Stages of pluricentricity

The following list is taken from Muhr (2016): The state of the art of research on pluricentric languages: Where we were and where we are now. In: Rudolf Muhr, Kelen Ernesta Fonyuy, Zeinab Ibrahim, Corey Miller (eds.) (2016): Pluricentric Languages and non-dominant Varieties worldwide. Volume 1: Pluricentric Languages across continents – Features and usage. Wien et. al., Peter Lang Verlag. p. 9-32.

Levels of Development

Pluricentric languages can be on different levels of development, as the following list shows:

  1. Type 1: Nationless pluricentricity

    Languages with varieties that have no terri­tory of their own and no official recognition but can still be considered as plu­ricentric as there is strong ethno-linguistic awareness (Fishman 1996) that replaces the connection to political entities and keeps the langauge community intact: West Armenian, Kurdish[1] and Yiddish.

  2. Type 2: Formal pluricentricity

    Only criterion (1) – occurrence of the PCL in at least two countries – is met. There is formal recognition of the status as a PCL or not. In all cases there is no language planning (codification, promotion) in favour of the NVs. Varieties belonging to this category are: Albanian in Kosovo, Basque in France, Croatian and Serbian in Bosnia-Herzegovina, French in Italy, Italian in Switzerland, Irish in Northern Ireland, Punjabi.

  3. Type 3: PCLs with varieties lacking the appropriate formal status and waiting for recog­nition

    Criteria 1, 2b and 3 are fulfilled but not 2a, and there is a large number of speakers. Cases for this type are Hungarian in Slovakia, Romania and Serbia, Russian in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia. In the case of Hungarian, it is recog­nised as a minority language in all neighbouring countries, even though it is rather a regional language by its concentration in certain regions. The non-recognition of Russian in Baltic countries where up to 40% of the population of these countries are speakers of this language is incomprehensible, as the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages totally requires a dif­ferent treatment.

  4. Type 4: Languages where the status of pluricentricity is denied by the dominant vari­ety or by the language as a whole.

    Languages that fall into this category show a high degree of centralisation and a strong reluctance to accept the plurality of norms. Sometimes there is formal recognition of pluricentricity by the dominant variety but at the same time, there are manoeuvres that attempt to downgrade non-dominant varieties to the level of regional dialects.[2] Lan­guages that belong to this group are: Arabic, Albanian, French, Greek[3], Hungar­ian,[4] Italian[5]; Punjabi/Lahnda, Romanian, Russian and Serbian.

  5. Type 5: Languages where the status of pluricentricity is acknowledged by the “domi­nant/mother”-variety, where the linguistic characteristics are codified includ­ing the minor varieties to some degree in dictionaries and reference books.

    This is the case with Basque, Bengali, Catalan, Chinese, Dutch, English, German, Hindi, Urdu, Irish, Korean, Malayan, Portuguese, Quechua, Spanish, Swedish, Tamil, Tamazight/Berber.

  6. Type 6: Languages where the pluricentricity is deliberately practised by model speak­ers of the respective NV.

    This is the case in many varieties of English, Dutch, German, Spanish, Swedish, and Portuguese. However, it usually takes a longer period of time until some amount of nativisation (stage three of Schneiders 2003/2007 model) has been reached and the endemic features of the NDV are accepted.

  7. Type 7: PCLs where the NVs (a) are taught in schools and (b) the linguistic differences are made aware of:

    The NVs are taught in schools in all PCLs, but varia­tion existing between NVs of pluricentric languages is usually ignored, not made aware and a concept of a monolingual written standard language up­held. In respect to making NVs aware, there is one exception: Austrian Ger­man (AG). The Austrian Ministry of Education has published a brochure in 2015 that is meant to raise awareness for AG – unfortunately a wayward at­tempt because of its submissive stance towards the dominant variety, its shortcomings in the presented pluricentric theory and its inadequate peda­gogical quality.[6]

  8. Type 8: PCLs that act as a “dachsprache” (roof language) for (a) many so- called “mother tongues” and (b) as a PCL towards the other standard varieties.

    This cate­gory applies to Hindi (Gosh, 2012) where, for language political reasons, no less than 50 often even mutually incomprehensible languages  are considered to belong to Hindi, making Hindi a PCL towards these languages. Hindi is also in a pluricentric relation towards Urdu (Rahman, 2016), which is linguisti­cally close and is the national language of Pakistan but also has a large num­ber of speakers in India. A similar case is “Chinese” which can also be seen as a dachsprache (Tien, 2016, Clyne/Kipp, 1999) as it is pluricentric in respect to numerous mutually unintelligible fangyan varieties (Cantonese, Hok­kien, Mandarin, etc.) and by Mandarin, the standard variety, that is pluricen­tric in respect to the different Chinese-speaking countries. These cases show that the term “language” is a term that is primarily determined by social and political assumptions and not by sole linguistic facts.

  9. Type 9: Nativized pluricentricity

    Traditional PCLs (like English, French, Spanish, Portuguese[7]) can have a similar function as dachsprache in multilingual socie­ties in Africa, Asia and in the Americas as the contacts among them and a myriad of indigenous languages may lead to numerous mixed varie­ties that are overarched by the PCL by becoming heavily nativised. An exam­ple for this is the case of Cameroon (Fonyuy 2015, 2016) where nativisation of French and English lead to varieties like Cameroon English, Cameroon French, Cameroon Pidgin English, Camfranglais and regional mixtures with indigenous languages. It is hard to know whether these varieties can still be considered as “French” / “English” etc. or are already languages in their own right. More or less the same applies to the multilingual situation in New Caledonia (Bis­soonauth, 2015) with French, English and indigenous languages mixing to­gether or to Morocco (Marley, 2012) where Arabic, Berber and French are producing new varieties.

  10. Type 10: Migrant pluricentricity – PCLs in a migrant context

    This category refers to varieties of PCLs that were created through emigration into foreign coun­tries. The development of distinct migrant varieties (MV) of PCLs depends on the migration of a large number of speakers into a relatively coherent and limited area of a receiving country. As the migrants come from different areas of the homeland the MVs show blending of native varieties and nativi­sation from the second generation onwards that makes the MV “to build itself away” from the “mother” varieties. The introduction of this category seems necessary as migration is ever increasing and recent research (Molnár/Huber, 2013; Scetti, 2016) shows that this aspect of pluricentricity needs attention.

[1] Kurdish is recognised in Iraq as second national language but has no status in Turkey, Iran and Syria where most speakers live.

[2] German belonged to this type of language until the mid 1980s. It is to Michael Clyne’s merit due to his publications in 1984 and 1995 that a broad discussion about the pluricentricity of German was started. However at the moment we can see repeated attempts by German scholars to downgrade Austrian German to a regional variety and to deny the status of a national variety by pretending that German is not a “pluricentric” but a “pluriareal” language. See

[3] See Karyolemou (2012).

[4] See the papers of Sebök (2016) and Kozmacs/Vanco (2016) in this volume.

[5] See Hajek (2012).

[6] For a critique see (in German); The brochure can be found here:

[7] See among others Ashby (2012), Fonyuy (2016).


Karyolemou, Marilena (2012): Cypriot Greek as a non-dominant variety of Greek. In: Muhr, Rudolf et. al. (ed.) (2012): p. 435-452.

Sebők, Szilárd (2016): Language cultivation vs. pluricentricity: the debate on Hungarian language use out-side of Hungary. In: Muhr, Rudolf et. al. (2016): Vol. 1: p. 339-316.

Hajek, John (2012): (Non-)dominant varieties of a (non-) pluricentric language? Italian in Italy and Switzerland. In: Muhr, Rudolf et. al. (ed.) (2012): p. 155-167.

Ashby, Simone (2012): Co-producers of this means of expression’: Evidence from Mozambique in support of the study of indigenizing languages. In: Rudolf Muhr et. al. (ed.) (2012): p. 415-434.

Fonyuy, Kelen Ernesta (2016): French and English in Cameroon: Pluricentricity in the context of multilingualism and nativisation. In: Muhr, Rudolf et. al. eds. (2016): Vol. 1, p. 53-68.