The thwarting of the linguistic subordination norm: Whom does it serve?

Hornsby, Michael

Southampton University, United Kingdom


The thwarting of the linguistic subordination norm: Whom does it serve?

The principle of linguistic subordination, in which language varieties associated with socially subordinate groups are viewed as linguistic deficits rather than neutral linguistic differences (Lippi-Green 1997), gives rise to the so called ‘linguistic subordination norm’. In many situations of linguistic minoritisation, the speaker of the minority language is required to switch to the majority language when conversing with, or speaking in front of, a speaker of the majority language. Such behaviour finds its basis in ideologies of national identity, linguistic standardization and the legitimacy of monolingualism.

In some situations, however, this subordination norm is thwarted by militant members of the linguistic minority in question and new rules of interaction have to be negotiated as a result. Such behaviour, I would argue, is concerned less with the claiming back of the minority’s linguistic rights but more with the direct mirroring of the language ideologies of the majority community. As a consequence, most minority language rights movements are framed by hegemonic nationalist constructions that inhibit alternative, more permissive visions. Such behaviour is exemplified in one situation of linguistic minoritisation, that of Breton, where some revivalist (or ‘neo’) speakers insist on and militate for an idealised form of Breton monolingualism in their daily lives, to compensate for the overwhelmingly Francophone environment they inhabit. In this paper, such linguistic behaviour is documented, critically analysed and contrasted with alternative behaviour by other néo-bretonnants who, like Franco-Ontarians, ‘act out their bilingual experience of life, their bilingual identities and the value they place on bilingualism by performing bilingualism’ (Heller, 1999: 139). Material is drawn not only from the literature (e.g. Morvan, 2002) but also from fieldwork I undertook in Brittany among adult learners of Breton over the past few years.


Heller, Monica (1999). Alternative ideologies of la francophonie. Journal of Sociolinguistics 3(3), pp. 336-359.

Lippi-Green, Rosina (1997). English with an accent: Language. Ideology, and discrimination in the United States. London & New York: Routledge.

Morvan, Françoise (2002). Le Monde comme si. Nationalisme et dérive identitaire en Bretagne. Arles: Actes Sud.

Session: Paper session
Planning/policy 8 (Ideology)
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 09:00-10:30
room: 14