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Orthography and the Sociolinguistics of Writing  

Mirka Honkanen

Orthography is not a neutral tool for representing language in writing. Spelling is a linguistic variable capable of carrying social meaning, and orthographies are technologies embedded in larger societal structures. Spelling plays a role in the construction of national and other social identities, the delimitation of languages, the authentication and stigmatization of speaker groups, standardization, and the written representation of paralinguistic features. In these and further ways, orthography is a topic of high sociolinguistic relevance. After written language had long received less sociolinguistic attention than speech, there is now a growing body of sociolinguistic research into spelling variation and orthography as a socioculturally situated practice. Sociolinguists investigate the social role of orthographies and spelling choices. When orthographies are developed for previously unwritten languages, decisions have to be made not only regarding phonemic representation but also between creating distance from and closeness to related languages. Orthography becomes a highly debated topic also when spelling reforms are proposed; different ideological, aesthetic, financial, educational, and sociopolitical arguments are typically brought forth. Standardized spellings are seen by language users as granting languages and speakers authority. When non-standardized spellings are used in transcripts of speech, they have been shown to assign sociolinguistic stigma to the speakers represented. Non-standardized spellings are used in different less than fully regulated orthographic spaces, such as digital writing, company and personal names, literary texts, subcultural publications, advertising, and private writing. Sociolinguistic studies on spelling often rely on data from digital communication such as text messaging or social media interactions. Such studies not only describe and classify different kinds of non-standardized spellings but also increasingly establish quantitative tendencies, explore correlations with macro-level sociodemographic factors, and show the potential for respelling to construct identities, personae, and meaning at the micro level of the utterance. Spelling can index identities and stances, act as a contextualization cue, and represent prosodic and dialectal features.


Writing Systems in Modern West Germanic  

Martin Evertz-Rittich

The writing systems of the modern West Germanic languages have many features in common: They are all written using the Modern Roman Alphabet and exhibit a certain depth, that is, in addition to the pure grapheme–phoneme correspondences, prosodic, morphological, and syntactic information that is systematically encoded in their writing systems. A notable exception is the writing system of Yiddish, which is not only written with an alphabet evolved from the Hebrew script but is also almost completely transparent. Except for Yiddish, all writing systems of modern West Germanic languages use graphematic syllable and foot structures to encode suprasegmental properties such as vowel quantity. Paradigmatic relations are represented by morphological spellings (especially stem and affix constancy). Syntagmatic relations are expressed, for example, in compound spelling, which adheres to the same principles in all writing systems under discussion. The writing systems of modern West Germanic languages have been studied by grapholinguists in varying depth. While German is probably the best researched writing system in the world, some writing systems, such as Luxembourgish, await thorough grapholinguistic investigation.



Eva Skafte Jensen

Danish is a North Germanic language, spoken by approximately 6 million people. Genealogically, it is related to the other Germanic languages, in particular the other North Germanic languages (Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic, Faroese), but also, for example, German, Dutch, and English; typologically, Modern Danish is closer to Norwegian and Swedish than to any other language. Historically deriving from Proto-Germanic, Danish morphology once had three grammatical genders (the masculine, the feminine, and the neuter) and case inflection (nominative, accusative, dative, and genitive) in all nominal words; it also had inflection for mood, tense, number, and person in the verbal conjugations. In Modern Standard Danish, much of the traditional nominal and verbal inflection has disappeared. Instead, other kinds of morphosyntactic constructions and structures have emerged. Middle Danish and Modern Danish are typologically very different languages. One of the structural innovations linked to the typological change is that a syntactic subject becomes obligatory in Danish sentences. Correlated to this, Danish develops expletive constructions with det ‘it’ and der ‘there’. Another important point differentiating Middle Danish from Modern Danish concerns agreement. Traditional Indo-European agreement (verbal as well as nominal) has receded in favor of more fixed word order, both on the sentence level and internally within phrases. As part of this, Modern Danish has developed a set of definite and indefinite articles. The traditional three genders are reduced to two (common and neuter) and have developed new syntactic-semantic functions alongside the traditional lexically distributed functions. In the verbal systems, Danish makes use of two different kinds of passive voice (a periphrastic and an inflected one), which carry different meanings, and also of two different auxiliaries in perfective constructions, that is, have ‘have’ and være ‘be’, the latter doubling as an auxiliary in periphrastic passive constructions. Perfective constructions are made up by an auxiliary and the supine form of the main verb. Danish is a V2-language with a relatively fixed word order, often depicted in the form of the so-called sentence frame, a topological model designed specifically for Danish. Like most other Germanic languages, Danish has a rich set of modal particles. All these morphosyntactic features, Danish shares with Swedish and Norwegian, but the distribution is not completely identical in the three languages, something that makes the Mainland Scandinavian languages an interesting study object to the typologically interested linguist. Exclusive for Danish is the so-called stød, a suprasegmental prosodic feature, used as a distinctive feature. Modern Danish is strongly standardized with only little of the traditional dialectal variation left. From the end of the 20th century, in the larger cities, new sociolects have emerged, that is, multi-ethnolects. The new multi-ethnolects are based on a substrate of Danish with lexical features from the languages of Central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. In addition to the lexical innovations, the multi-ethnolects are characteristic in intonation patterns different from Standard Danish, and they have morphosyntactic features different from Standard Danish, for example, in word order and in the use of gender.


(High) German  

Simon Pickl

(High) German is both a group of closely related West Germanic varieties and a standardized language derived from this group that comprises a wide range of dialects and colloquial varieties in addition to its standardized form. The two terms have related, and to an extent overlapping, but distinct meanings: German refers to a Standard Average European language spoken predominantly in Central Europe by some 96 million speakers and by minority speech communities around the globe. High German has a double meaning: On the one hand, it is another term for Standard German. On the other hand, it refers to the High German linguistic group within West Germanic, the linguistic basis for the German language. As such, it is defined by the High German consonant shift, a sound change that affected Germanic obstruents and set it apart from its immediate neighbors within (West) Germanic, that is, Low German and Low Franconian. The High German consonant shift around the 7th century, together with the onset of written transmission in the 8th century, marks the beginning of the history of (High) German. Traditional dialects perpetuate patterns of areal variation that arose in the wake of this sound change. Standard German developed out of High German written varieties, especially based on East Central German, through processes of leveling, koineization, metalinguistic reasoning, and codification. During that process, the emergent supra-regional norm superseded Low German in northern Germany and Upper German regional norms in the south, as well as influencing spoken registers, but (Standard) German remains a pluricentric and pluriareal language. Today, colloquial, regional varieties that combine features of Standard German and traditional dialects dominate oral language use, and in social media the written language, too, is developing new colloquial forms that build on standard orthography as well as on regional, informal forms of spoken language usage.


Early Modern Views on Language and Languages (ca. 1450–1800)  

Toon Van Hal

The Early Modern interest taken in language was intense and versatile. In this period, language education gradually no longer centered solely on Latin. The linguistic scope widened considerably, partly as a result of scholarly curiosity, although religious and missionary zeal, commercial considerations, and political motives were also of decisive significance. Statesmen discovered the political power of standardized vernaculars in the typically Early Modern process of state formation. The widening of the linguistic horizon was, first and foremost, reflected in a steadily increasing production of grammars and dictionaries, along with pocket textbooks, conversational manuals, and spelling treatises. One strategy of coping with the stunning linguistic diversity consisted of first collecting data on as many languages as possible and then tracing elements that were common to all or to certain groups of languages. Language comparison was not limited to historical and genealogical endeavors, as scholars started also to compare a number of languages in terms of their alleged vices and qualities. Another way of dealing with the flood of linguistic data consisted of focusing on what the different languages had in common, which led to the development of general grammars, of which the 17th-century Port-Royal grammar is the most well-known. During the Enlightenment, the nature of language and its cognitive merits or vices became also a central theme in philosophical debates in which major thinkers were actively engaged.


Southern Gallo-Romance: Occitan and Gascon  

Andres M. Kristol

Occitan, a language of high medieval literary culture, historically occupies the southern third of France. Today it is dialectalized and highly endangered, like all the regional languages of France. Its main linguistic regions are Languedocien, Provençal, Limousin, Auvergnat, Vivaro-dauphinois (Alpine Provençal) and, linguistically on the fringes of the domain, Gascon. Despite its dialectalization, its typological unity and the profound difference that separates it from Northern Galloroman (Oïl dialects, Francoprovençal) and Gallo-Italian remain clearly perceptible. Its history is characterised by several ruptures (the Crusade against the Albigensians, the French Revolution) and several attempts at "rebirth" (the Baroque period, the Felibrige movement in the second half of the 19th century, the Occitanist movement of the 20th century). Towards the end of the Middle Ages, the Occitan koinè, a literary and administrative language integrating the main dialectal characteristics of all regions, was lost and replaced by makeshift regional spellings based on the French spelling. The modern Occitanist orthography tries to overcome these divisions by coming as close as possible to the medieval, "classical" written tradition, while respecting the main regional characteristics. Being a bridge language between northern Galloroman (Oïl varieties and Francoprovençal), Italy and Iberoromania, Occitan is a relatively conservative language in terms of its phonetic evolution from the popular spoken Latin of western Romania, its morphology and syntax (absence of subject clitics in the verbal system, conservation of a fully functional simple past tense). Only Gascon, which was already considered a specific language in the Middle Ages, presents particular structures that make it unique among Romance languages (development of a system of enunciative particles).


South-Eastern Gallo-Romance: Francoprovençal  

Andres M. Kristol

Francoprovençal is on UNESCO’s red list of the world’s most endangered languages. It is in danger of disappearing within one to two generations. Historically spoken in a large region of south-eastern France, northern Italy and French-speaking Switzerland, and lacking political unity, it is not ‘a’ language, but a set of dialects with common characteristics. Lacking any standardisation, its dialects show many of the evolutionary possibilities of Western Romance languages. Long regarded as a late separation from the Oïl area, it was traditionally described as a conservative Gallo-Romance language, rejecting Oïl innovations from about the eighth century onwards. More recent research has shown that its earliest linguistic features date back to the very beginning of the linguistic fragmentation of Galloromania (6th century at the latest); it is therefore just as ‘old’ as the other Gallo-romance languages. It thus has its own characteristic mixture of conservative and innovative phenomena among the Gallo-romance languages.