University of Cambridge > > French Linguistics Research Seminars > Endangered language maintenance and revitalisation: issues of ‘authenticity and ‘correctness’ (with reference to varieties of French).

Endangered language maintenance and revitalisation: issues of ‘authenticity and ‘correctness’ (with reference to varieties of French).

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According to social network theory, people are more likely to speak a dialect which is a marker of identity with people from their close social circle (Milroy and Margrain, 1980, Milroy, 1987, Milroy, 2002). Milroy describes how network density can be correlated with speech elements to evaluate levels of use of a particular variety. Close-knit networks where people all know each other, in more than one context, correspond to traditional ways of interacting, while more loose-knit networks correspond more with modern ways of life.

This theory was originally developed with regard to varieties of English in Belfast, but can be extended to language contact and shift. In my research on Guernésiais, the indigenous language variety of Guernsey, Channel Islands, the strength of traditional social networks emerged as a major factor in language maintenance. The availability of interlocutors correlates strongly with fluency, for both native speakers and learners; while the increasing age and linguistic isolation of many native speakers contributes to both individual and societal language loss.

The loss of the last generation of fluent native speakers also has implications for corpus planning. The previous generation was traditionally seen as the arbiter of correctness, and would be consulted by younger speakers with less confidence in their own proficiency, who now feel the lack of a reliable authority. At the same time there was an acceptance of regional language variation, which was seen as a source of richness Together with the lack of a single prestige variety, this coincides with the Corsican linguist Jean-Baptiste Marcellesi’s concept of ‘langue polynomique’ (Marcellesi et al., 2003).

Sociolinguists are increasingly challenging the concept of language boundaries (e.g. Irvine and Gal (2000), Pennycook (2005)) and looking for alternative models which avoid reproducing the types of linguistic hegemonies which are promoted by language standardisation (Joseph, 1987; Grillo, 1989; Milroy and Milroy, 1999; Ricento, 2000): “notions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’, ‘correct’ and ‘incorrect’ language are used to create, reinforce and regulate hierarchies and serve as a device to differentiate people” (Shohamy, 2005). On the other hand, along with many language campaigners, Williams (1992) maintains that ‘The survival of minority languages invariably depends … upon the ability to shift the language into new domains of language activity’ (which usually involves standardisation, new terminology and school-based teaching). The paradoxes thus created are explored with regard to Corsican, which is taught using a polynomic model (Jaffe, 2005, 2008), and with regard to writing in Guernesiais.

This talk is part of the French Linguistics Research Seminars series.

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