Non-dominant varieties – Definition

How can “non-dominant” varieties of pluricentric languages be defined?

The  term was coined by Michael Clyne (1992:459) in the epilogue to the anthology “Pluricentric Languages. Differing Norms in Different Nations” using the terms “dominant” and “other” varieties. In the meantime the term “other” has been changed to “non-dominant”.

An extensive list of pluricentric languages and their non-dominant varieties can be found HERE

A short definition can be the following: Non-dominant is any national variety that

  • is not the variety of the country of origin of a language (Great Britain, France, The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Russia etc.)
  • is not the variety of one of the countries with the most speakers and the the most economic, cultural and military power (e.g. not the US, Britain, Germany, France etc.)
  • itself is not a primary norm-setting centre but often strongly orientated on exogenous norms of the dominant variety and often without or little codification of the endogenous norms

A detailed definition can be found in Muhr (2012) which is based on observations collected by Clyne (1992), Muhr / Delcourt (2000) and Muhr (2003), (2005) and summarises them.

  1. General features of non-dominant varieties / nations:
    1. Have a small number of speakers (compared to the dominant nations).
    2. Are varieties in nations other than the country of origin of the language (“historical heartland”) and therefore cannot claim historical rights.
    3. Are varieties that were set up during colonial expansion and / or the split of nations of contiguous language areas.
    4. Have little political, economic and linguistic power and therefore low status.
    5. Have to legitimize their norms and to cope with insinuations that their norm is “dialectal” or “provincial” and motivated by “nationalism”.
    6. Have little or no impact on the general norm of the language.
    7. Are minor full-centres, half-centres or rudimentary centres.
    8. Have insufficient or no codification of their national norms and no codifying institutions or such that are not sufficiently equipped.
    9. They often show “linguistic schizophrenia”: The proper national norm is heavily practiced but officially depreciated – the official norm is rarely practiced but officially highly appreciated. This language behaviour results in uncertainty by the speakers of NDVs about their linguistic competence and in shame and guilt of not being able to master the official norm properly. 1
    10. Have a strong tendency to orientate their codification on exonormative linguistic rules and by that exclude many generic features of their proper variety.
    11. Have a tendency to devaluate the status of their proper norms by marking them as “colloquial”, “regional” or “dialectal”.
    12. Are scarcely present in the global electronic and print media and not available to a large audience and therefore not gaining status through global presence as it is the case with the dominant varieties.
    13. Do not spread / export their norms and have no institutions for spreading the language.
    14. Are usually not represented in international institutions (EU, UNO, UNESCO) as official language.
  2. Attitudes/ Believes of ND-varieties / nations:
    1. Uncertainty / uneasiness: Norm-Confusion – Lack of knowledge
      1. There is strong uncertainty about the correctness of the proper standard norm and in case of doubt give preference to the dominant norm.
      2. There is an extremely limited and very often undifferentiated knowledge of the norms of the proper national variety that is mostly restricted to shibboleths. This can be explained by the fact that they are not made aware of in school.
      3. There is considerable uncertainty in distinguishing “local” and “national” standards and a tendency to ignore pan-regional similarities of their proper variety and instead to accentuate the regional differences.
      4. There is general uncertainty when it comes to the question, what standards are to be taught in schools or in what way one should treat the norms of the dominant variety.
      5. There is a tendency of self-devaluation of nd-native norms as “dialectal” by their own speakers which contributes to the vicious circle of self-devaluation.
    2. Missing language loyalty (esp. of the elites)
      1. Reluctance of the elites of the NDVs to solidarise with the national norms as they are often considered a symbol of low social status (dialectally marked).
      2. The cultural elites in the ND nations tend to succumb to norms from the D nation(s). (Linguistic cringe: Clyne 1992)
      3. Convergence is generally in the direction of D varieties when speakers of different national varieties communicate. (Norm subservience).
      4. This kind of behavior will be particularly strong in hierarchical societies where social advancement is not primarily achieved by personal merit but rather by obeying to set norms and expectations.
    3. Reluctance to do language planning, status planning and codification
      1. There is usually reluctance to codify the native norms, this is due to the anxiety of the cultural elites of creating a new language which would sever the link to the DV and by that reduce their linguistic market value.
      2. The effect of codification is often minimized by codifying only those features of the NDVs that are compliant to the existing norms of written language.
      3. The adaptation of native expressions to the phonological and morphological norms of the written language and by that defacing its intelligibility and blurring its origin.
      4. There is a tendency to ignore linguistic innovations in the NDV as they might lead to language separation.

Clyne, Michael (ed.) (1992): Pluricentric Languages. Differing Norms in Different Countries. Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Delcourt, Christian / Muhr Rudolf (2001): Les Langue Pluricentriques. Varietés nationales des langues européennes à lintérieur et à l’extérieur de l’espace européen. Numbero thematique 79/2001 de Revue Belge de Philologie et Histoire. Fasc. 3: Langues et Litteratures Modernes. 420 p.

Muhr, Rudolf (2012): Linguistic dominance and non-dominance in pluricentric languages: A typology. In: Rudolf Muhr (ed.) (2012): Non-dominant Varieties of pluricentric Languages. Getting the Picture. In memory of Michael Clyne. Wien et. al., Peter Lang Verlag. p. 23-48.