Variation and Standardization: Romansh in Switzerland

An article about Romansh in the latest Weekend Australian is very interesting and relevant to my PhD research on the teaching of variation in language. Romansh has been the fourth official language of Switzerland since 1996, but there are five main dialects of the language among its 60,000 speakers, and none of the dialects are the official form (called Romansh Grischun or RG) that is taught in schools and published in books. Instead of unifying the speakers of the various dialects in an attempt to save the language from dying out, the standardized form has only brought about resentment and anger among students who do not want to learn from books written in a language that no one actually speaks.

My PhD research is on variation in the lexicon (vocabulary) of French, and if the variants are included in textbooks so that students can learn all forms of the French language as well as the cultures that are inseparable from it. The types of variation I am investigating are geographic and stylistic, or the various dialects of French throughout the world and formal vs. informal variants of words. Variation occurs at all levels of language, but I am focusing on the lexicon instead of the grammar because it the most salient feature of variation and the largest obstacle to comprehension for learners of French.

A lot of researchers argue against the standardized form of French that is taught in textbooks because it is actually no one’s native spoken language and students cannot acquire communicative competence by learning it, nor can they possibly learn the cultures of the various Francophone regions that are reflected in the varieties of language. Overcoming prescriptivism and language purism has always been difficult with regards to French, and the textbook publishing industry’s resistance to change because it could potentially lead to loss of profit have also contributed to the clone-like effect of language textbooks. Luckily some lexical variation has made its way into a few textbooks, though it seems mostly limited to Quebecois vocabulary of formal variants.

All variants of a language should be considered equal to each other, rather than one standardized (or even mother country) form being seen as superior to the others. American, Australian, and British English are all equal just as Canadian, Hexagonal, and Swiss French are all equal. Variation is a natural and inherent part of language; standardization is not.

Opponents of Romansh Grischun believe that it will only lead to the native dialects, as well as their cultures, dying out quickly. Proponents believe that it will allow Romansh to survive longer and prevent it from becoming a language only spoken by the elderly, though their justification for this is unclear. Standardization of a language may increase critical mass for statistical purposes and cut down on translation costs, but it does not prevent language death.

Even if Romansh Grischun becomes the native language of future generations (which is rather unlikely), the current dialects and cultures of the Romansh community will have died in the meantime. This unified Romansh language of the future would not be the same as the Romansh language of today (i.e. the collection of dialects with similar yet distinct properties), so could it really be considered as saved? Or should it be considered revitalized in another form? And what happens when variation inevitably starts to occur in the future Romansh?

Pronunciator: Free Vocabulary & Phrases in 60 Languages

Time flies when you’re having fun! It’s been nearly two weeks since I last posted and my only excuse is that I love working on my PhD so much that I spend all my time with my books and articles instead of my computer. I’m barely keeping up with updating the site and responding to […]

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Multicultural and Multilingual Australia

One of the many reasons why I love Australia: an official Multicultural Policy From the government’s Multicultural Policy released in February of this year: “Australia is a multicultural nation. In all, since 1945, seven million people have migrated to Australia. Today, one in four of Australia’s 22 million people were born overseas, 44 per cent […]

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Free Two Week French Course + Accommodation in Brussels, Belgium: Giveaway from Easy Languages

Easy Languages is currently offering their first giveaway: two weeks of French courses in Brussels, Belgium, including accommodation in a residence, valued at €795.00 or approximately $1,100.00 (USD) / £700.00 (GBP). This prize does not include airfare or any ground transportation. If you are a US or UK resident over the age of 18 who […]

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Being a Higher Degree by Research (HDR) Student in Australia

Let me tell you a little about being a Higher Degree by Research (HDR) student in Australia. As the name implies, it is a research only degree that is supposed to take three years – meaning you don’t have any courses to take and your “full-time job” is to do research. You can teach/tutor if […]

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Aussie English for the Beginner

And now for the post on Australian English! Thanks to Australian friends and the internet, I had learned some Australian English words before arriving so I wasn’t lost when reading about diggers in the news or picturing the wrong thing when hearing the word thongs. Being a linguistics nerd, I am endlessly fascinated by the […]

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Catalan Tutorial, Affiliate Program, and Australia Photos

Thanks to Jonathan, we have another Romance language tutorial on ielanguages.com: Catalan! Catalan is spoken by 11.5 million people, mostly in eastern Spain (Catalonia, Valencian Community, Balearic islands) as well as in southern France, Andorra, and Sardinia, Italy. Barcelona is the largest Catalan-speaking city, and Catalan is recognized as a co-official language with Spanish in […]

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Moving to the Other Side of the World, Part 3: Settling in Australia

I have now been in Australia for two weeks, and things are going amazingly well. I arrived via the Overland train from Melbourne. It does take 10.5 hours but time goes by quickly. I definitely recommend it for those who do not like flying or driving long distances. I have settled in my apartment, obtained […]

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First Impressions of Australia

I arrived in Australia a week ago today! These were my first thoughts: This is winter? Everyone speaks with such an adorable accent. It’s not that expensive. After two pleasant flights with Etihad Airways that seemed to go by extremely fast (I highly recommend them!), I arrived in Melbourne last Tuesday night. Customs went smoothly, […]

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Moving to the Other Side of the World, Part 2: Relocating to Australia

As I mentioned earlier this week, moving to Australia seems to be much easier than moving to France. However, I moved to France to work temporarily through the Teaching Assistant Program in 2006 and I am going to Australia as a PhD student, so the comparisons aren’t exact. Nevertheless, here are my experiences: France Visa: […]

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Why is Jennie no longer in France?

I created this blog in September 2006 when I moved to France from Michigan to teach English. Many of the earlier posts are about my personal life in France, dealing with culture shock, traveling in Europe and becoming fluent in French. In July 2011, I relocated to Australia to start my PhD in Applied Linguistics. Although I am no longer living in France, my research is on foreign language pedagogy and I teach French at a university so these themes appear most often on the blog. I also continue to post about traveling and being an American abroad.

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