REVISITING DIGLOSSIA

In Chapter 3, I discussed the concept of diglossia, a language situation where two distinct varieties, each with its own set of social functions, coexist as standards throughout a community. One of these varieties is used in ordinary conversations in the home and in the community (the Low variety) whereas the other variety is used for more formal purposes, mainly in prestigious domains such as government, media, and education (the High variety). In a diglossic community, specific language situations call for the use of one language or the other, and individual language choices are constrained by societal norms.

Fishman (1971) applies the diglossia concept to bilingual face-to-face interactions and suggests that certain conversational activities prompt the use of one language or the other. Consider Extract (1) below from Fishman (1971: 37), an excerpt from an office conversation between two Puerto Ricans:

Extract (1)

[Boss has been dictating a letter to Mr. Bolger to his secretary, Spanish in italics] Boss: . . . Sincerely, Louis Gonzalez

Secretary: Do you have the enclosures for the letter, Mr. Gonzalez?

Boss: Oh yes, here they are.

Secretary: Okay.

Boss: Ah, this man William Bolger got his organization to contribute a

lot of money to the Puerto Rican parade. He’s very much for it. jTu fuiste a la parada?

Secretary: Sh yo fuu Boss: S?

Secretary: Uh huh.

Boss: i Y como te estuvo?

[etc., continues in Spanish]

Here, Fishman finds a systematic correlation between the use of Spanish and an informal chat about going to the Puerto Rican parade, and between English and a business-related activity.

While Fishman’s analysis seems appropriate for the above extract, it does not always work in other cases. In fact, in many bilingual situations, speech activities are not tied to one particular language, and even among those which tend to occur more often in one language than in another, the correlation is never strong enough to predict language choice with certainty (Auer, 1995). Auer (1995) points out that in Fishman’s Puerto Rican example above, it is conceivable that the Puerto Rican boss might deal with his secretary in Spanish around the office all the time and choose to use English even to talk about the Puerto Rican parade. He suggests that the mere fact of juxtaposing two languages can have a signaling value of its own. Auer argues that it is often impossible to fully explain the conversational meaning of code-switching by any kind of a fixed association between languages and speech activities.

 
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