From Academic Kids

In linguistics, disglossia is a situation where, in a given society, there are two (often) closely-related languages, one of high prestige, which is generally used by the government and in formal texts, and one of low prestige, which is usually the spoken vernacular tongue. The high-prestige language tends to be the more formalised, and its forms and vocabulary often 'filter down' into the vernacular, though often in a changed form.

The term diglossie (French) was first coined (as a translation of Greek diglossía 'bilingualism') by the Greek linguist and demoticist Ioannis Psycharis. The Arabist William Marçais used the term in 1930 to describe the linguistic situation in Arabic-speaking countries. In Charles Ferguson's article "Diglossia" in the journal Word (1959) diglossia was described as a kind of bilingualism in a given society in which one of the languages is (H), i.e. has high prestige, and another of the languages is (L), i.e. has low prestige. In Ferguson's definition, (H) and (L) are always closely related. Fishman also talks about diglossia with unrelated languages: "extended diglossia" (Fishman 1967), for example Sanskrit as (H) and Kannada as (L) or Alsatian (Elsässisch) in Alsace as (L) and French as (H).

In some cases, the nature of the connection between (H) and (L) is disputed, for example Jamaican Patois as (L) and Standard English as (H) in Jamaica. This case also points to another problem: while Patois does indeed have fewer phonemes than Standard English, it has two tonemes: it would for this and other reasons be wrong to ascertain that Patois is less complex than Standard English. The same can be said of many (L) Languages: some Swiss German dialects have /e/ /E/ and /{/ while Standard German only has /e/ and /E/. Jamaican Patois has fewer vowel phonemes than standard Englishes, but it has additional palatal /k_j/ and /g_j/ phonemes. (H) is usually the written language whereas (L) is the spoken language. Kloss distinguishes between exoglossia (as in Alsace) and endoglossia (as in German-speaking Switzerland). In formal situations, (H) is used; in informal situations, (L) is used.

Especially in endoglossia the (L) form may also be called "basilect", the (H) form "acrolect", and an intermediate form "mesolect". Note however that there is no "mesolect" in German-speaking Switzerland and in Luxembourg. Whether Paraguay has a form of diglossia is controversial. Guaraní and Spanish are both official languages of Paraguay. Some scholars argue that there are Paraguyans who actually don't speak Guaraní. See Guaraní language

Ferguson's classic examples include Standard German/Swiss German, Standard Arabic/vernacular Arabic, Standard French/Kréyòl in Haiti, and Katharevousa/Dhimotiki in Greece. However, Kréyòl is now recognised as a standard language in Haiti. Swiss German dialects are hardly languages with low prestige in Switzerland; and colloquial Arabic has more prestige in some respects than standard Arabic nowadays (see Chambers, Sociolinguistic Theory). And after the end of the military regime, Dhimotiki was made into Greece's only standard language (1976). Nowadays, Katharevousa is no longer used. Harold Schiffman writes about Swiss German: "it seems to be the case that Swiss German was once consensually agreed to be in a diglossic hierarchy with Standard German, but that this consensus is now breaking." There is also a lot of 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. Furthermore, in Ferguson's definition, diglossia is not bilingualism; however this depends on the scholar's definition of language. For example, different kinds of Arabic are not mutually intelligible; even though many are, but this may also be due to exposure to different varieties rather than inherent linguistic properties.

Examples where the High/Low dichotomy is justified in terms of 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 dialects typically use dialect in informal situations, especially in the family. In German-speaking Switzerland, on the other hand, Swiss German dialects are to a certain extent even used in schools and to a larger 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 for diglossia (all speakers are native speakers of Swiss German and thus diglossic) and the worst, because there is no clear-cut hierarchy.

Brazilian Portuguese

According to many Brazilian linguists (Bortoni, Kato, Mattos e Silva, Bagno, Perini), Brazilian Portuguese is a highly diglossic language. L-variant (also known as Brazilian vernacular) is the mother tongue of all Brazilians, and H-variant (standard Brazilian Portuguese) is acquired through schooling. L-variant is a simplified form of archaic Portuguese, influenced by Amerindian and African languages, while H-variant is a form based on 19th-century European Portuguese (and it is very similar to Standard European Portuguese, with only orthography being a little different). Mário A. Perini (Brazilian linguist) compares the differences between L- and H- variants of Brazilian Portuguese with those between Standard Spanish and Standard Portuguese.

L-variant is the spoken form of Brazilian Portuguese, avoided only in very formal speech (court interrogation, political debate) while H-variant is the written form of Brazilian Portuguese, avoided only in informal writing (such as songs lyrics, love letters, intimate friends correspondence). Even language professors many times use L-variant while explaining students the structure and usage of H-variant. But, in essays, all students are expected to use H-variant.

L-variant is used in songs, movies, soap operas, sitcoms and other television shows, although, at times, H-variant is used in historic films or soap operas to make the language used sound more ‘’elegant’’ and/or ‘’archaic’’. H-variant used to be preferred in dubbing of foreign films and series into Brazilian Portuguese, but nowadays L-variant is preferred. Movies subtitles normally use a mixture of L- and H-variants, but remain closer to H-variant.

Most literal works are written in H-variant. They have been attempts at writing in L-variant (masterpiece Macunaíma, written by Brazilian modernist Mário de Andrade), but, presently, L-variant is used only in dialogs. Still, many contemporary writers like using H-variant even in informal dialogs. This is also true of translated books, which never use L-variant, only the H-one. Children books seem to be more L-friendly, but, again, if they are translated from another language (Little Prince, for instance) they will use the H-variant only.

Most linguist use the term ‘’Brazilian Portuguese’’ to describe the mesolect of Brazilian Vernacular, not the Standard Brazilian Portuguese which is almost identical to Standard European Portuguese. This idiom is characterized by simplification in verbal and pronominal systems and many changes in prepositional system, but the most striking differences are those affecting syntax. Brazilian linguist Fernando Tarallo claims that ‘’the portuguese language variety used in Brazil has developed quite a reasonable number of syntactic features different from the European system. These differences are large enough to allow for a description of the Brazilian variety in the sense of a Brazilian grammar’’. The same was confirmed later, by Brazilian-based French linguist Galves.

The mesolect form of Brazilian Vernacular (that is, the one used in the speech of middle class Brazilians) is the form of Brazilian Portuguese language taught at American universities. H-varieties are explained later after students have mastered the L-variants.

Mário A. Perini (famous Brazilian linguist) said:

"There are two languages in Brazil. The one we write (and which is called ‘’Portuguese’’), and another one that we speak (which is so despised that there is not a name to call it). The latter is the mother tongue of Brazilians, the former has to be learned in school, and a majority of population does not manage to master it appropriately. […] Personally, I do not object to us writing Portuguese, but I think it is important to make clear that Portuguese is (at least in Brazil) only a written language. Our mother tongue is not Portuguese, but Brazilian Vernacular. This is not a slogan, nor a political statement, it is simply recognition of a fact. […] There are linguistic teams working hard in order to give the full description of the structure of the Vernacular. So, there are hopes, that within some years, we will have appropriate grammars of our mother tongue, the language that has been ignored, denied and despised for such a long time."

According to Milton M. Azevedo (Brazilian linguist):

"The relationship between Vernacular Brazilian Portuguese and the formal prescriptive variety fulfills the basic conditions of Ferguson's definition [of diglossia]".

Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Diglossia"


Tamil is a diglossic language. The classic form (chentamil) of the language is different from the colloquial (koduntamil) form. This difference in the language has existed since ancient times.

The classic form is preferred for writing, and is also used for public speaking. While written Tamil is mostly standard across various Tamil speaking regions, spoken form of the language differs widely from the written form.


de:Diglossie fr:Diglossie nl:Diglossie pl:Dyglosja


Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Art)
    • Architecture (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Architecture)
    • Cultures (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Cultures)
    • Music (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Music)
    • Musical Instruments (http://academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/List_of_musical_instruments)
  • Biographies (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Biographies)
  • Clipart (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Clipart)
  • Geography (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Geography)
    • Countries of the World (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Countries)
    • Maps (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Maps)
    • Flags (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Flags)
    • Continents (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Continents)
  • History (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/History)
    • Ancient Civilizations (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Ancient_Civilizations)
    • Industrial Revolution (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Industrial_Revolution)
    • Middle Ages (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Middle_Ages)
    • Prehistory (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Prehistory)
    • Renaissance (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Renaissance)
    • Timelines (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Timelines)
    • United States (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/United_States)
    • Wars (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Wars)
    • World History (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/History_of_the_world)
  • Human Body (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Human_Body)
  • Mathematics (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Mathematics)
  • Reference (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Reference)
  • Science (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Science)
    • Animals (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Animals)
    • Aviation (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Aviation)
    • Dinosaurs (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Dinosaurs)
    • Earth (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Earth)
    • Inventions (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Inventions)
    • Physical Science (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Physical_Science)
    • Plants (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Plants)
    • Scientists (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Scientists)
  • Social Studies (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Social_Studies)
    • Anthropology (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Anthropology)
    • Economics (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Economics)
    • Government (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Government)
    • Religion (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Religion)
    • Holidays (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Holidays)
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Solar_System)
    • Planets (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Planets)
  • Sports (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Sports)
  • Timelines (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Timelines)
  • Weather (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Weather)
  • US States (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/US_States)


  • Home Page (http://academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php)
  • Contact Us (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Contactus)

  • Clip Art (http://classroomclipart.com)
Personal tools