The perception of linguistic diversity: some ideological effects of unilingual language policies in France


Friday 8 November, 10.30-11.00, E0104

This paper intends to explore the effects of French unilingual language policies on the perception of linguistic diversity and minority languages as they are found in the declaration of attitudes of minority language speakers in the south of France and especially in Catalan and Occitan speakers. 

The assimilating pro-French language policies have been in place in France since the French Revolution when equality was understood as uniformity (Martel 2004). Even though a softening of these policies have been noticed in recent years and some (limited) support is provided to minority and regional languages, the psycho-sociological effects of these policies have had some devastating divisive force on minority linguistic communities. 

The focus on Occitan and Catalan speakers’ attitudes in this paper will allow us to isolate the manifestation of some of the divisive effects of the unilingual policies which then represent not only a monoglossic state in the sense of Del Valle (2000) but also a monoglossic representation of the French linguistic panorama. The level of analysis is here in the representation of minority languages and their place in the national linguistic spectrum. Another point of focus will be the impact of these policies for the definition of a linguistic identity (Heller 1999), which struggles to be plural in the French context. 

One specific concept will be presented and tentatively defined on this occasion: language prestige. Prestige is a complex socio-historical device which helps establishing a standard of a language but which can also help maintaining the illusion of superiority of one language over another. Prestige can therefore be considered as one part of the language ideological apparatus displayed and promoted by language policies. In the case of France, one can ponder how a lack of prestige reflects on minority language speakers? As mentioned above, France has adopted a more favourable tendency towards linguistic diversity in recent years. Would this mean that the prestige of regional language is expanding and that linguistic diversity is regarded more highly nowadays? 

This historical and comparative take will allow us to examine the interface between national language policies, language ideologies which can be seen as linked to the treatment of linguistic diversity at state-level and individual and group attitudes. A final note is that with Occitan and Catalan being both spoken in France and Spain, the transnational dimension will add an interesting element of contrast as far as the assumed survival of these two languages are concerned. 


Del Valle, J. 2000. “Monoglossic policies for a heteroglossic culture: Misinterpreted multilingualism in modern Galicia." Language and Communication 20 (1): 105-132. 

Heller, M. 1999. Linguistic minorities and modernity. A sociolinguistic ethnography. London: Longman. 

Martel, P. 2004. « Langue d’Oc, French and the construction of a state in France » in Judt, T., D. Lacorne (eds) Language, Nation and State: Identity Politics in a multilingual age. New York: Palgrave McMillan. 63-79.