What is a pluricentric language?

“A pluricentric language is a language that is used in at least two nations where it has an official status as state language, co-state language, or re­gional language with its own (codified) norms that usually contribute to the national/personal identity, making the nation a norm-setting centre by the deliberate use of the norms native to this specific nation.”

– Muhr, 2016: 16

Criteria for Pluricentricity

At least one of the following six criteria must be met to constitute a pluricentric language. Full pluricentricity is achieved if all criteria are fulfilled. However, if criteria (1) is fulfilled, this constitutes formal pluricentricity. Most pluricentric languages only fulfill some criteria, as their pluricentricity is still developing.

The following list is based on Clyne (1992: 1), Muhr (2012: 30) and Muhr (2016: 16).

  1. Occurrence:

    A certain language occurs in at least two nations that function as “interacting centres”. The national varieties function as norm-setting centres.

  2. Official Status or strong ethnolinguistic awareness:

    (2.1) The language has an official status in at least 2 nations either as
    (a) state-language or (e.g. German in Austria and Germany);
    (b) co-state language (e.g. German, French and Italian in Switzerland) or at least as
    (c) a regional language (e.g. German in Italy: South Tyrol, Catalan in France: etc.).
    The language therefore must have official recognition that exceeds the status of a minority language, as it otherwise cannot function as a norm-setting centre.

    (2.2) In nations where the national variety of a PCL does not have the appropriate formal status (criteria a-c above), strong linguistic awareness of the language community acts as a replacement for the acknowledgement and the official status. Examples for this are Western Armenian, Hungarian in Slovakia, Romania, Serbia etc. and PCLs like Kurdish and Yiddish that are completely or partly nationless.

  3. Linguistic distance (Abstand):

    The national varieties must have enough linguistic (and/or pragmatic) characteristics that distinguish it from other varieties and by that can serve as a symbol for expressing identity and social uniqueness. Language planning measures usually increase ausbau of endemic features but can also be used to delimit them (as was the case in Belgian Dutch in the 1950s).

  4. Acceptance of pluricentricity:

    The language community must accept the status of its language as a pluricentric variety and consider it as part of its social / national identity.

  5. Relevance for identity:

    The national norm has to be relevant to social identity and must be (to some degree) evident to the language community and lead “to at least some of its own (codified) norms.”Criterion 6: Codification of norms: The linguistic norms of the national variety must be codified in books of reference to a certain degree in order to achieve certainty about common language use and nation-specific features of the PCL. Criterion (6) is an extension to the criteria listed in Muhr (2012). It seems necessary to add this criterion as non-codification is a serious obstacle for the acknowledgement of a NV.

  6. Codification of norms:

    The linguistic norms of the national variety must be codified in books of reference to a certain degree in order to achieve certainty about common language use and nation-specific features of the PCL. Criterion (6) is an extension to the criteria listed in Muhr (2012). It seems necessary to add this as non-codification is a serious obstacle for the acknowledgement of a national variety.

References

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.

Muhr, Rudolf (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.

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