct institutionalised language spread by providing language instruction and cultural activities outside the nation. The promotion of the variety is backed by well financed institutions. The spread is conducted deliberately in countries sharing the same language but also in countries using other languages. This activity supports the prestige of the dominant linguistic norm by providing language contact and – most important of all - access to the present and future linguistic and social élites as most of these centres are situated at universities or post graduate institutions.

← 18 | 19 →

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Summary of table (2)

1.The case of Kurdish has to be dealt with first: There are several SAT-TV stations broadcasting Kurdish programmes into large areas of Europe and the Middle East but there is no fixed territory and no official state for this language. The language fulfils the status of pluricentricity in several ways as it has de facto the status of a regional language in Iraq, Iran and Turkey. But the criteria of D/ND-variety are not applicable because of the unsettled political issues.

2.The D/ND varieties of the PLCL is neither spread via SAT-TV nor via language institutions:

Kiswahili, Punjabi and Quechua (3 out of the 31 languages = 9.7%). These languages are marked by severe economic disadvantages that exist in the countries where they are native. Economic weakness of nations obviously is a main cause that prevents the spread of a language in all its varieties via the electronic media and otherwise.

3.(a)The D-nation(s) spread their
varieties via SAT-TV;

(b)The ND-nation(s) do not spread their varieties via SAT-TV;

(c)Neither the D-nations nor the ND-nations operate language institutions for language spread: Albanian, Armenian, Basque, Catalan, Greek, Guaraní, Urdu and Tamil (8 = 25.9%).


This volume presents a selection of papers from the «3rd International Conference on Non-Dominant Varieties of Pluricentric Languages» that was held in 2014 at the University of Surrey, Guildford (UK). The papers in section one deal with the theoretical aspects of pluricentricity and methods of description of the variations in pluricentric languages. Section two contains a number of papers about «new» pluricentric languages and «new» non-dominant varieties that have not been described before. Section three showcases pluricentric languages that are used alongside indigenous languages and section four deals with the pluricentricity of special languages.

Biographical notes

Rudolf Muhr (Volume editor) Dawn Marley (Volume editor)

Rudolf Muhr is Head of the Austrian German Research Centre at the University of Graz and Head of the Working Group on Non-Dominant Varieties of Pluricentric Languages (WGNDV). Dawn Marley is Director of the Learning and Teaching School of English and Languages at the University of Surrey and a senior member of the WGNDV.


Title: Pluricentric Languages: New Perspectives in Theory and Description