Séminaire D4: Olivier Glain: “Normalisation in the English Language: the Linguistic, the Social, the Imaginary”


lundi 07 février 2022    
17h00 - 19h00

Normalisation in the English Language: the Linguistic, the Social, the Imaginary

Salle de colloque 1, bâtiment multimedia

The linguistic norms of the English language are often associated with what is perceived as a fixed and uniform standard variety as it is defined in dictionaries and grammars. Yet, standardisation and normalisation both constitute dynamic processes that are anything but monolithic. In addition, if norms are necessary to define a standard (national or otherwise), they also play a significant part in the construction or the emergence of more local and identity-driven varieties. In this presentation, I propose to show how varied processes of normalisation have been at work in the history of English. To do so, I will focus on the development of norms at a few key moments in the history of English. I will rely on the typology of norms defined by Houdebine (1982, 2002) and I will work from the premise that linguistic change is linked to norm interaction and norm negotiation in communities (Milroy 1992). Throughout the development of Standard English, interactions between norms of various types have manifested themselves in different ways and have helped shape various standardisation processes that have contributed to the development of a prestige variety. We will see how normalisation has operated differently in what Joseph (1987) calls circumstantial and engineered standardisation, the former being much more likely to lead to systemic changes. From the end of the Middle English period, norms of various types were successively at work in the processes that gradually led to the emergence of a prestige variety. These norms were anchored in the social and cultural reality of their times, but also in speakers’ representations of the language, of society and of their own identities. Historically, the process of standardisation started with the selection of a particular dialect in Middle English. Then, the Renaissance was associated with a further diffusion of that variety and of its written forms. Modern English witnessed the codification of Standard English through evaluative norms and prescriptive rules, a tendency which also contributed to the definition of a standard model of pronunciation at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. However, I will argue that we can only talk of a ‘successful’ process of standardisation when it has been synonymous with a significant reduction of linguistic variation, which will allow me to discuss how effective the various types of norms previously defined have been at different stages in the history of English. Pre-established norms have been strongly challenged in the last decades. This had led to a significantly different linguistic landscape in Britain. A similar re-negotiation of norms has been at work in the USA despite the much shorter history of American English. 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