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In linguistics, diglossia ( , from Greek: διγλωσσία) is a situation where a given language community uses two languages or dialects: the first being the community's present day vernacular and the second being either an ancestral version of the same vernacular from centuries earlier (e.g.: Arabic), a distinct yet closely related present day dialect (e.g. Norwegian with Bokmål and Nynorsk, or Chinese with Standard Mandarin as the official, literary standard and colloquial topolects/dialects used in everyday communication) or another distinct language (such as in English and Maltese in Maltamarker).


As an aspect of study of the relationships between codes and social structure, diglossia is an important concept 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 can range from minor (although conspicuous) to extreme. In many cases of diglossia, the two dialects are so divergent that they are distinct languages in the scientific sense of the term "language" used by linguists, namely: they are not mutually intelligible.

The dialect which is the genuine mother tongue is almost always held in low esteem; it is of low prestige. Its spheres of use involve informal, interpersonal communication: conversation in the home, among friends, in marketplaces. In some diglossias, the vernacular dialect is virtually unwritten. It may be the case that those who try to give it a literature are severely criticized or even persecuted. The other dialect is held in high esteem and is devoted to written communication and formal spoken communication. Formal spoken communication typically encompasses university instruction, primary education, sermons, and speeches by government officials. It is usually not possible to acquire proficiency in the formal, "high" dialect without formal study of it. As a result, among those diglossic societies which are also characterized by extreme inequality of social classes, a large fraction of the population has no proficiency in speaking the high dialect, and if the high dialect is grammatically different enough, as in the case of Arabic diglossia, then these uneducated classes cannot understand most of the public speeches they might hear through television and radio. The high prestige dialect (or language, as the case may be) tends to be the more formalised, and its forms and vocabulary often 'filter down' into the vernacular, though often in a changed form.

Often, the phenomenon of diglossia is accompanied by numerous controversies and by polarization of opinions of native speakers regarding the relationship between the two dialects and their proper respective statuses. In the case where the "high" dialect is objectively not intelligible to those exposed only to the vernacular, some speakers insist that the two dialects are nevertheless a common language. The pioneering scholar of diglossia, Ferguson, observed that native speakers proficient in the high prestige dialect will commonly try to avoid using the vernacular dialect with foreigners and may even deny its existence, even though the vernacular is the only socially appropriate one for them themselves to use when speaking to their relatives and friends. 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.


The French term diglossie was first coined (basically a transliteration of Greek διγλωσσία (diglōssia), '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.

Language registers and types of diglossia

In Charles A. 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. Joshua Fishman also talks about diglossia with unrelated languages as "extended diglossia" (Fishman 1967), for example Alsatian (Elsässisch) in Alsacemarker as (L) and French as (H). 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.

(H) is usually the written language whereas (L) is the spoken language. In formal situations, (H) is used; in informal situations, (L) is used. One of the earliest known examples 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/, and , in the phonetic space where Standard German has only two phonemes, (Berlin 'Berlin', Bären 'bears') and (Beeren 'berries'). Jamaican Creole has fewer vowel phonemes than standard Englishes, but it has additional palatal and 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 include Standard German/Swiss German, Standard Arabic/vernacular Arabic, Standard French/Kréyòl in Haiti, Katharevousa/Dhimotiki in Greecemarker, and Bokmål/Nynorsk in Norway. 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 in 1974, Dhimotiki was made into Greece's only standard language (1976). Nowadays, Katharevousa is (with few exceptions, e. g. by the Greek Orthodox Church) 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.

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.

English and the Norman invasion

Prior to the Norman invasion of 1066, Old English in its various dialects was spoken in Englandmarker. For some centuries following the conquest, England had diglossia between a French-speaking ruling class and commoners who spoke English. As French gradually waned, English changed and took over until Modern English was created through the merger of this divide. However, there is still evidence of a division, between "academic" words and "common" words. Many "power" words (such as bailiff) are "academic".


In all the Arab World, standard Arabic is H and local "colloquial" Arabic is L.

The situation with the Literary Arabic (الفصحى al-fuṣ-ḥā) vs spoken varieties of Arabic (العامية al-`āmmiyya or الدارجة ad-dārija) differs from country to country but every Arab country's official language is "standard Arabic". There is no consensus on which version of Arabic should be taught to foreigners.

The debate continues about the future of the Arabic language, both among Arabic linguists in the Arab world and outside it. Some prefer the status quo (existing diglossia). The other suggestions are:

  1. Promote Modern Standard Arabic to be used colloquially, outside the formal situations, on an everyday basis by introducing more audio-material, enforcing the usage on mass-media. A lot of cartoons were created in MSA, which help young Arabs master the standard language before they start schooling. There are proposals to simplify the grammar of the standard Arabic a little (the most complicated and seldom used and understood features) and introduce some commonly known colloquial words (known across many dialects or groups of dialects). This idea is similar to the efforts in mainland Chinamarker, Taiwanmarker and Singaporemarker where Standard Mandarin has gained a lot of popularity and the number of speakers is increasing, including those who speak it on a daily basis or the situation with the Hebrew language, see Revival of the Hebrew language, especially in Israelmarker.
  2. Upgrade the individual dialects or merge dialects into possibly one spoken Arabic, thus formalizing spoken Arabic as a standard. Often it is advocated in individual Arabic countries, promoting only the main dialect of the given country. This idea was especially popular in Egyptmarker, where spoken Egyptian is often written down and there are works in Egyptian Arabic (لهجة مصرية lahja Miṣriyya (in formal Arabic) or lahga Maṣreyya (in Egyptian dialect) - "Egyptian dialect") and other countries, e.g. Kateb Yacine wrote in Algerian Arabic (لهجة جزائرية lahja Jazā'iriyya - "Algerian dialect"). The "formal spoken Arabic" includes more features of the standard Arabic and words are often selected, which are understood across a larger area. One such a version of "Formal Spoken Arabic" (based on Levantine Arabic) is taught at Georgetown Universitymarker and Foreign Service Institute (both in the USA) . This second idea is similar to Evolution from Ancient to Modern Greek in Greecemarker. Many Arabic scholars are against this idea, as the current standard Arabic is essentially the "classical Arabic" - the language of Qur'ān (القرآن ‎al-qur’ān) and is the literary standard in the Arab world.

Both ideas (the Hebrew (1) or the Greek (2) language reforms) have become feasible with the globalization and the increase of the internet and mass-media usage among Arabs but there must be consensus between governments, scholars and the population and the efforts to follow. The Al-Jazeera television and others did a lot to promote standard Arabic among Arabs.

Ibrahim Kayid Mahmoud, College Of Education, King Faisal University, Al-Hassa – Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on Literary Arabic between Diglossia and Bilingualism (excerpt):
"The study has concluded that both diglossia and bilingualism are the inveterate enemies of literary Arabic; they try to annihilate it. They create a weak, hesitant, indecisive anxious individual, with limited horizons.

Additionally, they constitute the direct cause of destroying creativity and scientific productivity. It is therefore imperative to protect Literary Arabic from the dangers of diglossia and bilingualism through taking the necessary measures to foster it and to give it due emphasis.Literary Arabic should be simplified and made more appealing to the younger generations. Educational institutions and mass media should also give it due emphasis. Current educational concepts should be utilized to promote literary Arabic. Arabic teachers should be adequately qualified. It is finally suggested that the teaching of foreign languages should be delayed until after age ten, a time at which Arab children have initially mastered their mother tongue – Arabic."

As mentioned above, the new Western term "Formal Spoken Arabic" (other terms include: "Educated Spoken Arabic", "Inter-Arabic", "Middle Arabic" and "Spoken MSA") is to describe the modern variety of Arabic spoken by educated Arabs, a mix between standard Arabic (acrolect) and vernacular Arabic (basilect). It is more common in Eastern Arabs states (Levante and the Gulf) but sometimes used to described high-level Egyptian or Maghrebi Arabic. This new term represents a spoken language shared by Arabs from different regions when they have to communicate to each other. The pronunciation may reveal the speaker's origin but nevertheless, this simplified version of Arabic is becoming popular with foreign students who wish to be able communicate with a wide-range of Arabic speakers. As the base for the training, the Levantine Arabic is often chosen, as the one considered by many as the closest to literary Arabic but teachers and students change according to the knowledge and interest. In Western Arab countries and Egypt the pure colloquial forms of Arabic are more dominant and, generally, knowledge and usage of standard Arabic is limited. Some speakers can easily maintain a conversation in standard Arabic, some prefer to switch to their vernacular dialect even in the formal situations.

Formal Spoken Arabic has been created through the impact of the Arab satellite channels, which are increasingly shaping the region's sociopolitical views, while also affecting the Arabic language itself.


Traditionally, Bengali exhibits diglossia in both written and spoken forms of the language's uppermost registers. Shadhubhasha (সাধু shadhu = 'chaste' or 'sage'; ভাষা bhasha = 'language') exihibted longer verb inflections and heavily Sanskritized vocabulary. Up to the turn of the 19th century, most Bengali literature took this form. Cholitbhasha(চলতিভাষা ) or Cholitobhasha (চলিত cholito = 'current' or 'running'), based on the formal registers of spoken, educated dialects, has much simpler grammatical forms, and has become the modern literary standard.

Brunei Malay

In Bruneimarker, Standard Malay (Bahasa Melayu) is promoted as the national language and is the H variety, while Brunei Malay is used very widely throughout society and it constitutes the L variety. One major difference between these dialects of Malay is that Brunei Malay tends to have the verb at the front, while Standard Malay generally places it after the subject. It has been estimated that 84% of core vocabulary in Brunei Malay and Standard Malay is cognate, though their pronunciation often differs very considerably. While Standard Malay has six vowels, Brunei Malay has only three: /a, i, u/.

One complicating factor is that English is also widely used in Brunei, especially in education, as it is the medium of instruction from upper primary school onwards, so it shares the H role with Standard Malay. Another code that competes for the H role in some situations is the special palace register of Brunei Malay, which includes an elaborate system of honorific terms for addressing and referring to the Sultan and other nobles. Finally, although Standard Malay is used for sermons in the mosques (as expected for the H variety), readings from the Qur'an are in Arabic.


With the exception of Andorramarker, Catalan as spoken outside of Catalonia may be diglossic in various grades, from highly to barely diglossic. Diglossia in Catalan is typically stronger in metropolitan areas than in moderately to sparsely populated areas.

This phenomenon affects Algheromarker (whose local Catalan dialect remains in severe danger of extinction despite the recent revival in its usage), some areas in the Balearic Islandsmarker, so-called "North Catalonia" and, in its Valencian modality, some areas in the Valencian Communitymarker as well.


For over two thousand years, the Chinese used Classical Chinese (Literary Chinese) as a formal standard written language. The standard written language served as a bridge for communication throughout Chinamarker (and other countries in the CJKV area) for millennia.

However, the colloquial spoken Chinese varieties continued to evolve. The gulf became so wide between the formal written and colloquial spoken languages that it was blamed for hindering education and literacy, and some even went so far as to blame it in part for the political turmoil that occurred in China during the 19th and early 20th centuries. This eventually culminated in the adoption of Vernacular Chinese, which was based on modern spoken Mandarin, for all formal communication.

Modern Chinese

After the adoption of Vernacular Chinese as the modern standard written language in the early 20th century, diglossia was no longer a big issue among the majority of Chinese speakers who learn Mandarin Chinese as the standard national dialect.. However, Vernacular Chinese and its pronunciation in local dialects is still a formal register in regions where Mandarin is not spoken natively, such as most of South China.

For instance in Hong Kongmarker, Standard Cantonese is the primary language of spoken communication, although all formal written communication is done in Vernacular Chinese. Unique among the other Chinese dialects, Cantonese has its own written form, but it is used only in informal contexts and is often inconsistent due to the absence of standardization.

Literate Chinese speakers can read and write in the Mandarin-based standard written language. However because the graphemes in Chinese's logographic writing system are not directly linked to pronunciation (though there are quasi-phonetic hints), Cantonese speakers who do not speak Mandarin will read aloud the characters in Cantonese pronunciation only. The resulting speech is Mandarin-based grammar and vocabulary pronounced word-by-word in Cantonese. If the same sentence were to be spoken using regular colloquial Cantonese, it might be quite different. Here is an example:

English Sentence Please give me his book.
Standard written Chinese rendition (Traditional Chinese characters)
Standard written Chinese rendition (Simplified Chinese characters)
Standard Mandarin pronunciation of writing Qǐng gěi wǒ tā de shū.
Cantonese Pronunciation of Writing Chíng kāp ngóh tā dīk syū.
Written colloquial Cantonese rendition
Colloquial Cantonese pronunciation M̀h-gōi béi kéuih bún syū ngóh.
Note: Mandarin romanized using Hanyu Pinyin. Cantonese romanized using Yale. Written Cantonese shown uses characters not in standard written Chinese.

In the above example, note the switching of the direct and indirect objects and the use of different vocabulary for certain words in the standard Chinese and colloquial Cantonese renditions. In addition, Cantonese grammar allows the use of measure words to serve in the place of a genitive particle.

Cantonese pronunciation of standard written Chinese is generally understandable to Cantonese speakers educated in the standard written language. It is most often used in Cantonese newscasts, albeit with certain substitutions of colloquial Cantonese vocabulary so as to make it not sound as stilted. This form of spoken Cantonese can be considered a higher register compared to the colloquial spoken Cantonese.

Classical Chinese

Before the modern adoption of Vernacular Chinese, the diglossic situation also applied to Mandarin speakers when Classical Chinese was the standard written language.

Continuing the previous example for comparison, using Classical Chinese it would be:

Classical Chinese rendition (Traditional Chinese characters)
Classical Chinese rendition (Simplified Chinese characters)
Standard Mandarin pronunciation of Classical Chinese Qiú ěr yǔ wǒ qí shū.
Cantonese pronunciation of Classical Chinese Kàuh yíh yúh ngóh kèih syū.

Because Chinese's logographic writing system doesn't indicate exact pronunciation, the pronunciation of Classical Chinese in Old Chinese is generally not possible (though tentative reconstructions of the phonology of Old Chinese have been attempted). Instead, Classical Chinese is also generally pronounced according to the local dialect (such as the Mandarin and Cantonese pronunciations given above), much like how Cantonese speakers pronounce the modern Mandarin-based Vernacular Chinese using Cantonese.

Unlike the situation with modern Chinese, however, Classical Chinese spoken according to the pronunciations of the modern spoken Chinese varieties is still largely unintelligible without training due to the syntax and vocabulary changes that Chinese has undergone since Old Chinese. In addition, sound mergers in the modern dialects cause many distinct words in Classical Chinese to sound homophonous. For one notable example, see Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den.


Galiciamarker is a classic example of diglossia, as the majority language Galician is regarded by most native speakers as inferior to the State language, Spanish, or Portuguese. Since the sixteenth century the upper layers of the Galician society, i.e. the town gentry, the civil servants and the Church, used Spanish as their main or only language whereas the vast majority of the population, made up of peasants and fishermen, continued to speak Galician. This entrenched a perception of Galician as a language of inferior people that prevented social promotion. Thus, when urbanization spread in earnest in the mid twentieth century the new middle classes and urban blue collar cohorts started to adopt Spanish in a diglossic context, Galician at home and Spanish at work. This is a situation that persists to a slightly lesser degree to this day even as both languages are official and the Galician language now enjoys a relatively strong industrial culture and media.

To make things more complicated a similar relationship exists between spoken Galician or Leonese and the literary standard that was developed when Galician became official language in 1983, as native speakers resent the fact the standard lacks naturality, does not include widely assumed phonetic or lexical features of the spoken language such as gheada (pronouncing "g" as the English "h" as in /halicia/ instead of Galicia) as well as reintroducing Galician words that have long been replaced in the spoken language by their Spanish and in some cases English equivalents. Therefore it is not uncommon to find native Galician speakers that for instance speak colloquial Galician at home, Spanish at work and standard Galician in public events or when liaising with the Public Administration.


Until the 1970s, the Greek language distinguished between Dimotiki, the colloquial language which was used in everyday discussions and the extremely formal and archaic Katharevousa, which was used in more "educated" contexts, as in school, in court, in law texts etc. Extreme Katharevousa was, in fact, nearly pure Ancient Greek, and as such, nearly completely unintelligible to children and adults without higher education; however there was a linguistic spectrum, with so-called Simple Katharevousa quite close to Dimotiki, and the emerging urban standard of Dimotiki making more concessions to Katharevousa than its more radical form. The Greek language question, from the 1890s on, was a heated dispute on which language form was to be the official language of the state: unlike typical diglossic situations, the primacy of the H variant was disputed, and the choice of variant became politicized, with Dimotiki associated with the left wing and Katharevousa with the right; morphological choices could even end up used as political shibboleths. This dispute was eventually settled, and today the single language used in all texts is an educated variant of Dimotiki, which was enriched by many expressions from Katharevousa. This variant is commonly called Modern Greek.

The contemporary linguistic situation in Cyprusmarker is also diglossic, with Modern Greek taking the H role, and Cypriot Greek the L role.


Hindi has two forms: the H form called shuddh(a) Hindi and the L form called Hindustani. Both are based on the same dialect: Khariboli. Schiffman writes: When Hindustani was chosen as the national language of independent Indiamarker, supposedly because of its wide use as a lingua franca in the area, steps were immediately taken to develop an H variety, highly Sanskritized in vocabulary, since the vernaculars of Hindi then in existence seemed to be too "Low" for many citizens of the country. Of course diglossicization as a value may vary from sub-culture to sub-culture in the region, but it cannot be denied that the overall view in South Asia and peninsular Southeast Asia is pro-diglossic.The L variety, Hindustani (often simply called Hindi) contains many loanwords from Persian and Arabic (brought by the Muslim rulers in medieval times), along with a massive vocabulary of English loanwords which increase day by day. The L variety is identical with spoken Urdu—except for the fact that the latter is written in Perso-Arabic script. The H variety was standardized in the 1960s during the movement to adopt Hindi as national language of Indian Union. Shuddh (lit., pure) Hindi primarily uses loanwords from Sanskrit to replace not only English loanwords, but also loanwords from Persian and Arabic which had been nativized for centuries. These words are called tatsam words, and they even replaced many tadbhav words, i.e. words with Sanskrit origin but having undergone profound phonological changes. The H variety was chiefly (though not exclusively) propounded by the Hindu nationalists (see Hindutva) who frowned upon Persian and Arabic vocabulary because it came from Muslim cultures.

An example is the Hindi version of the sentence: "This morning I read the newspaper but could not study those books."

Shuddh Hindi āj prātaḥ maĩ samāchār-patr(a) paḍhā, parantu un pustakõ adhyayan nahĩ kar sakā.
Hindustani āj subah maĩ akhbār paḍhā, lekin un kitābõ paḍhāī nahĩ kar sakā.
Gloss today morning I newspaper read.Perfective but those books of study not do could.Perfective

Here, prātaḥ, samāchār-patr(a) and parantu are loanwords from Sanskrit used in the H form, versus the Arabic loanwords subah, akhbār and lekin which are rather more popular in speech. Adhyayan is loanwords from Sanskrit which can even replace native tadhbhav word paḍhāī (which in turn is derived from Sanskrit paṭhana after phonological changes). Sanskrit morpho-phonemics is more complex than native Hindustani one, and hence many encounter difficulty in pronouncing phoneme clusters such as word-initial /pr/, word final /t̪r/ and word-middle /d̪ʱj/ as seen in the example above. On the other hand, the H form has highly minimized the use of Persian and Arabic phonemes /z/, /f/, /x/, /ɣ/ and /q/. Partly because they are written in the Hindi alphabet (devanagari, strictly speaking an alpha-syllabary) as a dot beneath traditionally existing alphabets (ज़, फ़, ख़, ग़, क़ ), and the dot is omitted in casual writing, many Hindi speakers mistake them for the Sanskrit phonemes /dʒ/, /pʰ/, /kʰ/, /ɡ/ and /k/.

The L variety is used in common speech, tv serials and Bollywood movies and songs. The H variety is used in official and government writings, scholarly books and magazines, signboards, public announcements and public speaking.


Leonese language is a minority language in Spain and Portugal, affected by diglossia in both territories. Leonese language has been recognized in the Autonomy Statute of Castile and Leonmarker (Spain) but is not an official language. Leonese minorities in Portugal have no official recognition, and only Mirandese was recognized officially by the Portuguese Parliament in 1999.In the case of the Leonese language, Leonese is used by the minority of people, and Spanish or Portuguese the majority. So Leonese language can be used just at home and between parents and relatives, while at work or in public Leonese regional Spanish is the widely used language.Leonese language was only recognised in 2007, and just 16 schools offer the possibility of learning Leonese language as an out-school activity for children from 10 to 12 years old.


Maltamarker is officially a bilingual country: both Maltese and English are official languages. Maltese is a Semitic language with extensive Italian influence.

Maltese society has been traditionally quite strongly divided, politically, between the working class and middle and upper classes and this is reflected in their language use. Although all Maltese can speak their native language, the extent to which one uses and is able to speak English often reflects one's background. This is most clearly illustrated by the different newspapers in Malta: the liberal/conservative ones are in English (with names like the Times of Malta and Malta Independent) and the more left-leaning ones are in Maltese. Maltese people of a middle- and upper-class background will often speak English or use code-switching extensively in public. There have been warnings from several quarters including a linguistics professor from the University of Malta that the Maltese language could become endangered if the government (currently the right of centre Nationalists) does not do more to promote it, in the same way that English displaced Welsh in Walesmarker .

Before 1934, Italian was the official language of Malta. Those in higher class positions spoke Italian, and were often associated with the Italian irredenta movement, which promoted the unification of Malta with Italy. It was only those of lower class at the time, whose ancestors came from Sicily too long ago for them to still be fluent in Italian, who spoke Maltese. Today, the influence of the Italian language is still very present in Malta. Not only is it used in the professional workplace but also it is key to Malta's media, such as Television, Radio, and publications .


Before the partitions

Polish, with respect to the Upper class of the Polish society within the Kingdom of Poland, most especially landed nobility, was a low language until Jan Kochanowski stopped writing in Latin, the high language of the time, and decided to use his own native Polish as the literary language during the late sixteenth century. Polish, however, was often, but not always, the high language during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in spite of the early Belarusian being the official language.

Between World War One and World War Two

Before World War Two, the Polish Inteligentsia and those trying to emulate them, over-pronounced the words with hard "h" such as " " ("hook" in Polish) to know when to spell a word with "h," and when to spell the soft "h" sound with "ch" as in " " ("bread" in Polish). An example of a person using this method to spell properly is Jerzy Petersburski.


According to some contemporary Brazilianmarker linguists (Bortoni, Kato, Mattos e Silva, Perini and most recently, with great impact, Bagno), Brazilian Portuguese may be a highly diglossic language. This theory claims that there is an L-variant (termed "Brazilian Vernacular"), which would be the mother tongue of all Brazilians, and an H-variant (standard Brazilian Portuguese) acquired through schooling. L-variant represents a simplified form of the language (in terms of grammar, but not of phonetics) that could have evolved from 16th century Portuguese, influenced by other European, Amerindian (mostly Tupian) and African languages, while H-variant would be based on 19th century European Portuguese (and very similar to Standard European Portuguese, with only minor differences in spelling and grammar usage). Mário A. Perini, a Brazilian linguist, even compares the depth of the differences between L- and H- variants of Brazilian Portuguese with those between Standard Spanish and Standard Portuguese. Milton M. Azevedo wrote a chapter on diglossia in his monography: Portuguese language (A linguistic introduction), published by prestigiousCambridge University Press, in 2005, parts of which are available freely on Google books.


Russian, the language spoken in Russia, was the low language from the Middle Ages till the Baroque period while Church Slavonic served for all official purposes.
Examples of Old Church Slavonic influence on Russian
Russian word Slavonic word Russian term
(voice) (vowel)
(milk), (feed) , (mammals)


In Pakistanmarker there is a diglossia between the extremely Persianised / Arabicized Urdu (used by the literary elite such as poets, writers, and Government officials), and a colloquial Urdu that is very similar to colloquial Hindi (spoken by common people, and known as Hindustani among linguists).


Sinhala (also known as Sinhalese), spoken in Sri Lanka, is a diglossic language. There are several differences between the literary language (also known as Literary Sinhala, LS) and the spoken language (Spoken Sinhala, SS), especially about verbs:

  • different personal pronouns:
    • "he, she": LS ; SS (lit. "that one", common);
  • lack of inflection of the verb in SS:
    • "I do", "you (sing.) do": LS , (inflected); SS , (not-inflected, the same form for all persons)
  • lack of future tense in SS, substituted by present tense plus optional temporal adverb:
    • LS "I will go"; SS "tomorrow I will go" (lit. "tomorrow I go");
  • different verbal forms (e.g. present participle in LS versus reduplicated form in SS);
  • different adpositions:
    • "with": LS ; SS
    • "from" (temporal): LS ; SS
    • "before" : LS ; SS ,
  • different vocabulary, e.g.:
    • "to help": LS ; SS
    • "to touch": LS ; SS
    • "to marry": LS ; SS
    • "to study": LS ; SS
    • "to fight": LS ; SS

Literary or written Sinhala is commonly understood, and used in literary texts and formal occasions (public speeches, TV and radio news broadcasts, etc.), whereas the spoken language is used as the language of communication in everyday life. Children are taught the written language at school almost like a foreign language.

Singapore English

Many analysts regard the use of English in Singapore as diglossic, with Singapore Standard English (SStdE) forming the H variety and Singapore Colloquial English (SCE, also known as 'Singlish') constituting the L variety. SStdE is similar to other varieties of Standard English in grammar and lexis but with some of its own features of pronunciation, particularly the use of full vowels (rather than ) in most function words and also the sporadic absence of dental fricatives, while SCE is characterised by a simplified grammar (including the omission of some conjunctions and the copula verb BE) and regular use of pragmatic particles such as lah and ah, as well as frequent inclusion of Hokkien and Malay words.

However, other analysts prefer to see variation in the English spoken in Singapore along a continuum, with the style adopted depending on the education level and circumstances of the conversation. Some proficient speakers who are well-educated have been shown to use mostly SStdE but with lots of pragmatic particles when talking to their friends, and this seems to provide evidence to support the continuum analysis.

It is certainly true that speakers are able to switch quite abruptly, for example as they exit a classroom and start chatting to their friends, so one way or another there are many characteristics of diglossia in spoken Singapore English.


Tagalog is the language spoken in the southern part of Luzonmarker, the northernmost group of islands in the Philippinesmarker. Southern Luzon covers the provinces around the capital Metro Manila, and includes the capital itself. The language spoken by majority of residents of Luzon, Tagalog, is the basis for the country's national language, Filipino, which is basically the standardized form of the Tagalog spoken in Metro Manila.

Tagalogs (ethnic group) originating from provinces outside of Metro Manilamarker speak their own dialect of Tagalog. An example is of the province Batangas, which has its own dialect of Batangueño Tagalog. Speakers of Batangueño Tagalog who go to Manila often suppress their dialect and accent, eventually learning to use the Manila dialect. They would speak their native dialect only when they gather with others of their group. Also, having a regional accent is usually met with amusement, but it is not frowned upon. And although there are some who would maintain their accents, their use is very minimal outside their hometowns and peers.

At the moment, very little is written using any other dialect of Tagalog other than that of Manila.


Tamil is a diglossic language spoken in Tamil Nadumarker, a state in southern India and Northern,Eastern Regions of Sri Lanka. The classic form of the language — called "Senthamizh" - is different from the spoken form known since ancient times as Iyatramizh.

The classic form is preferred for writing, and is also used for public speaking. While the written Tamil language is mostly standard across various Tamil-speaking regions, the spoken form of the language differs widely from the written form. The diglossic form of Tamil has held back its development as a language . Therefore, Perunchitthranar, a Tamil nationalist and others of his ilk, advocated that all Tamils speak only the pure form of the language, i.e., Senthamizh.

Tamil fiction-writers use "Senthamizh" for all descriptive writing and use "Iyatramizh" only to narrate conversations between the characters in their works. There have been exceptions to this rule. Noted novelist Kalki Krishnamurthy once dismissed "Senthamizh" as "Kodunthamizh" (tortured Tamil) although his novels are written almost entirely in Senthamizh, both description and conversation. Even though all Tamils—no matter how educated they are—always converse in colloquial Tamil, Tamil novels used to depict educated people speaking in the classic form. Several decades ago, most Tamil movies had characters who spoke in classical Tamil.

Regional and caste differences can be distinctly heard in spoken Tamil. Tamil in the state capital Chennai (formerly Madrasmarker) is somewhat distinct from that spoken elsewhere. Due to its proximity to Andhra Pradeshmarker, Chennai Tamil has more Telugu loan words than the Tamil spoken in southern Tamil Nadu. Chennai Iyatramizh also often has more words of Urdu (or Deccani) than do varieties of Tamil from elsewhere in the state.

Throughout Tamil Nadu, there are several varieties of spoken Tamil. Tamil Brahmins speak a sort of "brahmin Tamil". The largely agrarian middle castes converse in their own dialect of Iyatramizh; this is the 'standard' spoken Tamil of today's Tamil movies and fiction. Similarly, the Scheduled Castes speak forms of Iyatramizh with clear grammatical differences from the varieties of other castes.

However, regional differences are more interesting to note. The Tamil dialects spoken by people in Northern districts of Tamil Nadu like Arcot, Chennai and Southern districts like Tirunelveli and Madurai are somewhat different from each other. Like in other parts of the world, the dialectical differences between various regions are vanishing due to the influence of mass communications. So apparently are the differences between the speech patterns of the various caste groupings in Tamil Nadu. It is important to note that all forms of spoken Tamil have always been mutually intelligible. Also see Tamil for dialectical variations in Iyatramizh


Kannada along with Sinhalese and Tamil communities is diglossic. Translated into the school or the classroom situation, by 'being diglossic' is meant that these communities have accepted norms of linguistic excellence, the teaching of which is the purpose of the language teaching curriculum in the school. This normative variety of language is the one that people are expected to write. It is distinct from the various spoken dialects in grammar, lexis and phonology in spite of the shared features which make them mutually comprehensible to some extent. Similar situations are known in almost all language teaching activities everywhere, but, the linguistic values associated with diglossia are different from the overtones of 'good usage' that all teachers of all languages attempt to inculcate in the learners [44796]


Using the Matched-Guise Test, Laada Bilaniuk (University of Michigan) administered surveys to 2,000 participants in Ukraine. In her article "Diglossia in Flux: Language and Ethnicity in Ukraine", Bilaniuk reports that until now, Russian has been the High language and Ukrainian the Low language. However, her data shows that diglossia in Ukrainemarker is shifting.

Now, both standard Russian and standard Ukrainian are considered the High languages, and the Low category is filled with all non-standard dialects of the High languages.

See also



  • Diglossia in flux: language and ethnicity in Ukraine. Texas Linguistic Forum (1993) 33:79-88.
Yavorska Galyna M. Prescriptyvna lingvistyka yak dyskurs: Mova, kultura, vlada (Prescriptive linguistics as a discourse: Language. Culture. Power). Kyiv, VIPOL, 2000. - 288 p.Yavorska G. Do problemy naivnoyi linguistyky (On the problem of folk linguistics). - Lingvistychni studii. Cherkassy, 1999, # 3. - 13-20.Yavorska G. Dejaki osoblyvosti movnykh kontaktiv blyz'kosporidnenykh mov (do kharakterystyky ukrain's'koho puryzmu) (On contacts of closely related languages: some features of Ukrainian purism). In memoria of K. Trofymovych. L'viv, Litopys, 1998.

Other sources for reference (by Bilaniuk)

  • The Languages of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution. REECAS Newsletter, Russian, East European & Central Asian Studies, Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington (Spring).
  • A typology of surzhyk: mixed Ukrainian-Russian language. International Journal of Bilingualism 8(4):409-425.
  • Gender, language attitudes, and language status in Ukraine. Language in Society. 32:47-78.
  • Pidsvidome stavlennia do mov: zerkalo movnoï polityky. (Subconscious language attitudes: a mirror of language politics.) Urok Ukraïnskoï (Ukrainian journal for educators and language planners). Kyiv. 7:5-8. [Based on 1998 "Purity & power" data.]
  • Kartyna movnoho svitohliadu v Ukraïni. (Linguistic ideology in Ukraine). Movoznavstvo (major Ukrainian linguistics journal). 4/5:44-51. [Based on 1997 "Matching guises" data.]
  • Movna krytyka i samovpevnenist': ideolohichni vplyvy na status mov v Ukraïni. [Linguistic criticism and self-confidence: ideological influences on language status in Ukraine]. Derzhavnist' ukraïns'koï movy i movnyi dosvid svitu: materialy mizhnarodnoï konferentsiï. *Kyiv: National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. Pp. 131–138.
  • Speaking of surzhyk: ideologies and mixed languages. Harvard Ukrainian Studies. 21(1/2):93-117.
  • Purity and power: the geography of language ideology in Ukraine. Michigan Discussions in Anthropology 13:165-189.
  • Matching guises and mapping language ideologies in Ukraine. Texas Linguistic Forum 37:298-310.


  1. Martin, Peter W. (1996). 'Brunei Malay and Bahasa Melayu: A sociolinguistic perspective'. In Peter W. Martin, Conrad Ozog and Gloria Poedjosoedarmo (Eds.) Language Use and Language Change in Brunei Darussalam, Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Center for International Studies, pp. 27-36.
  2. Poedjosoedarmo, Gloria R. and Hjh Rosnah Hj Ramly. (1996). 'Some notes on Brunei Malay syntax'. In Peter W. Martin, Conrad Ozog and Gloria Poedjosoedarmo (Eds.) Language Use and Language Change in Brunei Darussalam, Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Center for International Studies, pp. 60-72.
  3. Martin, Peter W. and Poedjosoedarmo, Gloria R. (1996). 'An overview of the language situation in Brunei Darussalam', similar to the figure for Spanish and Portuguese. In Peter W. Martin, Conrad Ozog and Gloria Poedjosoedarmo (Eds.) Language Use and Language Change in Brunei Darussalam, Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Center for International Studies, pp. 1-23.
  4. Poedjosoedarmo, Gloria R. (1996). 'Variation and change in the sound systems of Brunei dialects of Malay'. In Peter W. Martin, Conrad Ozog and Gloria Poedjosoedarmo (Eds.) Language Use and Language Change in Brunei Darussalam, Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Center for International Studies, pp. 37-42.
  5. Jones, Gary M. (2007) 'Twenty years of bilingual education: Then and now'. In David Prescott (Ed.) English in Southeast Asia: Varieties, Literacies and Literatures, Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 246-258.
  6. Fatimah Awg Chuchu (1996). 'The Palace Language of Brunei'. In Peter W. Martin, Conrad Ozog and Gloria Poedjosoedarmo (Eds.) Language Use and Language Change in Brunei Darussalam, Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Center for International Studies, pp. 89-104.
  8. Pardo, Abel: "El Llïonés y las TICs". In Mikroglottika. Pag. 113. Frankfurt am Main. Peter Lang.
  9. Country profile: Malta BBC News; [2008/01/10]; [2008/02/21]
  10. Gupta, Anthea Fraser (1992) 'Contact features of Singapore Colloquial English'. In Kingsley Bolton and Helen Kwok (Eds.), Sociolinguistics Today: International Perspectives, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 323-345.
  11. Low Ee Ling and Adam Brown (2005) Singapore English: An Introduction. Singapore: McGraw-Hill, pp. 161, 133.
  12. Gupta, Anthea Fraser (1994) The Step-Tongue: Children's English in Singapore. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters, pp. 10-11.
  13. Pakir, Anne (1991) 'The range and depth of English-knowing bilinguals in Singapore', World Englishes, 10(2), 167–179.
  14. Deterding, David (2007) Singapore English. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
  15. Deterding, David (1998) 'Approaches to Diglossia in the Classroom: The Middle Way'. REACT, 2, 18-23. (on-line version)

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