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Revitalisation of Sardinian: corpus and status planning

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Dr Laura Wright.

All interested in any facet of sociolinguistics welcome.

My proposed research focuses on issues of codification and status planning in Sardinian, a widely recognised autonomous Romance language, but whose official position within the Italian state is far from secure. Sardinians are, in fact, the largest non-recognised linguistic minority in Italy.

In particular, since the 1970’s, status planning (to achieve equal status or co-officiality between Sardinian and Italian) has been, for the most part, encompassed in the more general demand for a greater administrative autonomy (Sardinia is already listed as one of the ‘special status’ regions in the Italian Consitution). Corpus planning, on the other hand, is perhaps more problematic, in that attempts to develop a single ‘standard’ or a unified orthography invariably clash with the highly fragmented character of Sardinian. (see, for instance, Blasco Ferrer 1986). In fact, besides the two biggest dialectal koinés (Logudorese in the north and Campidanese in the south), there exist other varieties like Sassarese and Gallurese, and their associated sub-dialects. Needless to say, this linguistic fragmentation is reflected in speakers’ attitudes: Sardinians generally identify with their own local variety.

In other contexts of dialectal fragmentation, such as Irish or Breton, the development of a single official standard through an attempted dialectal synthesis has often led to a certain alienation, on the part of the speakers, from the new, artificially reconstructed language. Such a scenario, therefore, poses significant problems for revitalisation efforts, where issues of (perceived) authenticity proved crucial. On the other hand, adopting a single, prestige variety as the basis for the standard is not guaranteed with much success either, with speakers of other varieties feeling excluded and marginalised.

The aim of my thesis is to examine whether an alternative approach to language planning could be usefully exploited in Sardinia, by considering the possible applications of the Corsican ‘polynomic’ model to the Sardinian context. Although Corsica and Sardinia are closely related in linguistic, socio-cultural and geographical terms, it is noteworthy that while language planning has reached a quite advanced stage in Corsica (see Blackwood 2008), many lament that still much remains to be done in Sardinia (see, for instance, Rindler Schjerve 1993). The polynomic model presupposes a more dynamic and flexible concept of language, valuing diversity rather than seeking to level it: all varieties are regarded as equally ‘valid’ and equally capable of constituting a ‘norm’, although it is precisely the excessively normative character of a unified standard which is being rejected. When dealing with minority and obsolescent languages, prescriptive attitudes are often ineffective and reminiscent of the imposition of the ‘alien’, dominant language (see, for instance, the debate on mandatory bilingualism in Corsica in Jaffe 2001). The polynomic approach, however, develops all the variants which are found in the larger regional repertoire. The model thus offers the possibility of a standardised form which is comprehensible to the entire speech community and which, by its very nature, may help counteract ‘fanatical’ purist attitudes which reject purportedly hybrid, contact-generated forms, such as neologisms.

An important part of my research will entail investigating whether the Corsican model might also be useful with respect to introducing Sardinian in schools, both as a subject in itself or as medium of education. After testing (via questionnaires and surveys)the population’s attitudes towards the possibility of Sardinian being codified and taught in schools, I plan to compare Italian language policy to the French one (for example with reference to the Deixonne law on the teaching of heritage languages), and situate it in the broader context of the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages, in order to outline a potential ‘action plan’ for the development of a ‘polynomic’ standard of Sardinian and its gradual introduction in the educational system.

Blackwood R. J. The state, the Activists and the Islanders. Language Policy on Corsica. Dordrecht: Springer.

Blasco Ferrer, E. 1986 Lingua Sarda Contemporanea. Grammatica del Logudorese e del Campidanese. Cagliari: Della Torre.

Blasco Ferrer E., Contini M. 1988 ‘Sardisch: interne Sprachgeschichte und Grammatik’ in Holtus, Metzelin and Schmidt (eds.) Lexikon der Romanistischen Linguistik. Vol IV. pp. 836-853.

Jaffe A. 2001 ‘Authority and authenticity: Corsican discourse on bilingual education’ in Heller M. and Martin-Jones M. Voices of Authority. Education and Linguistic Difference. Westport, Connecticut: Ablex Publishing. pp. 269-296.

Rindler Schjerve R. 1993 ‘Sardinian: Italian’ in Posner R., Green J. N. (eds.) Bilingualism and Linguistic Conflict in Romance. New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Thiers G. 1993 ‘Language contact and Corsican polynomia’ in Posner&Green Bilingualism and Linguistic Contact in Romance.

This talk is part of the Sociolinguistics Seminar series.

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