Studies on Language Norms in Context

by Elena Maria Pandolfi (Volume editor) Johanna Miecznikowski (Volume editor) Sabine Christopher (Volume editor) Alain Kamber (Volume editor)
©2017 Edited Collection 365 Pages


This book deepens the insight into the setting and monitoring of language norms in different contexts. One focus lies on institutional contexts, in which the authors examine standardization, language policy and the implementation of usage norms. In the context of language learning, the authors investigate cognitive strategies of L2 norm construction by initial learners, L2 norms in grammars as well as interactional norms regulating teacher behavior. Finally, the volume theoretically explores the nature of discourse norms and examines their management and metadiscursive formulation in a variety of communicative activities and genres.
Contributions to the volume are predominantly in English, some in German.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of contents
  • Editors’ Preface
  • Introductory remarks (Ulrich Ammon)
  • Language policy and norm setting
  • On the social forces that determine what is standard in a language – with a look at the norms of non-standard language varieties (Ulrich Ammon)
  • Instanzen der Sprachnormierung. Standardvarietäten und Verwaltungssprache im Vergleich (Kirsten Adamzik / Alessandra Alghisi)
  • Implementation of multilingual status and acquisition planning in the Swiss Federal Administration (Sabine Christopher / Seraphina Zurbriggen)
  • Second language acquisition and teaching
  • The first encounter with a norm: Perception and analysis of L2 initial input (Giuliano Bernini)
  • L2 Italian grammars between norm and variation (Valeria Buttini)
  • Stimulated recall interview, an indicator of interactional norms internalized by language teachers (Catherine Muller)
  • Discourse norms
  • Appropriateness, communicative activity and context (Anita Fetzer)
  • Zur Analyse von Normbezügen in Texten (Wolfgang Kesselheim)
  • Anaphoric encapsulation and reported speech. Lines of interaction between referential coherence and enunciative coherence in the Italian press (Filippo Pecorari)
  • (Im)politeness rules and (im)politeness formulae: metadiscourse and conventionalisation in 19th Century Italian conduct books (Annick Paternoster / Francesca Saltamacchia)
  • Genre norms and variation in online reviews: the dimension of information source (Johanna Miecznikowski / Elena Musi)
  • Konsens und Dissens in der Online-Kommunikation. Eine exemplarische Analyse des Deutschen und des Französischen (Nadine Rentel)

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Editors’ Preface

The notion of norm is defined in various ways in the fields of linguistics and discourse studies. In Coseriu (1952, 1973), norm refers to the customary or traditional implementation of the language system as an organized set of functional oppositions (de Saussure’s langue). The norm thus constitutes an intermediate level of abstraction and analysis between the language system and speech (de Saussure’s parole). This definition is compatible with a more general concept of norms as neutral or unmarked behaviours. It contrasts with another common use of the term norm, according to which a norm is a set of deontic propositions prescribing certain behaviours which are recognized by the members of a community as a standard of evaluation.

A shared feature of the different interpretations of the concept of norm is its relatedness to variation: a norm corresponds to a set of preferred choices from a range of options, be it the preference based on frequency, markedness, tradition, deontic status or prestige. The relation between norm and variation is evident in Coseriu’s aforementioned explanation of the concept of norm, where he discusses classical examples of phonetic variation such as the aspirated or non-aspirated realization of voiceless occlusive consonants in English or the presence or absence of phono-syntactic doubling in Italian (Coseriu 1973: 149).1 The connection between norms as prescriptions and variation emerges clearly, for example, at the beginning of the entry “Norme” in Ducrot’s and Schaeffer’s (1995) encyclopedic dictionary of linguistics, where norms are said to operate a selection among different ways of speaking (“façons de parler”):

«Parmi les motivations qui ont pu conduire à décrire les langues, on relève fréquemment le souci de fixer avec précision un bon usage, en définissant une norme qui retiendrait seulement certaines des façons de parler effectivement utilisées, et qui rejetterait les autres comme relâchées, incorrectes, impures ou vulgaires […]».2 (Ducrot & Schaeffer 1995: 311) ← 7 | 8 →

The presupposition of a set of variants distinguishes the norm concept from other theoretical concepts referring to the socially shared nature of language, such as contract (e.g. de Saussure 19723), or convention (e.g. Austin 19754). Focusing on the issue of language norms means recognizing the intrinsically problematic nature of conventions and customs in the domain of language and leads us to ask questions: given the variability of language behaviour, who defines norms, which historical and social factors influence their establishment and the changes they may undergo and how are they recognizable in discourse?

These questions may be asked both about norms that regard strictly linguistic phenomena and about norms that regard aspects of discourse such as genres, action sequences, activity types (Levinson 1979), institutional practices regulating communication flows, and politeness. In that broad sense, the content (von Wright 1979: 80) of language norms covers the entire set of abilities that make up the communicative competence of speakers (Hymes 1972):

“…a normal child acquires knowledge of sentences not only as grammatical, but also as appropriate. He or she acquires competence as to when to speak, when not, and as to what to talk about with whom, when, where, in what manner. In short, a child becomes able to accomplish a repertoire of speech acts, to take part in speech events, and to evaluate their accomplishment by others.” (Hymes 1972: 277)

Indeed, as Berruto (1995: 79–85) puts it, knowing how to speak a language does not only mean knowing the words and the grammar, but also being able to choose, among the varieties at the disposal of the speaker, the one most suitable to the particular situation, to use the most appropriate speech acts and to complement, or even replace, verbal communication by other communication codes, to know the rules of interaction, and, ultimately, to know the norms of the society and the culture of which the language is part.

Language norms in their manifold definitions and concerning different aspects of language and discourse were the subject of a meeting of the Swiss ← 8 | 9 → Association for Applied Linguistics (Vals-Asla) that took place from February 12th to 14th, 2014, at the Università della Svizzera italiana in Lugano. This meeting was an opportunity for researchers with a wide variety of interests within the interdisciplinary field of applied linguistics (cf. McCarthy 2001, de Pietro 2002) to reason on the diverse nature of norms and share their findings regarding language norms in a vast range of contexts. The proceedings are collected in Miecznikowski et al. (2015). This experience brought forth the idea of involving a number of selected authors in a book project focusing on processes of norm setting in relation with norm content and with context.

Studying processes of norm setting means focusing on the recognition, representation, ostensive indication and metadiscursive formulation of language norms as well as on acts and actors prescribing, evaluating and positively or negatively sanctioning communicative behaviour. Adopting a broad concept of language norms, including discourse and interaction norms applied to a wide range of specific contexts, a variety of processes and actors are examined and compared. This approach enables a theoretical reflection on shared features of normative processes, but also on their diverse nature and observability, depending on the aspect of language and language use taken into consideration as well as on local and global context.5 In an application perspective, it also raises significant questions about the practical consequences of such diversity in different institutional and professional fields.

The present volume is divided into three sections. The first, Language policy and norm setting, is dedicated to the global context of language policy and planning. Various institutional actors set and evaluate norms regarding lexical, grammatical, stylistic and orthographical choices (cf. Ammon 2005 and in this volume), but also – especially in settings of institutional multilingualism – regarding language status, acquisition as well as corpus planning. These aspects are investigated with ← 9 | 10 → a special focus on the case of the Swiss federal administration. The second section considers some issues related to norms in Second language acquisition and teaching. The authors ask, in particular, how linguistic norms are recognized and assimilated by language learners, how sociolinguistic changes in the standard language are reflected in grammars (and, consequently, which norms should be taught) and which interactional norms regulate classroom interaction and good teaching practice. The third section, Discourse norms, theorizes and illustrates norms governing spoken and written discourse. The discussed norms regard the social relation between interlocutors, in particular conflict management and politeness, but also genre-related requirements at the level of text organization, sequential structure and the author’s epistemic-evidential stance. The manifestations of normative processes taken into account in this section include conduct books, various types of metadiscourses commenting on ongoing discourse, repair, the use of templates in text production, and the playful ostentation of a speaker’s orientedness towards patterns and models.

Elena M. Pandolfi, Johanna Miecznikowski, Sabine Christopher, Alain Kamber


Ammon, U. (2005). Standard und Variation: Norm, Autorität, Legitimation. In L. M. Eichinger & W. Kallmeyer (eds.), Standardvariation. Wie viel Variation verträgt die deutsche Sprache? (pp. 28–40). Berlin/New York: de Gruyter.

Austin, J. L. (1975). How to do things with words. Second edition edited by M. Sbisà & J. O. Urmson. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Akman, V. & Bazzanella, C. (2003). The complexity of context: guest editors’ introduction. Journal of Pragmatics, 35, 321–329.

Berruto, G. (1995). Fondamenti di sociolinguistica. Roma-Bari: Laterza.

Coseriu, E. (1952). Sistema, norma y habla. Revista de la Facultad de Humanidades y Ciencias, 9, 113–181.

Coseriu, E. (1973). Lezioni di linguistica generale. Torino: Boringhieri.

de Pietro, J.-F. (2002). La linguistique appliquée, après 75 numéros. Bulletin suisse de linguistique appliquée, 75, 99–111.

Ducrot, O. & Schaeffer, J.-M. (1995). Nouveau dictionnaire encyclopédique des sciences du langage. Paris: Seuil.

Hymes, D. (1972). On communicative competence. In J.B. Pride & J. Holmes (eds.), Sociolinguistics: selected readings (pp. 269–293). Harmondsworth: Penguin. ← 10 | 11 →

McCarthy, M. (2001). Issues in Applied Linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Miecznikowski, J., Casoni, M., Christopher, S., Kamber, A., Pandolfi, E.M. & Rocci, A. (eds.) (2015). Proceedings of the conference Vals-Asla 2014, Norme linguistiche in contesto; Sprachnormen im Kontext; Normes langagières en contexte; Linguistic Norms in Context, Lugano, February 12th to 14th 2014, Bulletin suisse de linguistique appliquée. Special issue (3 vols.).

Levinson, S. (1979). Activity types and language. Linguistics, 17, 365–399.

Rigotti, E. & Rocci, A. (2006). Towards a Definition of Communication Context. Foundations of an Interdisciplinary Approach to Communication. Studies in Communication Sciences, 6/2, 155–180.

Saussure, F. de (1972). Cours de linguistique générale (eds. Charles Bally et Albert Séchehaye avec la collaboration de Albert Riedlinger). Paris: Payot (édition originale: Paris/Lausanne: Payot, 1916).

Sperber, D. & Wilson, D. (1986). Relevance: Communication and Cognition. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Wright, G. H. von (1979). Norm und Handlung. Eine logische Untersuchung. Königstein: Scriptor.

1 Coseriu argues that the preference of one variant over another, albeit constrained in a regular manner by the phonetic context, must be considered a matter of norm rather than of the language system because the difference between variants is not a functional opposition: a failure or refusal to adopt “il modo normale della loro realizzazione” (‘the normal way of realizing them’, Coseriu’s italics) causes neither changes in meaning, nor communication breakdown.

2 “Among the motivations that lead to the description of languages, one often finds the anxiety to precisely fix a good usage by defining a norm that retains only some of the actually used ways of speaking, while rejecting others as being sloppy, incorrect, impure or vulgar […]”. The boldface character is Ducrot’s and Schaeffer’s.

3 De Saussure employs the term contrat in one of his definitions of langue: «Elle [sc. la langue] est la partie sociale du langage, extérieure à l’individu, qui à lui seul ne peut ni la créer ni la modifier; elle n’existe qu’en vertu d’une sorte de contrat passé entre les membres de la communauté» (de Saussure 1972: 31).

4 According to Austin (1975: 26), the felicity/infelicity of speech acts is based on the requirement that “there must exist an accepted conventional procedure having a certain conventional effect, the procedure to include the uttering of certain words by certain persons in certain circumstances.”

5 Speech acts are characterized both by their “context dependence” and their having “context change potential” (Rigotti & Rocci 2006: 166). Akman & Bazzanella (2003: 324) observe a great variety of notions of context in the existing literature and categorize them using the local-global distinction: “If we adopt a prototype model […], we could better individuate two points of attraction around which the various notions of context seem to converge:
a local point, which is related to the structural environment. It is activated and constructed in the ongoing interaction as it becomes relevant (Sperber and Wilson, 1986), and is eventually shared by interactants;
a global point, which refers to the given external components of the context. It includes knowledge and beliefs, and the general experience resulting from the interplay of culture and social community.”

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Ulrich Ammon

Introductory remarks

This volume gives a wide-ranging overview of the traditional and still challenging question of language norms. It presents traditional theoretical approaches and findings and expands on them, but also offers new views on various questions. It specifies existing theories and challenges them with data and thus partially confirms and partially modifies them opening up new paths for future research. However, it also includes entirely new views and concepts which still need further attention and elucidation. The volume was motivated by a conference in Lugano (Switzerland) from which the most interesting and topically fitting contributions were selected and elaborated upon and to which new topically relevant articles were added by experts upon invitation. The editors are grateful to all the contributors for their reliable collaboration. The volume is bilingual, comprised of a majority of contributions written in English with a minority written in German.

The first section “Language policy and norm setting” focuses on the theoretical foundation of language norms, but also uses them for the deeper understanding of language policies and their theoretical underpinnings. The first contribution (Urich Ammon) explains the major social forces which are usually involved in setting language norms like, especially, model speakers and model writers who produce model texts whose forms function as language norms, but also codifications of language norms, especially in dictionaries which are used for looking up forms which are linguistically correct. It is specified that not all dictionaries available on the market count as part of the language codex, but only those which can legitimately be used and referred to for language corrections. The linguistic experts, e.g. professional academics, are another instance of setting language norms as they impact, sometimes, on the contents of language codices and which forms are accepted there as correct. Finally, language norm authorities, like teachers or review editors, can also have an impact on language norms or, at least, play a crucial role promulgating them. The other two contributions in this section deal with special kinds and aspects of language norms and their institutionalization. One normatively compares the regulation of administrative language, or rather administrative language varieties, with that of general standard (Kirsten Adamzik and Alessandra Alghisi). The other deals with the sensitive questions of normative regulations and norms in multilingual settings and their adequacy and implications for language acquisition (Sabine Christopher and Seraphina Zurbriggen). ← 13 | 14 →

The second section “Second language acquisition and teaching” deepens questions of language acquisition starting with a contribution on first encounters with language norms in L2 learning (Giuliano Bernini). This is also analyzed for the practical application of results in language teaching. Another contribution (Valeria Buttini) deals with the tension between and the balance of actual variation in language use versus the language norms in Italian grammars. This always poses a challenge for teachers in their endeavors not to inhibit fluent language use and communication on the one hand and, at the same time on the other hand, to prevent the growth of an attitude that ‘everything goes’, which can have detrimental social consequences. Yet another article in the second section (Catherine Muller) deals with interactional norms rather than language norms in the narrower sense, internalized by language teachers studying them by stimulated recall interviews.

The final section “Discourse norms” continues with the question of norms beyond language in the narrower sense. It begins with the elucidation of the basic concept of ‘appropriateness’, beyond mere correctness, which is very useful for the normative analysis of communication and contextual conditions (Anita Fetzer). The second contribution (Wolfgang Kesselheim) analyzes the complex question of textual norms which, though having been dealt with in a number of books and articles, is still rife with unsolved quandaries. What follows is a detailed study of anaphors and reported speech and their impacts on the relationship between the referential and enunciative coherence of texts (Filippo Pecorari). A look back into history (Annick Paternoster and Francesca Saltamacchia) deals with questions of metalinguistic politeness and conventions in Italian conduct books of the 19th century – this seems to me to deserve a comparative follow-up study with conduct books of other European or even non-European countries and languages of the same time, or also similar contemporary guides. The second last contribution (Johanna Miecznikowski and Elena Musi) is about online reviews and the genre norms which they imply or to which they explicitly refer. These findings might be of more or less immediate professional interest to some of the readers of this volume. The final article (Nadine Rentel) compares the way in which agreement or disagreement is, and perhaps should be, expressed in online communication in French and in German, finding differences and co-incidences.

All in all, the volume offers a wide range of thorough and innovative contributions on a complex topic which, it seems safe to predict, will continue being a challenging and fruitful field of research for a long time in the future.

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ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (January)
Language standardization Language policy Language learning and teaching Discourse norms
Frankfurt am Main, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2017. 365 pp., 23 b/w ill., 23 b/w tables

Biographical notes

Elena Maria Pandolfi (Volume editor) Johanna Miecznikowski (Volume editor) Sabine Christopher (Volume editor) Alain Kamber (Volume editor)

Elena Maria Pandolfi is a researcher at the Osservatorio linguistico della Svizzera italiana (OLSI). Her publications cover sociolinguistics, lexicon and morphosyntax, Italian language, multilingualism, language teaching and language policy. Johanna Miecznikowski teaches linguistics at the Università della Svizzera italiana. Her research areas are discourse and conversation analysis, discourse markers, modality, evidentiality, argumentation and multilingualism. Sabine Christopher is a lecturer at the Università della Svizzera italiana and a researcher at the Osservatorio linguistico della Svizzera italiana. Her publications cover multilingualism, sociolinguistics, language teaching, language policy and discourse analysis. Alain Kamber is a professor of French as a foreign language at the Institut de langue et civilisation françaises of the University of Neuchâtel. His research focuses on corpus linguistics, grammar and syntax as well as language teaching from a contrastive perspective and involving new technologies.


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