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1 - Defining the object of study

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 September 2012

Zsuzsanna Fagyal
Affiliation:
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Douglas Kibbee
Affiliation:
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Frederic Jenkins
Affiliation:
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
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Summary

French is plural

What ‘French’ means seems intuitive: French is the language that French people learn in their childhood and that non-French people can acquire from them when learning French as a second language. A more specific definition going beyond this practical description and suitable for the purposes of this introduction to the structural properties of ‘French’, however, ends up either too restrictive or outright circular.

If, for instance, we stick to a geographic approach to ‘the French language’ by saying that it is the language spoken in France, we obviously leave out places like Belgium, Canada, Louisiana, and Switzerland, all of which have substantial French-speaking populations, as well as many other languages spoken within French borders. A definition based on speakers' social characteristics would not score any better. The educated elite in Montreal speak a different type of French than do educated people in Paris, and the same is presumably true for farmers in France, Nova Scotia, Switzerland, and other francophone countries and regions in the world. If one would try to pin down what unites varieties of French by simultaneously looking into social and dialectal differences, then the French spoken by diplomats at the United Nations and by a sizeable population of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa would fall out of our categories as well, since these varieties neither represent a single dialect, nor a single social group or community of practice.

Type
Chapter
Information
French
A Linguistic Introduction
, pp. 1 - 16
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2006

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