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European Francophonie

The Social, Political and Cultural History of an International Prestige Language


Edited By Vladislav Rjéoutski, Gesine Argent and Derek Offord

This volume examines the use of French in European language communities outside France from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century. The phenomenon of French language usage is explored in a wide variety of communities, namely Bohemian, Dutch, medieval English, German (Prussian), Italian, Piedmontese, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Swedish and Turkish. Each chapter offers unique insight into the existence of francophonie in a given language community by providing illustrations of language usage and detailed descriptions of various aspects of it. The volume as a whole explores such sociolinguistic matters as bilingualism and multilingualism, the use of French as a lingua franca and prestige language, language choice and code-switching, variations in language usage depending on class or gender, language attitudes and language education. The sociohistorical and sociocultural matters considered include the association of a variety of language with the court, nobility or some other social group; the function of French as a vehicle for the transmission of foreign cultures; and the role of language in the formation of identity of various kinds (national, social and personal).
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2. Diglossia in Early Modern Europe

← 32 | 33 → PETER BURKE


The concept of diglossia: ‘High’ and ‘Low’ languages

‘Diglossia’ is actually a contested concept among linguists. The term was coined in the 1880s to refer to two major varieties of modern Greek, katharevousa and dhimotikí, one of them with a high status and the other with a low one (the situation in Greece today is of course rather different, thanks to the political events of the last half-century, notably the rise and fall of a military regime).1

In a much cited article that was originally published over half a century ago, a specialist on Arabic, Charles Ferguson, used the term ‘diglossia’ to refer to two varieties of the same language that differed in vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation and that were used, often by the same speakers, in different social situations or speech domains. There was a ‘High’ variety (H), otherwise known as classical Arabic, used for sermons, speeches and lectures, and a ‘Low’ or colloquial variety (L) used in ordinary conversation or for employers to give orders to their employees. ‘The speakers’, wrote Ferguson, ‘regard H as superior to L’.2 Refining the model, it has also been pointed out that individuals may switch between High and Low according to the topic they are speaking about. In nineteenth-century France, for instance, peasants spoke about local politics in patois but about national politics in French, the language of the newspapers.3

← 33 | 34 → A few years later another distinguished linguist, Joshua Fishman, extended the idea of...

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