Pluricentric Languages and Non-Dominant Varieties Worldwide

Part I: Pluricentric Languages across Continents. Features and Usage

by Rudolf Muhr (Volume editor)
Conference proceedings 483 Pages


This is the first of two thematically arranged volumes with papers that were presented at the "World Conference of Pluricentric Languages and their non-dominant Varieties" (WCPCL). It comprises papers about 20 PCLs and 14 NDVs around the world. The second volume encompasses a further 17 papers about the pluricentricity of Portuguese and Spanish. The conference was held at the University of Graz (Austria) on July 8th-11th 2015. The papers fall into five categories: (1) Theoretical aspects of pluricentricity and the description of variation; (2) Different types of pluricentricity in differing environments; (3) African pluricentric languages and non-dominant varieties; (4) The pluricentricity of Arabic and Asian languages; (5) The pluricentricity of European languages inside Europe (Austrian German, Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian, Hungarian, Belgium Dutch, French, Greek, Swedish, Russian).

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of contents
  • Preface
  • I. Key note: Theoretical aspects of pluricentricity and the description of variation
  • The state of the art of research on pluricentric languages: Where we were and where we are now
  • II. Plenary lectures –Different types of pluricentricity in differing environments
  • Perspectives on “Chinese” pluricentricity in China, Greater China and beyond
  • French and English in Cameroon: Pluricentricity in the context of multilingualism and nativisation
  • The social and political uses of pluricentrism: A case study of identity-driven dominance in Urdu and Hindi
  • Euskara / Basque: The importance of status for the development of a pluricentric language
  • Trends in the formation of Kazakhstan’s variety of Russian
  • Migration – integration – social network: Armenian varieties in the 21st century –Or the development of a new variety?
  • III. African pluricentric languages and non-dominant varieties
  • Hausa – A pluricentric language of West Africa?
  • Swahili in Eastern Congo: Status, role and attitudes
  • Between official recognition and social reality: The case of Tamazight/Berber in Algeria
  • IV. Arabic – The history of a pluricentric language
  • A History of the Arabic Language and the origin of non-dominant varieties of Arabic
  • V. Asian languages – Second level and migrant pluricentricity, pluricentricity in roof languages
  • Second-level pluricentricity in the Persian of Tehran
  • A corpus-based comparative analysis of indigenous invariant tags in Asian Englishes: Features, usage, and registers
  • Hindi as Contact Language in Bihar and Jharkhand: A Sociolinguistic Study of a Non-dominant Variety of Hindi
  • Language maintenance and attitudes of Mandarin speaking families in New Zealand
  • VI. The pluricentricity of European languages inside Europe
  • Austrian German, Luxemburg German, Swiss German – NDVs as invisible languages, issues of language loyalty, status and purification
  • Non-Dominant Varieties and Invisible Languages: the case of 18th- and early 19th-centuryAustrian German
  • Language loyalty to Austrian German: Conclusions of a research project at Austrian schools
  • Variety contact and the codification of pluricentric German: An analysis of Austrian German markers inherited from Romance varieties
  • German at secondary schools in Luxembourg: a first, second or foreign language? Pluricentricity on test
  • National variation in the German language of science
  • Hungarian – Problems of formal status and description
  • Problems and advantages of looking at Hungarian as a pluricentric language
  • The Hungarian language in Slovakia: The use of the dominant standard in education in Slovakian Hungarian schools and the effects on education and training
  • Language cultivation vs. pluricentricity: the debate on Hungarian language use outside of Hungary
  • An insight into Serbian Hungarian
  • Belgium French, Dutch and Swedish – Legitimating non-dominant norms
  • Linguistic Legitimacy among Pluricentric Languages: The Case of Belgian French
  • Luxury or Necessity? The representation of non-dominant varieties in dictionaries: the cases of Dutch and Swedish
  • Swedish on the Åland islands: A non-dominant yet dominating variety
  • Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian, Russian, Cyprus Greek – Finding names for pluricentric languages, reconvert NDVs into dominant ones, L2-learner attitudes
  • Creating a name for a pluricentric language: From Serbian to Serbo-Croatian, Bosnian / Croatian / Serbian
  • The Russian Language in Crimea: From Pluricentricity to Monocentricity
  • Attitudes of Russian L2 learners of Greek towards the Greek Language Varieties of Cyprus

← 8 | 9 →


This is the first of two thematically arranged volumes with papers that were presented at the “World Conference of Pluricentric Languages and their non-dominant Varieties” (WCPCL). It comprises papers about 21 PCLs and 17 NDVs around the world. The second volume encompasses a further 17 papers about the pluricentricity of Portuguese and Spanish. The conference was held at the University of Graz, (Austria) on July 8th-11th 2015. It was the fourth gathering organized by the “Working Group on Non-Dominant Varieties of Pluricentric Languages” (WGNDV) since the foundation of the group and at the same time celebrating its 5th anniversary. The main objective of the conference was to get more information about the situation of as many pluricentric languages and non-dominant-varieties (NDVs) as possible. We hoped to get more empirically secured descriptions of the effects of non-dominance in order to strengthen the theory of pluricentric languages (PCLs) and to extend the description of pluricentric languages around the world. And there was the hope that papers about “new” PCLs, lesser known and researched PCLs and NDVs would be presented.

The editors are happy to say that all objectives have been met. Four “new” PCLs were identified: Euskara/Basque (G. Edelmann), Hausa (G. Ziegelmayer), Swahili (D. Waldburger) and Tamazight/Berber (A. Arezki) in Africa which brings the total number of known PCLs to 41. And there are papers about NDVs that have never been researched before. For the first time research is being presented on Kazakhstan’s Russian (E. Zhuravleva) and on Russian in Crimea (Del Gaudio/J. Dorofeev) whose features of a NDV of Ukraine Russian is presently brought into line with Russian Russian. Among the NDVs with little or no research so far are papers about Asian Englishes (M. Takahashi), Hindi in Bihar (S. Hashami), Mandarin in New Zealand (T. Lee/E. Ballard), Swedish on the Åland Islands (M. Nelson), Luxembourg German (M. Wagner), and on second level Pluricentrism in Tehran Persian (C. Miller / H. Saeli). Another important result of the conference is the large number of papers about Hungarian as a PCL (M. I. Huber) and the difficult situation of its NDVs (A. Biro) that are pressed by the DV to follow the centralized norm of Hungarian Hungarian (S. Sebők), causing problems for the educational system (I. Kozmács / I. Vančo).

The complex language situation in diglossic and multilingual language communities is discussed in several papers. They deal with the development of diglossia in Arabic (M. Aboelezz), the multilingual situation in Cameroon (K. E. Fonyuy), the double pluricentricity of Hindi and Urdu (T. Rahman) as national languages ← 9 | 10 → in Pakistan and India and their function as “roof languages” (Dachsprachen). The situation of “Chinese” which subsumes many “fangyan” (regional languages) under the roof term “Chinese” resembles the one of Hind/Urdu (A. Tien). Language contact is typical for “exiled languages” too, leading to new varieties as the contact of Eastern and Western Armenian shows (J. Dum-Tragut)

Another 15 papers deal with the pluricentricity of European languages inside Europe. They show how Austrian German became “invisible” in the course of the 18th century (A. Havinga), the effects of intensive contact of this variety with Romance languages (K. Ille) and the missing language loyalty of Austrian teachers towards their native language (I. E. Fink). While Swiss German texts of science are purified of native features (St. Wyss) is Luxembourg German burdend by its unclear status in the educational domain that complicates its tuition (M. Wagner). Hungarian in Slovakia and Serbia is also struggling with problems of status and the acknowledgement of its native norms for educational purposes. The low status of a NDV is also reflected in learner’s attitudes of Cyprus Greek as a foreign language (D. Evripidou/S. Karpava). Legitimating problems are a also a major problem for Belgium French (B. Snyers/Ph. Hambye) while the codification of Belgium Dutch and Finland Swedish are now done on a symmetric basis (G. Laureys). How complicated it can be to find an appropriate name for a PCL is shown on the example of Serbian which has changed its name several times (G. Ilić Marković). The results of five years research are summarized and integrated in an updated account of the theory of pluricentricity developed by the WGNDV (R. Muhr). The papers complement earlier data about PCLs and their NDVs in many ways, support the information that was gathered in the previous publications of the WGNDV and complete the picture on NDVs.

The editors would like to thank the regional government of the Austrian Bundesland Styria, Utica College, Utica, NY, USA and the University of Graz for the financial support of this publication, enabling it to be published. And we would also like thank those colleagues who – in addition to the editors – acted as reviewers and helped in the editing of the manuscript: Catrin Norrby (Stockholm, SWE), Jasmine Dum-Tragut, Aditi Ghosh, (Calcutta, IN), Salvatore Del Gaudio (Kiev, UKR), Máté Imre Huber (Pécs, HU), Gerhard Leitner (Berlin, DE), Dawn Marley (Guildford, UK) and Adrian Tien (Dublin, IRL).

Rudolf Muhr, Kelen Ernesta Fonyuy,
Zeinab Ibrahim and Corey Miller
Graz, Bambili, Qatar and Maryland in April 2016

← 10 | 11 →

I. Key note: Theoretical aspects of pluricentricity and the description of variation

← 11 | 12 →

← 12 | 13 →

Rudolf Muhr

(Universität Graz, Austria)

The state of the art of research on pluricentric languages: Where we were and where we are now


The paper gives an overview of the research on pluricentric languages and their non-dominant varieties that has been done in the past five years in the context of the “International Working Group on Non-dominant Varieties of pluricentric languages”. The group has published 5 volumes with 125 papers on many “old” and “new” pluricentric languages. The number of languages that are potentially pluricentric has risen to 41, considerable progress in the theory and description of pluricentric languages has been achieved and the concept of non-dominance and dominance has proven to be very useful and far-reaching. The paper adapts and updates the theory of pluricentricity in the light of the findings of the WGNDV and shows where future research is needed.

1.   Introduction – Where we were and where we are now

This paper gives an overview of the work of the “Working Group of Non-dominant Varieties of Pluricentric Languages” (WGNDV) which has been taking place ever since its foundation in 2010 in Braga, Portugal. The 2015 conference held in Graz Austria was the fourth gathering since the foundation and celebrated the fifth anniversary of the WGNDV. It is timely to report on the progress which has been achieved in the past five years in research on pluricentric languages all around the world and in the development of the theory of pluricentric languages. As the title indicates this paper seeks to summarise established findings that resulted from the research during the past five years. However, it is also necessary to include publications and standpoints that have been developed before 2010. This is done in section 2. ← 13 | 14 →

1.1   The number of pluricentric languages (PCLs)

When the work of the WGNDV started in 2010/2011, 17 pluricentric languages had been named and dealt with in Clyne (1992). Since 2011 we have found a total of 41 languages that can be called pluricentric for good reasons – even though some of them fulfil the criteria of being pluricentric only formally: Albanian, Arabic, Aramaic1, Armenian, Basque2, Bengali3, Bhojpuri4, Catalan5, Chinese, Croatian, Dutch, English, French, German, Greek6, Guaraní, Hausa7, Hebrew 8, Hindi9, Hokkien10, Urdu11, Hungarian12, Italian13, Irish, Korean, Kurdish, Malayan, Occitan14, Pashto, Persian, Portuguese, Punjabi/Lahnda, Quechua, Romanian, Russian15, Serbian16, Spanish, Swahili17, Swedish, Tamil, Tamazight/Berber18.

The list is not exhaustive and it is quite probable that there are still more languages that could fall into the category of PCLs. Candidates are languages which have official status in more than one country and are therefore potentially pluricentric. The following list19 comprises 16 additional languages. The countries where they have official status are indicated in brackets: Aymara (Bolivia, Peru); Bambara (Mali, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Guinea, Mauritania, and Senegal); Chewa/Nyanja (Malawi, Zimbabwe); Fula/Fulfulde (Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, Mauretania, Niger, Senegal; Kikongo (Angola, Dem. Republic ← 14 | 15 → of Congo, Republic of Congo); Slovak (Slovakia, Czech Republic); Lingala (Dem. Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo); Maninka/Malinke (Mali, Guinea); Mongolian (Mongolian People’s Republic/Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of People’s Republic of China); Soninke (Mali, Mauritania, Senegal); Sotho (Lesotho, South Africa, Zimbabwe); Swazi/Swati (Swaziland, South Africa); Tuareg (Mali, Niger); Setswana (Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe); Turkish (Turkey, Northern Cyprus Republic20); Venda/ Tshivenḓa/Luvenḓa (South Africa, Zimbabwe); Xhosa (South Africa, Zimbabwe).

1.2   Research on different PCLs

The four conferences held since 2011 have yielded a total of 125 papers on different aspects of PCLs, many of which have never been dealt with before. The pluricentricity of the following 30 languages and 41 NDVs has been researched in the context of the WGNV:21

<1>Afrikaans: (1); <2> Arabic /general: (2); /Egyptian: (1); /Gulf: (1); /Moroccan: (3); <3> Aramaic: (1); <4> Armenian: (2); <5> Bengali: (1); <6> Basque: (2); <7> Berber/Tamazight: (1);
<7>Catalan /general: (1); /Valencia: (1); <8> Chinese /general: (1), /Hokkien: (1) / migrant NZ: (1);
<9>Danish: (1); <10> Dutch: (3); <11> English /general: (1), /Asia: (2), /Australian: (1), / Cameroon: (3); /Nigeria: (1); <12> English/French in Africa: (1);
<13>French /general (2); / Belgium: (1), /Pacific: (1); <14> German /general: (2), / Austrian: (6), /Luxembourg: (1),
<15>Greek /general: (2), /Cyprus: (2); <16> Hausa: (1); <17> Hebrew: (1); <18> Hindi /general: (1), / <19> Bhojpuri: (1), <20> Hindi/Urdu: (1); <21> Hungarian /general: (3), /Serbia: (1), /Slovakia: (2); <22> Italian /general: (1);
<23>Macedonian: (1); <24> Occitan: (1); <24> Persian /Dari: (1); /Iran: (1);
<25>Portuguese /general: (6); /African: (1), /African: (1), /Mozambique: (1), /Brazil: (4), /East Timor: (1); /Europe: (4), /migrant: (1);
<26>Russian /Kazakhstan: (1), /Crimea: (1), /Ukraine: (2), Belarus: (1); <27> Serbian: (1);
<28>Spanish /general: (12), /Andean: (1), /Chile: (1), /Europe: (2), /European: (2); / Central American: (1), /Mercosur: (1), /US: (3); <29> Swahili / Congo: (1);
<30>Swedish /general: (2), /Åland islands: (1). ← 15 | 16 →

Very little or almost no research has been done so far about the following: PCLs: Albanian, Aramaic, Basque, Bengali, Bhojpuri, Croatian, Guaraní, Hebrew, Hindi/Urdu, Korean, Kurdish, Malay, Pashto, Punjabi, Quechua, Romanian, Serbian, Swahili, Tamil, Tamazight/Berber.

Apart from research on single PCLs and their characteristics there is substantial research being conducted on pragmatic aspects of NVs of Swedish and German (Norrby et. al. 2012, 2013; Kretzenbacher, 2012). Another new area of research is the introduction of cognitive aspects of PCLs (Soares 2016). And there is also research on second level pluricentricity (Miller/Saeli 2016; Rodrigues/ Paiva 2016) that describes the regional differentiation within a NV and on historical pluricentricity (Langer, 2012; Havinga, 2016). And Leitner’s (2015) habitat model proposes a framework for the development of transplanted languages in new linguistic environments. The group has also expanded from a few founding members to 130 scholars spread across all continents. Moreover, we hope that more scholars will join the WGNDV in the years to come.

2.   A short history of research on pluricentric languages and its theoretical foundations – putting things right

In the light of different stories that can be found in literature about the development of the theory of pluricentricity, this section is an attempt to give an accurate account of how the concept has developed since the 1950s.

It was Heinz Kloss in 1952 who, in dealing with Germanic languages and their relationship between dialects and languages, introduced the terms “Ausbausprache” (a language extending its functionality) and “Abstandsprache” (language with linguistic distance). Both terms were taken up by eminent scholars like Uriel Weinreich and Joshua Fishman and became important concepts in American sociolinguistics from the 1960s onwards. In the second edition, published in 1978, Kloss (1978: 66) introduced the terms bicentric, polycentric and pluricentric with only the latter remaining a key term in the context of the sociolinguistics. He outlined two important pillars of the theory of pluricentric languages:

“Standard languages are particularly often pluricentric, e.g. have several varieties with equal rights where they are the official and administrative language of several major independent states, such as Portuguese in Portugal and Brazil, German in BRD, DDR, Switzerland, and Austria, Dutch in Kingdom of the Netherlands (Dutch) and in Belgium (Flemish).”22 ← 16 | 17 →

Kloss clearly refers to states/nations as the makers of standard systems as it is their unique right to attribute a certain status to languages/ varieties of languages etc. by law. He also points out that varieties of the same language being used in independent nations are equal in their status as they are valid in the respective nation. It is functional equivalence, which is that Kloss had in mind. In most PCLs, there is no “real” equivalence as the relation between the dominant and the non-dominant varieties is usually asymmetric and the norms of the dominant nation are preferred (see chapter 3.5. and 3.7).

It is at this point that the concept of dominance and non-dominance in PCLs comes in. It is no coincidence that Kloss had been working in the United States and was influenced by the fact that English has been a pluricentric language ever since 1776. The differences between British English and US English have been evident ever since the mid 19th century and resulted in the publication of Webster’s first dictionary in 1806 with its enlarged version in 1844.23 But there were also linguists in the Soviet Union, like Elise Riesel (an Austrian immigrant), who used the term “national variant” already in a publication of 196324. The publication of the “Österreichische Wörterbuch” (Austrian National Dictionary) in 1951 marked the “building away”25 of Austrian German from German German in attempt to demonstrate political independence after the end of the Second World War. Quite in this line was the introduction of an official spelling for Letzeburgisch/Luxembourgish in 1946 which had been considered a German dialect in Luxembourg and which became the official language of the Grand-Duchy in 1984.26 The differentiation between Hindi / Urdu, Indonesian / Malay, Flemish / Dutch, Macedonian / Bulgarian, Moldavian / Romanian, Dutch / Afrikaans are similar examples. In the Spanish-speaking world a considerable number of differential dictionaries had already been published by the end of the 19th century: Cuba (1862), Guatemala (1882), Peru (1884), Costa Rica (1893), Honduras (1895), Mexico (1899), Chile (1901), Bolivia (1906), Argentina (1911). The majority of these dictionaries however considered the national features of Spanish in South America as “barbarisms” that ← 17 | 18 → should be avoided by all means.27 These dictionaries were not created in order to “build away” the American varieties of Spanish but rather to fight any tendency of linguistic self-determination. It was only in 2010 with the publication of the “Diccionario de americanismos” – a collaborative work of all 21 Spanish academies – that this attitude came to an end. A similar development could be observed for Portuguese where several grammars were published by the end of the 19th century (Ribeiro 1890, Maciel 1887, Gomes 1887). These dictionaries too showed a clear exonormative attitude.28 The Canadian Encyclopaedia states the same for French in pointing out that “… since the first appearance of the conservative and prescriptive Dictionnaire de l’Académie Française in 1694, there has been a trend towards marginalization of varieties of French from outside France”.29 The first French dictionary published outside France was Dunn’s Glossaire franco-canadien of (1880) where francophone Canadians showed how their variety of French differed from the one in France. No other variety of French outside France got any dictionaries before the early 1980s. The exonormative attitude that was typical for all attempts to codify national varieties outside the “mother variety” in the 19th and most of the 20th century was clearly influenced by the colonial situation that prevailed at that time in most parts of the world.

A major impact for the development of the theory of PCLs came from the dissolution of the British Empire and the decolonisation of many nations that kept English as administrative or national language (but no similar linguistic emancipation arose from the dissolution of the French colonial empire). The concept of the pluricentricity of languages therefore began to develop primarily among linguists working in the English-speaking world. A key to the understanding of the effects of national multilingualism and linguistic variation was the paper of Stewart (1962/1969: 534) where he introduced the concepts of exonormative/endonormative standardisation that is “either based upon models of usage native to that country … or upon foreign models of usage.”

It was in the late 1970s and in the first half of the 1980s of the last century that publications began to deal with pluricentricity which in English linguistics was subsumed under the term “world English”. The conceptualization of world Englishes goes back to the early 1960s (Kachru, 1965) and mid 70s (Smith 1976). It was first discussed in two conferences in 1978 and made popular in the publication of the proceedings by Smith (1981) and Kachru (1982/1992). A further ← 18 | 19 → impetus came from the publication of the Macquarie dictionary in Australia in 1981; the publications of Kachru (1983, 1985) about Asian and Indian English; and Clyne (1984) about German as a PCL that firmly established the concept of pluricentricity among sociolinguists. Kachru (1988), McArthur (1987) and Görlach (1990) published models of world English in the shape of circles. Today it is mainly Kachru’s model that prevails. It differentiates between “inner circle”, “outer circle” and “expanding circle” of varieties of English. It is evident that this model is only applicable to English and has no relevance for other pluricentric languages, as their language situation is different or is simply not comparable. While the pluricentricity of English became acknowledged in the late 1980s in the light of its global spread and the dominance of US-English versus British English, there was massive opposition in other pluricentric languages against this view. Particularly Clyne’s publication of 1984, considering German as a PCL caused a lot of discussion among German linguists who found it difficult to accept this view – although publications about Austrian German (AG) were released already in the early 19th century and Lewi (1875) represented a strong account of the existence of AG. With the eviction of the Austro-Hungarian Empire from the “Deutsche Bund” in 1866, German has been a PCL since then. This fact that has been ignored by German linguists until today.

A very similar repulsive reaction against pluricentricity is found in French and Hispanic linguistics and of course among Russian, Albanian, Greek and Hungarian linguists who have difficulties accepting the split of their languages into national varieties. Language communities opposing their status of pluricentricity often have a centralist and elitist notion of standard norms in common.30 It usually takes at least two generations to adapt to the idea that there are several equal standard norms within a single language.

A milestone in the development of the theory of pluricentric languages was Michael Clyne’s seminal publication “Pluricentric languages: Differing norms in different nations”, published in 1992, which discussed 17 PCLs and laid down the foundations of today’s theory of PCL. In the prologue and in the epilogue of this important publication, Clyne summarised observations that he drew from the papers about the PCLs dealt with in the volume. Many of them are still valid today and were the ground on which WGNDV has built its work ever since 2010. They will be discussed and extended in the next section. ← 19 | 20 →

3.   A contemporary theory of pluricentricity: Describing pluricentric languages

3.1   What is a pluricentric language? A definition of first-level and second-level pluricentricity

Clyne (1992: 1) defined PCLs as “languages with several interactive centres, each providing a national variety with at least some of its own (codified) norms.” This definition has been extended in Muhr (2012) comprising five criteria which has been accepted so far but which needs to be specified in several ways, in light of recent research. An extended, general definition of the concept “pluricentric language” might be the following:

A pluricentric language is a language that is used in at least two nations where it has an official status as state language, co-state language, or regional language with its own (codified) norms that usually contribute to the national/personal identity, making the nation a norm-setting centre by the deliberate use of the norms native to this specific nation.

This definition covers “external pluricentricity” or “first level-pluricentricity” that describes the variability of a certain language being used in different nations. In addition to that, there can also be “internal pluricentricity” or “second-level pluricentricity” within a NV due to its strong internal fragmentation.31 This type of pluricentricity is found in most nations and it is strongly developed where regional variation is also linked to political entities like federal states (Bundesländer/Kantone), which is the case in the three major German-speaking countries Austria, Germany and Switzerland. And there is also diglossia in German, Arabic and Tamil which acts as second-level pluricentricity as well as the existence of “fangyans” in Chinese and “mother tongues” in Hindi that make these languages pluricentric in several ways (for details see chapter 3.3/9).

3.2   Criteria making up a pluricentric language

A language can be called “pluricentric” (first level pluricentricity) if it fulfils some or all of the following criteria (with (1) and (2) as a minimum):

1. Criterion 1: Occurrence: A certain language occurs in at least two nations that function as “interacting centres”.32 The national varieties function as norm- setting centres. ← 20 | 21 →

1. Criterion 2: Official Status or strong ethno-linguistic awareness:

(a) The language has an official status in at least 2 nations either as (a) state-language or (e.g. German in Austria and Germany); (b) co-state language (e.g. German, French and Italian in Switzerland) or at least as (c) a regional language (e.g. German in Italy: South Tyrol, Catalan in France: etc.). The language therefore must have official recognition that exceeds the status of a minority language, as it otherwise cannot function as a norm-setting centre.

(a) In nations where the national variety of a PCL does not have the appropriate formal status (criteria a-c above), strong linguistic awareness of the language community acts as a replacement for the acknowledgement and the official status. Examples for this are Western Armenian, Hungarian in Slovakia, Romania, Serbia etc. and PCLs like Kurdish and Yiddish that are completely or partly nationless.

2. Criterion 3: Linguistic distance (Abstand): The national varieties must have enough linguistic (and/or pragmatic) characteristics that distinguish it from other varieties and by that can serve as a symbol for expressing identity and social uniqueness. Language planning measures usually increase ausbau of endemic features but can also be used to delimit them (as was the case in Belgian Dutch in the 1950s).33

3. Criterion 4: Acceptance of pluricentricity: The language community must accept the status of its language as a pluricentric variety and consider it as part of its social / national identity.

4. Criterion 5: Relevance for identity: The national norm has to be relevant to social identity and must be (to some degree) evident to the language community and lead “to at least some of its own (codified) norms.”34

5. Criterion 6: Codification of norms: The linguistic norms of the national variety must be codified in books of reference to a certain degree in order to achieve certainty about common language use and nation-specific features of the PCL.

Criterion (6) is an extension to the criteria listed in Muhr (2012). It seems necessary to add this criterion as non-codification is a serious obstacle for the acknowledgement of a NV. ← 21 | 22 →

3.3   Ten types of pluricentricity

Based on the six basic criteria of PCLs, ten different types of pluricentricity can be observed around the world:35

  1. Type 1: Nationless pluricentricity: Languages with varieties that have no territory of their own and no official recognition but can still be considered as pluricentric: West Armenian, Kurdish36 and Yiddish.
  2. Type 2: Formal pluricentricity: Only criterion (1) – occurrence of the PCL in at least two countries – is met. There is formal recognition of the status as a PCL or not. In all cases there is no language planning (codification, promotion) in favour of the NVs. Varieties belonging to this category are: Albanian in Kosovo, Basque in France, Croatian and Serbian in Bosnia Herzegovina, French in Italy, Italian in Switzerland, Irish in Northern Ireland, Punjabi.
  3. Type 3: PCLs with varieties lacking the appropriate formal status and waiting for recognition: Criteria 1, 2b and 3 are fulfilled but not 2a, and there is a large number of speakers. Cases for this type are Hungarian in Slovakia, Romania and Serbia; Russian in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia. In the case of Hungarian, it is recognised as a minority language in all neighbouring countries even though it is rather a regional language by its concentration in certain regions. The non-recognition of Russian in Baltic countries where up to 40% of the population of these countries are speakers of this language is incomprehensible as the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages totally requires a different treatment.
  4. Type 4: Languages where the status of pluricentricity is denied by the dominant variety or by the language as a whole. Languages that fall into this category show a high degree of centralisation and a strong reluctance to accept the plurality of norms. Sometimes there is formal recognition of pluricentricity by the dominant variety but at the same time, there are manoeuvres that attempt to downgrade non-dominant varieties to the level of regional dialects.37 ← 22 | 23 → Languages that belong to this group are: Arabic, Albanian, French, Greek38, Hungarian,39 Italian40; Punjabi/Lahnda, Romanian, Russian and Serbian.
  5. Type 5: Languages where the status of pluricentricity is acknowledged by the “dominant/mother”-variety, where the linguistic characteristics are codified including the minor varieties to some degree in dictionaries and reference books. This is the case with Basque, Bengali, Catalan, Chinese, Dutch, English, German, Hindi, Urdu, Irish, Korean, Malayan, Portuguese, Quechua, Spanish, Swedish, Tamil, Tamazight/Berber.
  6. Type 6: Languages where the pluricentricity is deliberately practised by model speakers of the respective NV. This is the case in many varieties of English, Dutch, German, Spanish, Swedish, and Portuguese. However, it usually takes a longer period of time until some amount of nativisation (stage three of Schneiders 2003/2007 model) has been reached and the endemic features of the NDV are accepted.
  7. Type 7: PCLs where the NVs (a) are taught in schools and (b) the linguistic differences are made aware of: The NVs are taught in schools in all PCLs, but variation existing between NVs of pluricentric languages is usually ignored, not made aware and a concept of a monolingual written standard language upheld. In respect to making NVs aware, there is one exception: Austrian German (AG). The Austrian Ministry of Education has published a brochure in 2015 that is meant to raise awareness for AG – unfortunately a wayward attempt because of its submissive stance towards the dominant variety, its shortcomings in the presented pluricentric theory and its inadequate pedagogical quality.41
  8. Type 8: PCLs that act as a “dachsprache” (roof language) for (a) many so- called “mother tongues” and (b) as a PCL towards the other standard varieties. This category applies to Hindi (Gosh, 2012) where, for language political reasons, no less than 50 often even mutually incomprehensible languages are considered to belong to Hindi, making Hindi a PCL towards these languages. Hindi is also in a pluricentric relation towards Urdu (Rahman, 2016), which ← 23 | 24 → is linguistically close and is the national language of Pakistan but also has a large number of speakers in India. A similar case is “Chinese” which can also be seen as a dachsprache (Tien, 2016, Clyne/Kipp, 1999) as it is pluricentric in respect to a large number of mutually unintelligible fangyan varieties (Cantonese, Hokkien, Mandarin, etc.) and by Mandarin, the standard variety, that is pluricentric in respect to the different Chinese-speaking countries. These cases show that the term “language” is a term that is primarily determined by social and political assumptions and not by sole linguistic facts.
  9. Type 9: Nativized pluricentricity: Traditional PCLs (like English, French, Spanish, Portuguese42) can have a similar function as dachsprache in multilingual societies in Africa, Asia and in the Americas as the contacts among them and a myriad of indigenous languages may lead to a large number of mixed varieties that are overarched by the PCL by becoming heavily nativised. An example for this is the case of Cameroon (Fonyuy 2015, 2016) where nativisation of French and English lead to varieties like Cameroon English, Cameroon French, Cameroon Pidgin English, Camfranglais and regional mixtures with indigenous languages. It is hard to know whether these varieties can still be considered as “French” / “English” etc. or are already languages in their own right. More or less the same applies to the multilingual situation in New Caledonia (Bissoonauth, 2015) with French, English and indigenous languages mixing together or to Morocco (Marley, 2012) where Arabic, Berber and French are producing new varieties.
  10. Type 10: Migrant pluricentricity – PCLs in a migrant context: This category refers to varieties of PCLs that were created through emigration into foreign countries. The development of distinct migrant varieties (MV) of PCLs depends on the migration of a large number of speakers into a relatively coherent and limited area of a receiving country. As the migrants come from different areas of the homeland the MVs show blending of native varieties and nativisation from the second generation onwards that makes the MV “to build itself away” from the “mother” varieties. The introduction of this category seems necessary as migration is ever increasing and recent research (Molnár/Huber, 2013; Scetti, 2016) shows that this aspect of pluricentricity needs attention.

3.4   What is a national variety (NV)?

Taken from what has been said in section 3.3 and 3.4 it seems clear what a national variety is: The specific form of a language in a specific nation that is shared with ← 24 | 25 → other nations. It comprises all varieties of that language that are being used within the borders of that specific country (and not just the standard variety).


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (September)
Frankfurt am Main, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2016, 483 S., 25 s/w Abb., 37 s/w Tab.

Biographical notes

Rudolf Muhr (Volume editor)

Rudolf Muhr is head of the Austrian German Research Centre at the University of Graz and coordinator of the Working Group on Non-Dominant Varieties of Pluricentric Languages (WGNDV).


Title: Pluricentric Languages and Non-Dominant Varieties Worldwide