What is a non-dominant variety?

The term “non-dominant variety” was introduced by M. Clyne (1992:459). However, Clyne used the terms “dominant” and “other” varieties. The WGNDV decided in 2012 to replace the term “other varieties” by “non-dominant” in order to have a coherent pair of terms.

The terms are based on criteria set up by Clyne (1992: 455):

The question of “pluricentricity” concerns the relationship between language and identity on the one hand, and language and power on the other. Almost invariably, pluricentricity is asymmetrical, i.e., the norms of one national variety (or some national varieties) is (are) afforded a higher status, internally and externally, than those of the others.

– Clyne (1992: 455)

The following list is an extension of Clyne’s original observations of 1992. It is supplemented by observations collected by Muhr / Delcourt (2001) and summed up in Muhr (2012) and Muhr (2016).

Non-dominant varieties of pluricentric languages are marked by one or several of the following features:

General features of non-dominant varieties/nations

  1. Have a small number of speakers (compared to the dominant nations).
  2. Are varieties of 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 reduced 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 to achieve substantial results.
  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.
  10. Have a strong tendency to orientate their codification on exonormative linguistic rules and by that to exclude many generic features of the 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 are 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.

Attitudes/Beliefs of ND-varieties/-nations:
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 preference is given 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 of which standards are to be taught in schools, or in what way one should treat the norms of the dominant variety.
  5. Have a tendency of self-devaluation of native norms as ‘dialectal’ by their own speakers, which contributes to the vicious circle of self-devaluation and the feeling of inferiority.

Missing language loyalty (esp. of the elites)

  1. Reluctance of the elites of the NDVs to identify 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 behaviour 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.

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 thereby reduce their linguistic market value.
  2. The effect of codification is often minimized by codifying only those features of the NDVs that comply 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 reducing 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 (1992) (ed.): Pluricentric Languages: Differing Norms in Different Nations. Berlin et. al.: Mouton de Gruyter.

Muhr, Rudolf (2012): Linguistic dominance and non-dominance in pluricentric languages. A typology. In: Rudolf Muhr et. al. (ed.) (2012): p. 415-434.

Delcourt, Christian / Muhr, Rudolf (Hrsg.) (2001): Les Langues Pluricentriques. Variétés nationales des langues europénnes à l’intérieur et à l’exterieur de L’espace européen. Fascicle 79/2001 von Revue Belge de Philologie et Histoire. 420 S. (Sammelband zu den purizentrischen Sprachen Deutsch, Englisch, Französisch, Niederländisch, Portugiesisch innerhalb und außerhalb Europas).

Muhr, Rudolf (2015): Manufacturing linguistic dominance in pluricentric lan­guages and beyond. In: Muhr, Rudolf/ Marley, Dawn et. al. (eds.) (2015): p. 11-44.

Muhr, Rudolf/ Marley, Dawn in collaboration with Anu Bissoonauth and Heinz L. Kretzenbacher (eds.) (2015): Pluricentric Languages. New Perspectives in Theory and Description. Wien et. al., Peter Lang Verlag.