University of Cambridge > > Historical Linguistics Research Cluster > Speaker attitudes to the French language in France and Québec: Purist or moderate?

Speaker attitudes to the French language in France and Québec: Purist or moderate?

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France is a country which has long been associated with linguistic purism. In fact, so widespread is this association that France is seen by many to be the archetypal purist country. However, this idea, though so widely held, does not appear to have been empirically verified in any systematic way. In order to do so, a framework is needed which allows us to measure linguistic purism. Just such a framework – one which can be used to identify and measure elements typical of all purist movements – can be found in George Thomas’s Linguistic Purism (1991), and this is thus used as a basis for my work.

France is seen to be exceptionally purist for a number of reasons, including the existence of the Académie française, the long history of linguistic laws and the existence of numerous bodies that attempt to implement these laws. These all relate to language at the official level and an analysis of these must naturally be included in any discussion of linguistic purism in France. However, if we want to provide a complete picture of the purism that exists in France today, we cannot simply concentrate on the official level but must also investigate the non-official level – that is, the attitudes and language behaviour of speakers of French in France. Are ‘ordinary’ speakers of French also purist? Is their linguistic consciousness affected by the official situation in their country? We may expect them to hold more purist attitudes towards their language than speakers in a country less associated with a strongly purist rhetoric, but is this actually the case?

In order to address these issues, a questionnaire was developed using Thomas’s framework to ensure that all elements typical of linguistic purism were included and measured, and this was then administered to a sample of participants in France. In order to compare these speakers of French to speakers in an area less often associated with purist rhetoric, the questionnaire was also administered to a sample of participants in Québec. The results of the study and the implications of these for purism at the unofficial level in France and Québec are the focus of this paper.

This talk is part of the Historical Linguistics Research Cluster series.

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