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The station board of Hapur Junction railway station in Northern India; Hindustani is an example of triglossia, with a common vernacular and two formal registers. Furthermore, digraphia is showbetween the two formal registers.

In linguistics, diglossia (/daɪˈɡlɒsiə, daɪˈɡlɔːsiə/) is a situation in which two dialects or languages are utilize (in fairly strict compartmentalization) by a single language community. In addition to the community's dailyor vernacular language variety (labeled "L" or "low" variety), a second, highly codified lect (labeled "H" or "high") is utilize in certain situations such as literature, formal education, or other specific settings, but not utilize normally for ordinary conversation. In most cases, the H variety has no native speakers but various degrees of fluency of the low speakers.

The high variety may be an older stage of the same language (as in medieval Europe, where Latin remained in formal utilizeeven as colloquial speech diverged), an unrelated language, or a distinct yet closely associatedpresent-day dialect, for example Hindustani (L) alongside the standard registers of Hindi (H) and Urdu (H); or Modern Standard Arabic alongside other varieties of Arabic; or Chinese, with Mandarin as the official, literary standard and local varieties of Chinese utilize in dailycommunication. Other examples containliterary Katharevousa againstspoken Demotic Greek; Indonesian, with its Baku and Gaul forms; and literary versus spoken Welsh.

Garifuna (Karif) of Central America is unusual in that it has gender-based diglossia – men and women quite often have different words for the same concepts.


The Greek word διγλωσσία (diglōssia) meant bilingualism; it was given its specialized meaning "two forms of the same language" by Emmanuel Rhoides in the prologue of his Parerga in 1885. The term was quickly adapted into French as diglossie by the Greek linguist and demoticist Ioannis Psycharis, with credit to Rhoides.

The Arabist William Marçais utilize the term in 1930 to describe the linguistic situation in Arabic-speaking countries. The sociolinguist Charles A. Ferguson introduced the English equivalent diglossia in 1959 in the title of an article. His conceptualization of diglossia describes a society with more than one prevalent language or the high variety, which pertains to the language utilize in literature, newspapers, and other social institutions. The article has been cited over 4,000 times. The term is particularly embraced among sociolinguists and a number of these proposed different interpretations or varieties of the concept.

Language registers and kind of diglossia

In his 1959 article, Charles A. Ferguson defines diglossia as follows:

DIGLOSSIA is a relatively stable language situation in which, in addition to the basicdialects of the language (which may containa standard or regional standards), there is a very divergent, highly codified (often grammatically more complex) superposed variety, the carof a hugeand respected body of written literature, either of an earlier period or in another speech community, which is learned largely by formal education and is utilize for most written and formal spoken purposes but is not utilize by any sector of the community for ordinary conversation.

Here, diglossia is seen as a typeof bilingualism in a society in which one of the languages has high prestige (henceforth referred to as "H"), and another of the languages has low prestige ("L"). In Ferguson's definition, the high and low variants are always closely related.

Ferguson gives the example of standardized Arabic and says that, "very often, educated Arabs will maintain they never utilizeL at all, in spite of the fact that direct observation present that they utilizeit constantly in ordinary conversation"

Joshua Fishman expanded the definition of diglossia to containthe utilizeof unrelated languages as high and low varieties. For example, in Alsace the Alsatian language (Elsässisch) serves as (L) and French as (H). Heinz Kloss calls the (H) variant exoglossia and the (L) variant endoglossia.

In some cases (especially with creole languages), the nature of the connection between (H) and (L) is not one of diglossia but a continuum; for example, Jamaican Creole as (L) and Standard English as (H) in Jamaica. Similar is the case in the Lowlands, with Scots language as (L) and Scottish English as (H).

(H) is usually the written language whereas (L) is the spoken language. In formal situations, (H) is utilize; in informal situations, (L) is utilize. Sometimes, (H) is utilize in informal situations and as spoken language when speakers of 2 different (L) languages and dialects or more communicate each other (as lingua franca), but not the other methodaround.

One of the earliest examples was that of Middle Egyptian, the language in dailyutilizein Ancient Egypt during the Middle Kingdom (2000 - 1650 BC). By 1350 BC, in the FreshKingdom (1550 -1050 BC), the Egyptian language had evolved into Late Egyptian, which itself later evolved into Demotic (700 BC - AD 400). These two later forms served as (L) languages in their respective periods. But in both cases, Middle Egyptian remained the standard written, prestigious form, the (H) language, and was still utilize for this purpose until the fourth century AD, more than sixteen centuries after it had ceased to exist in dailyspeech.

Another historical example is Latin, Classical Latin being the (H) and Vulgar Latin the (L); the latter, which is almost completely unattested in text, is the tongue from which the Romance languages descended.

The (L) variants are not just simplifications or "corruptions" of the (H) variants. In phonology, for example, (L) dialects are as likely to have phonemes absent from the (H) as vice versa. Some Swiss German dialects have three phonemes, /e/, /ɛ/ and /æ/, in the phonetic zonewhere Standard German has only two phonemes, /ɛ(ː)/ (Berlin 'Berlin', Bären 'bears') and /eː/ (Beeren 'berries'). Jamaican Creole has fewer vowel phonemes than standard English, but it has additional palatal /kʲ/ and /ɡʲ/ phonemes.

Especially in endoglossia the (L) form may also be called "basilect", the (H) form "acrolect", and an intermediate form "mesolect".

Ferguson's classic examples containStandard German/Swiss German, Standard Arabic/Arabic vernaculars, Standard French/Creole in Haiti, and Katharevousa/Dimotiki in Greece. Creole is now recognized as a standard language in Haiti. Swiss German dialects are hardly merely languages with low prestige in Switzerland (see Chambers, Sociolinguistic Theory). And after the end of the Greek military regime in 1974, Dimotiki was angry into Greece's only standard language (1976). Nowadays, Katharevousa is (with a few exceptions) no longer utilize. Harold Schiffman writes about Swiss German: "it seems to be the case that Swiss German was once consensually accept to be in a diglossic hierarchy with Standard German, but that this consensus is now breaking." There is also common code-switching especially in the Arabic world; according to Andrew Freeman this is "different from Ferguson's description of diglossia which states that the two forms are in complementary distribution." To a certain extent, there is code switching and overlap in all diglossic societies, even German-speaking Switzerland.

Examples where the High/Low dichotomy is justified in rulesof social prestige include Italian dialects as (L) and Standard Italian as (H) in Italy and German dialects and standard German in Germany. In Italy and Germany, those speakers who still speak non-standard dialects typically utilizethose dialects in informal situations, especially in the family. In German-speaking Switzerland, on the other hand, Swiss German dialects are to a certain extent even utilize in schools and to a huge extent in churches. Ramseier calls German-speaking Switzerland's diglossia a "medial diglossia", whereas Felicity Rash prefers "functional diglossia". Paradoxically, Swiss German offers both the best example of diglossia (all speakers are native speakers of Swiss German and thus diglossic) and the worst, because there is no clear-cut hierarchy.

In most African countries, a European language serves as the official, prestige language, and local languages are utilize in dailylife outside formal situations. For example, Wolof is the everyday lingua franca in Senegal, French being spoken only in very formal situations; English is spoken in formal situations in Nigeria, native languages like Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba are spoken in ordinary conversations. However, a European language that serves as an official language is also spoken in informal situations if speakers of 2 different languages or more communicate with each other. In Côte d'Ivoire, standard European French is the prestige language utilize in business, politics, etc. while Ivorian French is the everydaylanguage in the street, on the markets, and informal situations in general; in Mozambique, standard European Portuguese is the language utilize in the formal situations, while Mozambican Portuguese is the spoken language in the informal situations; British English is the language utilize in the formal situations in Nigeria, while Nigerian English is the spoken language in the informal situations. In the countryside, local African dialects prevail. However, in traditional happening, local languages shouldbe utilize as prestige dialects : for example, a wedding ceremony between two young urban Baoulés with badknowledge of the Baoulé language would require the presence of elder family members as interpreters in the Baoulé language so as to conduct the ceremony in that language and not in French. Also, local languages if utilize as prestige languages are also utilize in writing content other than documents in a more formal kindof vocabulary. There are European languages in Africa, particularly North Africa, without official status that are utilize as prestige language: for example, in Morocco, while Modern Standard Arabic and recently Tamazight are the only two official languages utilize in formal situations and Moroccan Arabic and Amazigh dialects are spoken in informal situations, French and Spanish are also spoken in formal situations by code-switching, and educated Moroccans are simultaneous bilinguals/trilinguals in Modern Standard Arabic and French/Spanish, with Moroccan Arabic and Amazigh dialects.

Gender-based diglossia

In Ghana, a language called "Student pidgin" is traditionally utilize by men (this "masculine code" is, despite disapproval, found to be utilize by female students due to social change).

Gender-based oral speech variations are found in Arabic-speaking communities. Makkan males are found to adopt more formal linguistic variants in their WhatsApp messages than their female counterparts, who prefer to utilizeinformal "locally prestigious" linguistic variants.

In specific languages


Greek diglossia belongs to the category whereby, while the living language of the locationevolves and modify as time passes by, there is an artificial retrospection to and imitation of earlier (more ancient) linguistic forms preserved in writing and considered to be scholarly and classic. One of the earliest recorded examples of diglossia was during the first century AD, when Hellenistic Alexandrian scholars decided that, in order to strengthen the link between the people and the glorious culture of the Greek “Golden Age” (5th c. BC), people canadopt the language of that era. The phenomenon, called “Atticism”, dominated the writings of part of the Hellenistic period, the Byzantine and Medieval era. Following the Greek War of Independence of 1821 and in order to “cover freshand immediate needs” making their appearance with “the creation of the Greek State”, scholars brought to life “Κatharevousa” or “purist” language. Katharevousa did not constitute the natural development of the language of the people, the “Koine”, “Romeika”, Demotic Greek or Dimotiki as it is currently referred to. It constituted an attempt to purify the language from vulgar forms such as words of foreign origin, especially Turkish and Slavic languages, but also French or Italian and substitute them with ancient Attic forms and even by reaching down to Homeric cleansed and refined words.[citation needed]


Diglossia in modern Serbian language is the most obvious if we consider the usage of past tenses in High and Low varieties. The High variety of the Serbian is based on the Serbo-Croatian Language of the former communist Yugoslavia. In the High form (newspapers, television, other mass media, education, and any other formal utilizeor situation) all of the Serbian past tenses are replaced by the showperfect tense (which is in the Serbian school system either called "excellenttense" or the "past tense", but never "showperfect" since WW2).

On the other side, the Low form informal vernacular language include several other past tenses (aorist, two past excellentforms and rarely imperfect, and one more with no name), of which the aorist is the most important. In the Low form the showexcellenttense with perfective verbs is not strictly treated as a past tense. In many rural and semi-rural parts of Serbia the aorist, despite being banished from any formal use, is the most frequent past tense form in the spoken informal language, more frequent even than the highly prestigious showperfect.

The High form of Serbian today does have native speakers: those are usually younger and more educated parts of the population living in giganticcities, such as Belgrade (capital of Serbia) and Novi Sad.


Diglossia may have appeared in Arabic when Muslim cities emerged during the early period of Islam.


As an aspect of study of the relationships between codes and social structure, diglossia is an necessaryconcept in the field of sociolinguistics. At the social level, each of the two dialects has certain spheres of social interaction assigned to it and in the assigned spheres it is the only socially acceptable dialect (with minor exceptions). At the grammatical level, differences may involve pronunciation, inflection, and/or syntax (sentence structure). Differences shouldrange from minor (although conspicuous) to extreme. In many cases of diglossia, the two dialects are so divergent that they are distinct languages as defined by linguists: they are not mutually intelligible.

Thomas Ricento, an author on language policiesand political theory trust that there is always a "socially constructed hierarchy, indexed from low to high." The hierarchy is generally imposed by leading political figures or famousmedia and is sometimes not the native language of that particular region. The dialect that is the original mother tongue is almost always of low prestige. Its spheres of utilizeinvolve informal, interpersonal communication: conversation in the home, among mate, in marketplaces. In some diglossias, this vernacular dialect is virtually unwritten. Those who testto utilizeit in literature may be severely criticized or even persecuted. The other dialect is held in high esteem and is devoted to written communication and formal spoken communication, such as university instruction, basiceducation, sermons, and speeches by government officials. It is usually not possible to acquire proficiency in the formal, "high" dialect without formal study of it. Thus in those diglossic societies which are also characterized by extreme inequality of social classes, most people are not proficient in speaking the high dialect, and if the high dialect is grammatically different enough, as in the case of Arabic diglossia, these uneducated classes cannot understand most of the public speeches that they might hear on television and radio. The high prestige dialect (or language) tends to be the more formalised, and its forms and vocabulary often 'filter down' into the vernacular though often in a modify form.

In many diglossic location, there is controversy and polarization of opinions of native speakers regarding the relationship between the two dialects and their respective statuses. In cases that the "high" dialect is objectively not intelligible to those exposed only to the vernacular, some people insist that the two dialects are nevertheless a common language. The pioneering scholar of diglossia, Charles A. Ferguson, observed that native speakers proficient in the high prestige dialect will commonly testto avoid using the vernacular dialect with foreigners and may even deny its existence even though the vernacular is the only socially appropriate one for themselves to utilizewhen speaking to their relatives and mate. Yet another common attitude is that the low dialect, which is everyone's native language, ought to be abandoned in favor of the high dialect, which presently is nobody's native language.

See also



  • Steven Roger Fischer, "diglossia—A History of Writing"[permanent dead link], Reaktion Books, April 4, 2004. ISBN 978-1-86189-167-9
  • Ursula Reutner, "Vers une typologie pluridimensionnelle des francophonies", in: Ursula Reutner, Manuel des francophonies, Berlin/Boston, de Gruyter 2017, 9-64.

Further reading

  • Bastardas Boada, Albert. 1997. , Diverscité langues (Montréal).
  • Eeden, Petrus van. "Diglossie"
  • Fernández, Mauro. 1993. Diglossia: A Comprehensive Bibliography 1960-1990. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
  • Lubliner, Jacob. "Reflections on Diglossia"

  • , Groupe Européen de Recherches en Langues Créoles
  • , Harold F. Schiffman, University of Pennsylvania
  • , Ashley Passmore

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