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Language Policy, Diglossia, and Linguistic Register: What happens when L-variety languages try to modernize?


Language Policy, Diglossia, and Linguistic Register: What happens when L-variety languages try to modernize? Keynote Speech for Workshop on Language Planning as a ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Language Policy, Diglossia, and Linguistic Register: What happens when L-variety languages try to modernize?

Language Policy, Diglossia, and Linguistic
RegisterWhat happens when L-variety
languagestry to modernize?
  • Keynote Speech for Workshop on
  • Language Planning as a Political Process
  • Views on South and Central Asia

  • Harold F. Schiffman
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • Stockholm, September 2006

  • When certain languages lack registers for
    scientific and technical domains, and therefore
    attempt to create them, problems arise. Users
    educated in an H-variety such as English, French,
    German, Russian (or another language) are loath
    to give these up and adopt vocabulary from
    another source, even if it is their mother
    tongue, since the vocabulary created for this in
    the mother tongue may be as strange as that of a
    foreign language.1 These speakers may be said
    to have a vested interest in maintaining the
    status quo, and may engage in various sorts of
    resistance to the implementation of change,
    especially for the purposes of modernization.
    They have this vested interest because the
    language they already know represents for them
    cultural capital (Bourdieu 1982 ) whereas the
    one that the planners wish to replace it with
    does not.

Some definitions
  • What do we mean by diglossia?
  • What do we mean by linguistic register?
  • What is meant by linguistic modernization?
  • What is meant by a LOWC?

Diglossia Ferguson 1959
  • Diglossic Languages have one variety that is used
    for high (formal, literacy) purposes the
    H-variety, has the most prestige
  • This constrasts with the L-variety which is
    different phonologically, grammatically,
    lexically, and syntactically
  • L-variety is used for informal, mostly spoken
    purposes lacks prestige, may be seen as vulgar
    or ungrammatical spoken only by children,
    lesser beings, uneducated people

  • Arabic, with its Koranic form established in the
    7th Century, vs. modern spoken dialects
  • German as spoken in Switzerland Schrift-deutsch
    (Hochdeutsch) vs. dialects
  • Creole languages of various sorts
  • Tamil and many other South Asian languages

Notion of domain
  • H-variety dominates certain domains literacy,
    religion, public speaking, high usages
  • L-variety dominates in lower domains jokes,
    intimacy, street use, is the first language
  • Domains may shift, get taken over by a non-
    traditional variety, but only slowly
  • Domain shift may be an index of change of
    register, or change of formality

Fishmans extension
  • Fergusons diglossia applied to languages where H
    and L are related L is usually a linguistic
    descendent of H (or thought to be)
  • Fishman (1967) extended diglossia to apply to
    situations where historically unrelated languages
    were used together, a prestige language for H, a
    colloquial one for L

  • Hebrew and Yiddish in eastern Europe
  • English and Spanish in the US
  • English and South Asian languages in South Asia
  • Russian and other languages in the USSR
  • German and other languages in the Austro-
  • Hungarian Empire
  • French and other languages in Francophone Africa
  • Swedish and other languages in Sweden

Mutual intelligibility
  • May be lacking mutual intelligibility between the
    H-variety and the L-variety or varieties,
    especially with the Fishman kind of diglossia!
  • People who know only H cant understand L people
    who know one L-variety cant understand others,
    e.g. Arabic dialects from the Maghreb to Yemen or
  • H-variety and L-varieties are said to control

Domain shift a kind of code-switching
  • Public speaking in Tamil begins in H-variety,
    with formal greetings and exhortations
  • Shifts to L-variety for solidarity, connection
    with the people (shows that the politician is
    one of the people)
  • Shifts back at the end, with a formal wrap-up

Keeping things straight
  • Usually H dominates the high registers
    (education, religion) or domains of the
    language, while L is relegated to informal,
    familial, uneducated, humor, trades
  • But people switch from one to another, depending
    on the formality of the occasion
  • People who dont control H, remain silent, or
    risk looking/sounding foolish

Brown and Gilmans Pronouns of Power and
  • T/V distinction in pronouns
  • V (vous, Sie, ni, you) expresses Power
  • T (tu, du, thou) represents inferiority
  • Non-reciprocal use of V pronoun makes for a power
  • Reciprocal use of V social distance
  • Reciprocal use of T solidarity

Parallel with Diglossia
  • H-variety used for representing power
  • L-variety expresses lower status
  • Code-switching to L from H indicates solidarity
  • Example When we switched to Du from Sie, my
    German cousin began to speak dialect only. When I
    protested, he said Ich muss mit Dir dialekt
    sprechen Du bist von uns!

Switch to English, e.g. in South Asia
  • Represents even more power!
  • Those who dont control English, dont have power
  • Many small groups now demanding English medium,
    in order to get more power!
  • State educational systems that try to impose use
    of state language are trying to deny power to
    minority groups

What does this mean in Central Asia?
  • Russian previously dominated the H domains of
    science and technology
  • Uzbek etc. will have trouble replacing the
    terminology and developing new registers
  • Russian will continue to represent power and
    freedom, even as it did during Soviet period
  • Change will be very slow

To compete, Central Asian languages will have to
  • Be willing to borrow and loan-translate
  • Be willing to use acronyms, blends, and
  • Let the scientists and users develop the
    registers, rather than have an Academy provide it
  • Be flexible

Russian may yield to English
  • If Russian is to be displaced, it may be English
    or another LOWC that will take its place, not an
    indigenous Central Asian language
  • If various CA languages take different paths,
    they will diverge and divide-and-conquer may
  • In the past, Persian occupied the H-domains is
    there a chance it could return?
  • What about Turkish of Turkey?

Lets define Register.
  • Trudgill 1983 Linguistic varieties that are
    linked ... to occupations, professions or topics
    have been termed registers. The register of law,
    for example, is different from the register of
    medicine, which in turn is different from the
    language of engineering--and so on. Registers are
    usually characterized solely by vocabulary
    differences either by the use of particular
    words, or by the use of words in a particular
  • Registers are simply a rather special case of a
    particular kind of language being produced by the
    social situation.

Need to expand this
  • Improve on Trudgill's definition by expanding the
    definition of register to include, in many cases,
    a preference (or even a dispreference) for
    particular syntactic patterns or rhetorical
  • A close examination of many different kinds of
    registers shows that they tend to prefer, or

  • The passive voice the American Psychological
    Association recommends using active voice
  • As a general rule, use the active voice rather
    than the passive voice. For example, use We
    predicted that ... rather than It was predicted
    that ...
  • Metaphors ( APA warns against them!)
  • Imperative verbs
  • Sexist or racist language
  • Short sentences

Other preferences
  • Word-formation
  • There may also be a preference for certain
    lexical devices such as acronyms or blends
  • Greco-Latin vocabulary (western European
  • Other classical languages, e.g. Sanskrit,
    Chinese, Persian
  • Pragmatic devices A register therefore may have
    its own pragmatic devices, i.e. how the
    vocabulary is used is important.
  • Passive voice may convey objectivity for some
    disciplines, but not for others.
  • In some languages, the passive may convey
    something else, e.g. in Indonesian, the passive
    voice is used for politeness

You think I overemphasize this acronym stuff?
  • Go to http//
  • A dictionary of over 200,000 medical,
    pharmaceutical, biomedical healthcare acronyms
    and abbreviations.
  • DNA can stand for
  • Deoxyribonucleic Acids, Deoxyribose Nucleic
    Acid, or
  • Desoxynucleic Acid
  • SNP can stand for
  • Single nucleotide polymorphisms, Sodium
    Nitroprusside or Système Nerveux Périphérique

And just for fun, the title of an article
  • Possible role for avPGC-1alpha in the control of
    expression of fiber type, along with avUCP and
    avANT mRNAs in the skeletal muscles of
    cold-exposed chickens.
  • Iublished in FEBS Lett. 2005 Jan 3579
  • (1)11-7

Another problem scientific registers have
derivational systems, to form adjectives from
nouns, etc.
  • sulphur the chemical element of atomic number
    16, a combustible non-metal which typically
    occurs as yellow crystals
  • sulphide a binary compound of sulphur
  • sulphate a salt or ester of sulphuric acid
  • anhydrite a white mineral consisting of
    anhydrous calcium sulphate
  • anhydrous adj. (Chem.) containing no water

So who decides on the register?
  • Users must decidepeople who develop the science
    also develop the register
  • If language academies are allowed to develop the
    register, we get chaos.
  • Scherer and Giles (197951-3) devote two pages to
    a description of both differences in lexicon and
    the complex, unusual semantic relations amongst
    perfectly commonplace words' found in certain

Example of quench, a commonplace English verb
  • High-energy physics quench means
  • rapidly decrease the temperature of a hot gas
  • In older uses in English, quench simply means
    put out a fire, or alleviate thirst.
  • An old, quaint, and almost archaic term has taken
    on a new life

Modify the definition of Register
  • A set of specialized vocabulary and preferred (or
    dispreferred) syntactic and rhetorical devices
    and structures, used by particular
    socio-professional groups for special purposes.
  • A register may have a set of derivational
  • A register is a property or characteristic of a
    language, and not of an individual or a class of
  • Speakers may or may not actively (or passively)
    control a register if they do, it can be thought
    of as part of their linguistic repertoire.

Some languages lack certain registers
  • Western industrial societies they may lack
  • Ethno-scientific registers (folk taxonomies for
    classifying plants, animals or natural
  • Specialized poetic registers,
  • Specialized politeness systems (Javanese),
  • Registers for speaking in a trance. (Toda)

Trance Language?
  • Todas (Nilgiri Hills, S. India) Shaman went
    into a trance and began speaking in a special
    way, which even to me sounded different. When I
    asked him to repeat some of the words, he said
    that he couldn't say those words unless he was in
    a trance.
  • Toda also has a register for songs that is so
    different phonologically from spoken Toda as to
    be unrecognizable to someone who only knows
    spoken Toda

Pre-industrial societies
  • Languages lack legal, technical, scientific, and
    medical registers and subvarieties of these
  • the register that airline pilots use to
    communicate with air traffic controllers).
  • Such languages function without such registers
  • This relegates them to a marginal status within a
    larger multilingual society,
  • Or the members of such linguistic cultures
    acquire proficiency in these registers in other
  • The registers they acquire proficiency in are
    registers of English or another ex-colonial

Registers may be diglossic or triglossic
  • H-variety domains Certain registers such as
    religion, literature, ethno-history
  • L-variety domains conversation, jokes/stories,
    intimacy, courtship, auto-mechanical, building,
    construction trades, folk taxonomies, etc.
  • Certain registers (high-tech, higher-education)
    may be in the domain of a totally different
    language, e.g. English or another LOWC

Registers for scientific terminology may be
  • Greco-Roman vocabulary for written and formal
    oral presentation
  • Transmissible spongiform encephalopathy
  • Abbreviations, blends, acronyms for informal oral
    use, and lay use (journalism etc.)
  • TSE
  • Prion (from proteinaceous infectious particle)
  • Mad Cow disease
  • CJD named after the discoverer(s)?
    Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a.k.a. kuru.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease(vCJD)
  • The leading scientific theory at this time
    maintains that CJD is caused by a type of protein
    called a prion. ... Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
    (CJD) is the best-known of the human TSEs.
  • Other human TSEs include kuru, fatal familial
    insomnia (FFI), and Gerstmann-Straussler-Scheinker
    disease (GSS).
  • Research suggests that vCJD may have resulted
    from human consumption of beef from cattle with a
    TSE disease called bovine spongiform
    encephalopathy (BSE), also known as "mad cow
  • More at http//

Developing new registersWhy so difficult?
  • Users of old registers have a vested interest in
    keeping iteasier to use
  • Could also be viewed as a monopoly
  • New indigenous vocabulary may be strange and
    folksy sounding (non-scientific)
  • Global discourse LOWC registers allow scientists
    to all be in the same loop.
  • People outside this language/register are
    ignored, kept in the dark

Problem of the Institut Pasteur
  • In 1989, editors of the journals of the Institut
    Pasteur decided to publish only in English!
  • French government was incensed!
  • But the IP pointed out that by then only 5 of
    articles submitted to them were in French
  • If they continued using French, nobody would read
    those articles.
  • They therefore joined the global discourse

Problem of self-respect
  • Pre-modern languages wanting to modernize feel
    that their language is just as good as any other
  • Developing scientific/technological vocabulary
    allows their language to stand tall and be
    equal to others
  • But the amount of effort required may be
    overwhelming and impossible to accomplish

Late modernizers
  • Have to develop huge vocabularies
  • Will need to allow wide range of word-formation
  • Borrowing (from LOWCs or classical languages)
  • Loan-Translation (based on above sources)
  • Acronyms, Abbreviations, Blends
  • Need to allow the users to do the development

But will they allow this freedom?
  • Example of Tamil Purists take over and insist
  • Pure Tamil roots and loan translation only
  • No abbreviations!
  • No acronyms or blends!
  • No borrowings!
  • Result stultification, no buy-in by users, no
  • English remains language of science.

Example from Mad Cow disease
  • Medical researchers who studied the disease
    developed the register, using
  • Greco-Roman vocabulary for high formal use
  • (Bovine) Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy
  • Abbreviation TSE
  • Acronym prion based on
  • pro in ltproteinaceous infectious particle
  • Lay terminology mad cow for informal, oral use,
    lay use (journalism etc.)

What do other languages do?Translate the
Greco-Roman vocabulary into
  • French, German, Spanish
  • French l'encéphalopathie spongiforme bovine
  • German Bovine Spongiforme Encephalopathie
  • Spanish Encefalopiatia Espongiforme Bovina
  • But then they all borrow the terms
  • TSE and Prion from English!
  • But all retain a folk version of mad cow
  • Vaca loca, vache folle, Rinderwahnsinn

What would the Tamil for this be?
  • maaTTu paittiyam (similar to German
    Rinder-Wahnsinn) is easy to come up with
  • As for the rest?...
  • Would have to loan-translate transmissible
    spongiform encephalopathy into pure Tamil
  • Would not allow abbreviations or blends
  • Would get nowhere with this
  • English therefore remains the language of
    science, medicine, technology in India

In other words
  • Having excessively strict conditions on
    word-formation is counter-productive
  • It leads to failure of the users to accept the
  • Failure then leads to a blame-game
  • Blame colonialism! Blame English!
  • Blame inadequate language loyalty of scientists!
  • Blame everybody but the purists

Indias IT development
  • Would not have happened if there werent
    education in English in the Indian IITs
  • Diglossia of the Fishman extended kind is the
    net result
  • L-variety Tamil (etc.) for home, informal domains
  • H-variety Tamil for religion, belles-lettres,
  • Triglossia, with H-variety English for technical

How to represent multilingualism and its domains
in India
Multilingualism as a set of nested domains
  • At the center the home language, L-variety
  • Learned by all does not easily get displaced
  • H-variety of mother tongue acquired in school
  • English acquired later, but now not much later
    some states offering it in 1st standard!
  • Domains tend to segment in the outer circles
    some domains may be only PASSIVE, e.g. for
    knowledge of Hindi in Tamilnadu

Higher education in India continues to be almost
exclusively conducted in English.
  • Indian doctors and technologists prefer to be in
    the loop of international work in all these
  • This also means that Indian doctors and engineers
    can obtain jobs in other countries, and
  • Send home remittances which help sustain the
    economy of the subcontinent.
  • They have a vested interest in maintaining the
    status quo ante.
  • And other countries depend on there being a
    supply of Indias educated people!

Bangalore and the languages spoken there
  • Kannada is the state language
  • English is the language of the IT industry
  • Tamil remains as a residue of British colonialism
    (British brought Tamils from Madras into the
    Princely State of Mysore)
  • Tamils settled in the cantonment next to
    Bangalore now highly resented!
  • Cantonment is now the locus of the IT industry

Diglossia and shifting domains
  • Diglossias tend to remain stable in places like
  • But minor changes occur domains may get taken
    over by another language
  • In new domains, L-variety may take over TV
  • Language shift may occur, domain by domain (but
    only very slowly)
  • Tamil is not about to take over domains of
  • But English may take over some domains of
    Tamilespecially domain of literacy in Tamil!

More and more demand for English may mean less
and less literacy in indigenous languages!
  • IT industry and the lure of foreign job market
    results in more and more parents demanding
    English medium education, all over India
  • Local languages retain only spoken domains
  • Some states (e.g. Karnataka) are trying to fight
  • Other cities fight to attract IT spill-over from
    Karnataka Madras, Hyderabad, others

  • Register development for late modernizers is very
  • LOWCs dominate the sci-tech fields, are not easy
    to displace
  • Scientists have a vested interest in keeping the
    previous H-varieties
  • H-varieties represent more cultural capital and
    can provide better jobs and better lives

  • Am I being too cynical and pessimistic?
  • Am I dismissing efforts in some places to
    modernize, with some success?
  • Is it easier to displace Russian than English?
  • (Dutch was replaced by Indonesian under Japanese
  • Is there no hope?
  • See the French example