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Pi Gamma Mu, International Honor Society in Social Sciences

Sociolinguistic Aspects of Plurilingualism

Author(s): Norman Denison
Source: Social Science, Vol. 45, No. 2 (APRIL 1970), pp. 98-101
Published by: Pi Gamma Mu, International Honor Society in Social Sciences
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Accessed: 19-01-2016 15:50 UTC

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in Rome, Italy, 1969.
( Abstractsof paperspresentedat variousinternational
Submittedto Social Scienceby thespeakers.)





Until 1953, when Weinreich's Lan- Concerning what? And how consisguages in Contact appeared, bilin- tently? Functionally, linguistic vagualism was understood to mean a na- riations may be classified as "diativelike command of two languages.
types." Whereas dialects and sociAccording to this definition of bilin- olects (and "languages" when these
gualism, the majority of true bilin- are similarly conceived of) mark spaguists are individuals who learned to tially or socially discrete groups of
speak two languages simultaneously people, diatypes are functional linfrom earliest childhood. Since bilin- guistic variants within the repertoire
gualism was defined in this way, it of a given speaker or groups of speakwas psychologists who were most in- ers. In any given community, a diterested in studying this phenomenon. alect, sociolect, or language can funcThey focused their concern upon the tion as a diatype. Diatypes which are
influence of bilingualism on the per- normally used as variants of one and
sonality of the biiingualist. It was not the same language may be called "reguntil the 1950's that the term "bilin- isters." Thus, the term "style" can be
gualism" was expanded to encompass
designated to mean individual variaevery degree of the use of two lan- tions from, or within, diatypes.
The preceding terms are designaguages and to involve more discitions of different aspects of the same
plines in its study.
Linguistic diversity is complex. In phenomenon. Thus, in a given commumonoglot communities, speech groups nity, diatypes may function by regiswhich are spatially distributed are ters or, as in plurilingual communiclassified as "dialects," while those ties, by distinct languages. Further,
which are socially distributed are we may say that style is to register as
classified as "sociolects." When we "idiolect" is to dialect. Whereas idiapply this classification system to olect, dialect, and sociolect lack the
plurilingual communities, dialects and specific implication of a primarily
sociolects are replaced by distinct lan- functional perspective, style, register,
guages which can be further divided and diatype are terms which refer to
into dialects.
linguistic variation from the perspecAfter acknowledging the existence tive of social function. In diatypically
of a plurilingual community, one may structured communities, community
ask: Why? Who speaks what lan- members must be able to master ail
guage to whom and when? Where? those diatypes in whose functions
Dr. NormanDenison,one of Europe'sgreat- they wish to participate. This socialest linguists,
is Directorof the Department
of functional approach to language variLanguageStudies,LondonSchoolof Economics ety is described
by the adjective "soand PoliticalScience,University
of London,England.His manystudiesin sociolinguistics
arein- ciolinguistic."
In studying linguistics within a

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Community,it is often more useful to
do a soeiolinguistie study as opposed
to a glottodemographic one, for it is
far more relevant to know that the inhabitants of a certain community
must be able to master various diatypes in order to function in their everyday lives than it is to know that
the majority of community members
are native speakers. Given the information that a community is divided
diatypically, we can ask relevant soeiolinguistie questions concerning the
functions of the diatypes within narrower and wider circles of activity.
In a plurilingual community, it
seems natural to ask soeiolinguistie
questions such as: Who uses which
diatype in which situation? These
same questions can be asked of monoglot communities. Often a community
may use two forms of the same language. This duality was described by
Ferguson and labeied "diglossia." The
two forms of diglossia are referred to
as the "high" (H) and "low" or "standard" (L) forms of a language; the
standard form can be subdivided into
many dialects. In function, these two
forms represent not a simple dichotomy of two opposing poles, but a cline
of situations and activities. Also, II
and L are not judgments in some absolute system of social values, but are
community-specific shorthand categories of convenience. Ferguson's meaning of diglossia, which corresponds to
a diatypic phenomenon, has been
adopted by other sociolinguists and
widened in the scope to cover not only
varieties of the "same" language, but
also conditions of functionally restricted societal bilingualism and
Linguists, sociolinguists, and anthropologists realize the perspectives
opened up by recent soeiolinguistie
developments. Linguists have always
known that the understanding of language is central to the understanding


of human behavior, but it is just recently that they have realized that the
understanding of diatypic speech variation is a key to the social analysis
of human situations, activities, values,
networks, and systems of relationships. One of the merits of recent soeiolinguistie studies is to reduce even
further the type of linguistic diversity
which previously had been labeled
"free variation." No degree of linguistic distinctiveness is in its substance
too great or too slight to be capable of
playing its part in conveying "sociosemantic" distinctions. In all linguistic
systems of meaning, the degree of
substantial difference between items
in the expression is irrelevant to the
degree of semantic difference they are
capable of signaling. Similarly, the
markers of diatypic distinctiveness
may reside in the manifest differences
between whole linguistic systems or in
much less obvious distinctions depending on such features as vowel
length or nasalification, the presence
or absence of velarization, or contrasting speeds, and rhythms of articulation loudness and pitch.
It has been said that "what is stylistic in a given context cannot at the
same time be referential." Contrary to
this formulation, social meaning is
often superimposed on the same linguistic substance which conveys referential meaning. This is not to negate
the presence of certain paralinguistic
phenomena which are observed in systems that, in a given language, may
not be exploited for referential meaning, but only for social meaning.
More distinct than diatypes distinguished only by different paralinguistic features are those registers of languages whose distinctiveness from
each other is marked by clear lexical
and syntactical differences. It is important to consider all diatypic variation in language use within the same
theoretical framework, for it is not

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the formal characteristics of the diatypes which are the ultimate object of
interest, but the functions which they
The importance of societal plurilingualism is based on its methodological
usefulness. The reasoning is: if
switches from one diatype to another
are valuable as clues to otherwise less
overt changes in social situations,
then maximally distinct diatypes are
maximally valuable. In relation to this
assumption, doubts have been raised
concerning the feasibility of operating
on the assumption of separate and
in diatypically
distinct languages
plurilingual communities. The issues
involved raise fundamental questions
about language, particularly Saussure's langue-parole distinction.
R. B. Le Page approaches the problem from the concept of "interferences." He delves into the synchronic
nature of the language which is interfering and that which is being interfered with. What is to be regarded as
belonging to language A, though originally borrowed from language B?
speaking) interference from language
B on language A? And what must one
rather consider to be an instance of
"code switching" from language A to
B? Influenced by Hasselmo, Le Page
has come up with a general law which
attempts to consider how individuals
may arrive at their version of the language, of la langue (systems of verbal
The sociolinguist, however, is not
absolved from establishing separate
systems in plurilingual communities if
these turn out to be crucial to an understanding of the sociolinguistic status of a given utterance in context.
Some authors, who are also concerned with the different abstractions
which are commonlv subsumed under
the term "language," state that, generally, language is thought to be com-

posed of, first, "provenience of content" which includes languages and dialects, second, "mutual intelligibility"
which consists of varieties, and third,
"functional role" which encompasses
registers. (In this instance, the term
"variety" can be replaced by "diatype.")
iatypes, whether they are separate
languages, or registers of one language, cannot, by definition, be translated one into the other because, as
Catford points out, translation inin context.
volves appropriateness
Diatypes are complementary in their
functions and, if two diatypes _are
used in the same situation, they differ
in meaning. Although it is difficultto
assign linguistic items to languages,
much is gained by doing so, for it is
the precise correlation of language
with situational categories or, as in
some cases, the more precise situational correlations of the "purer" and
the more "interfered with" registers
which are of interest. "Norm specification" provides the starting point for
the consideration of individual creativity and innovation and of individual "situation management." As in
some cases, the criterion available for
norm specification within the total linguistic repertoire is language specification.
It is both useful and necessary in
sociolinguistic investigations to specify "norms." In some communities,
this amounts to specifying languages.
In one community, for example, in
conversation, a language L diatype
accepts interference on a vast scale
from the other two diatypes, but in
writing, the tolerance of interference
is reduced. This latter fact is evidence
of purism. Purism is difficultamong
monoglots, but the plurilingual individual is in a position to know what is
interference and which features he
wishes to eliminate. In speaking of
linguistic purism, one touches upon

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the attitudes of speakers toward the
diatypes which they use, for attitudes
are interrelated with the functions
which the diatypes perform and will in
future perform.
Relevant to folk learning traditions
is a study of diatypes. Such study
would include ways in which communities pass on- or fail to pass on- to
new generations diatypic equipment
and diatypic conventions and also the
diatype or diatypes which a community considers it necessary consciously to teach to its children.
On the matter of doing sociolinguistic research in a community, it is important not to send armies of socioloThe






gists into the field armed with questionnaires and statistics, and not to
pay inhabitants to act as informants
to the researcher. It would be better to
train each informant to be his own sociolinguist. The informant should
know his people, be known to them, and
learn how and when to speak their language^) . A tape recorder can be
helpful in sociolinguistic research.
However, a transcription should be
undertaken with the help of one or
more of the participants, who, by the
way, should be informed of the recording post factum.
(Abstracted by Vasilikie Demos.)


in Social



1. The sociologists of the Univer- dynamic aspects of present-day Ro- within the manian social development make clear
sity of Cluj in Romania
the Minis- the fact that one of the most characsociological laboratory
on var- teristic sociological features of educahave
ious investigations among pupils and tion is the important role which the
students. These investigations in edu- school plays in social mobility.
At the present time, the main direccational sociology have enabled us to
and the rhythm of social mobiltions
understand some
the school influences horizontal, as ity in Romania are determined essenwell as vertical, social mobility.
tially by two factors: a) the intense
According to our conception, a re- development of the productive forces
search within the social domain would and the high rate of the industrialbe a sociological one to the extent that ization of the country in accordance
it scrutinizes its own object through with present-day demands ; and b) the
the prism of the structure and dynam- greater role of science, of education,
ics of the entire society. The re- and of culture. The process of indussearches carried out in the field of ed- trialization, coupled with the moderniucational sociology are different from zation of agriculture, determines the
those in education, methodology of limited influence of the rural areas on
teaching, and psychology, since the population structure; the massive informer science stresses the global so- crease in technology results in greater
cial structure and process. The more mobility within the sphere of the
of all categories; the deand so- labor force
of philosophy
*Dr. Kalls,chairman
production and the
of Babe-Bolyai,
Cluj, Romania.Edi- development of science and culture
tor of severaljournals.Hundredsof philosophi-lead to a
higher degree of intellectuand otherpublications.
Naturally, all these social

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