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Diglossia

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Diglossia

Have you ever heard of diglossia? If not, don't worry! We will explore the meaning of diglossia and look at some examples of diglossic languages. We will also take into account possible differences between diglossia and bilingualism.

Diglossia Meaning

Let's begin by taking a look at the etymology of diglossia:

Diglossia comes from the Greek diglōssos (δίγλωσσος) meaning 'bilingual' (to speak two languages). The term was first used in English in 1959 by linguist Charles Ferguson.

Diglossia in Linguistics

In linguistics, diglossia is a circumstance in which two different languages or dialects are used by a community of people who speak the same language.

Diglossia Hello in different languages StudySmarterDiglossic communities use more than one language or dialect, Pixabay

But how does a dialect differ from a language?

A language is a method of communication used by a particular country or region. It consists of sounds, written words, and grammar. Examples of languages include English, Spanish, and Urdu.

On the other hand, a dialect is a particular language variety used by a specific group of people. These people are often connected by social factors such as region, gender, age, ethnicity or job. Different dialects can use different vocabulary, grammar, and/or pronunciations. As a result, they may not be understood by outsiders. An example of a dialect is Southern British English, which differs from other regional dialects in the UK.

Types of Diglossia

The languages or dialects that are used in diglossic communities are used for different purposes and can be labelled in two ways:

1. High variety

High variety refers to the language variety used in formal/professional settings, such as in education, politics, and the mass media.

2. Low variety

Low variety is used in everyday conversations and is spoken in more informal settings, such as at home and with family/friends.

Alongside standard diglossia, there is another type called bilingual diglossia. This occurs when one language variety is used for writing, and the other is used for speaking.

Diglossia Examples

When Charles Ferguson first wrote about the term Diglossia, he introduced a few common examples of diglossic languages, such as Arabic, Swiss German, Haitian and Greek. Let's take a look at these in more detail!

Arabic

In Arabic-speaking communities, many people use both Classical Arabic and Egyptian Arabic. Classical Arabic is the high variety so it is seen as the standard language. It is not used in everyday conversation - instead, it is reserved for official and academic purposes. Egyptian Arabic is the most widely used Arabic dialect. It is regarded as the low variety, so is used in daily life.

Swiss German

In the German-speaking part of Switzerland, many people use both Standard German and Swiss German. Standard German is the high variety and is mostly used in written communication, whereas Swiss German is the low variety and is predominantly used in spoken conversations.

Standard French and Haitian Creole

In Haiti, many people use both Standard French and Haitian Creole. Standard French is regarded as the high variety and is more grammatically complex. It is used predominantly in formal written communication and in formal speech when necessary. Haitian Creole - a French dialect - is the low variety and is used in daily conversations.

Katharevousa Greek (aka 'pure' Greek) and Demotic Greek (aka Dimotiki)

In the 19th and 20th centuries, Katharevousa Greek and Demotic Greek were used by most Greeks. Katharevousa Greek was the high variety and was used in formal situations. Demotic Greek was the low variety and was used in more colloquial settings.

In the present day, these two Greek language varieties are now either not commonly used or are no longer in use. Katharevousa Greek tends to be reserved for official purposes in the Church of Greece and other Greek Orthodox Churches. Demotic Greek was an earlier form of Modern Greek. It was made the official language of Greece in 1976 and evolved over time into what is now known as Standard Modern Greek.

Diglossia and Bilingualism

Are diglossia and bilingualism the same thing? Some people (including Ferguson himself) would describe diglossia as a type of bilingualism, as both involve the use of more than one language. However, it could be argued that they are not the same. Let's consider the potential differences between them both:

Diglossia tends to place more focus on a community of people who all use two languages or dialects. On the other hand, bilingualism can be used to describe individuals who know two languages (usually fluently). A bilingual person does not necessarily have to come from a bilingual family or community - they could pick up another language from elsewhere, such as in school or from working abroad.

Diglossia - Key Takeaways

  • Diglossia comes from the Greek diglōssos (δίγλωσσος) meaning 'bilingual' (to speak two languages).
  • Diglossia is a circumstance in which two different languages or dialects are used by a community of people who speak the same language.
  • The languages or dialects that are used in diglossic communities are used for different purposes and can be labelled as either high variety or low variety.
  • Bilingual diglossia occurs when one language variety is used for writing, and the other is used for speaking.
  • Diglossia could be considered a type of bilingualism. But, diglossia focuses more on a community of people, whereas bilingualism can be used to describe individuals.

Frequently Asked Questions about Diglossia

An example of diglossia is the use of both Standard German (high variety) and Swiss German (low variety) in the German-speaking part of Switzerland.

Diglossia is a circumstance in which two different languages or dialects are used by a community of people who speak the same language.

The three main characteristics of diglossia are:

1. Two different language varieties are used in the same language community. One is the high variety (H) and the other is the low variety (L).

2. Both language varieties are used for different purposes.

3. The high variety is not used in daily conversations.

Diglossia tends to place more focus on a community of people who all use two languages or dialects. On the other hand, bilingualism can be used to describe individuals who know two languages (usually fluently). 

Yes, Arabic is one of the most well-known examples of a diglossic language.

Final Diglossia Quiz

Question

True or false?


Diglossia is considered by some as a type of bilingualism.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

The term Diglossia was first used in English in what year?

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Answer

1959

Show question

Question

The term DIglossia was first used in English by which linguist?

Show answer

Answer

Charles Ferguson

Show question

Question

The languages or dialects that are used in diglossic communities can be labelled in two ways. What are they?


Show answer

Answer

High variety and low variety

Show question

Question

Diglossia comes from the Greek diglōssos, meaning what?


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Answer

bilingual

Show question

Question

What is diglossia?

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Answer

Diglossia is a circumstance in which two different languages or dialects are used by a community of people who speak the same language.

Show question

Question

True or false?


Low variety is used in everyday conversations.

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

When is the high variety used?

Show answer

Answer

In formal settings

Show question

Question

True or false?


High variety is not used in formal settings.

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Answer

False

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Question

When is the low variety used?

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Answer

In informal settings

Show question

Question

Which of the following is regarded as the high variety in Arabic-speaking communities?

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Answer

Egyptian Arabic

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Question

In the German-speaking part of Switzerland, which variety of German is mostly used in spoken conversations?

Show answer

Answer

Swiss German

Show question

Question

In Haiti, which language variety is seen as more grammatically complex?

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Answer

Standard French

Show question

Question

Which variety of Greek was an earlier form of Modern Greek?

Show answer

Answer

Demotic Greek

Show question

Question

Which of the following places focus on an individual who can speak two languages fluently?

Show answer

Answer

Bilingualism

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