Purism and language planning

Linguistic purism, that is, the attempt to “purify” a language of foreign or otherwise unwanted elements and replace them with autochthonous or superior ones, has been present in many linguistic communities. It is true that for many strands of linguistics it has been less an object of study than a phenomenon to be violently opposed (see Thomas 1991: 3). Yet puristic activities are actually similar to language planning measures motivated by other objectives and can be described in similar terms and using similar frameworks. Thus, in its structure, Thomas’s (1991: 84-99) model of the stages of puristic intervention resembles models of the language planning process, in particular that of Language Management Theory (see Section 2.2), and it is even cylical, like the latter model. Generally, Thomas advocates prudent integration of puristic motivations, tempered by rationality and acceptance of compromise, into language planning as a whole. Similarly, Neustupny (1989: 213), one of the founders of Language Management Theory, argued that it is only the way speakers communicate about specific language corrections, and their ideological motivations, that can be properly called puristic; the language correction process itself follows the same model which in later publications was to be called Language Management (see Section 2.2). Thomas (1991:190-194) also provides questionnaires for assessing and comparing instances of linguistic purism; these questionnaires have been applied, and tested, in a recent comparative study of linguistic purism in France and Quebec (Walsh 2016). Besides proposing some modifications of Thomas’ evaluation tools, Walsh finds that French purism is more focused on quality of language (internal purism) and more tolerant of borrowings than purism in Quebec, which is more focused on defence against foreign influence (external purism) (e.g. Walsh 2016: 233-234; see also Section 3.2.2).

All languages, according to Thomas (1991: 53), fulfil three social functions: a solidarity function (“to make possible communication between members of the group”), a separating function (“to exclude non-members of the group from communication”), and a prestige function. In a similar vein, but with different terminology, Garvin (1974: 72-73) distinguishes three symbolic functions of standard languages; all three are significant for purism. Generally, puristic motivations have been present in many language planning exercises, as the pertinent literature shows (see Section 2.1, and especially Fishman 2004), and this contribution will focus on such efforts.

In the business domain, purism (here mostly in the sense of opposition to the use of foreign or borrowed terms) is often justified by the need to secure the right to use a certain language at work, or to be informed, as a consumer or investor, in one’s own language. The latter concern is addressed, for example, by Olbrich and Fuhrmann (2011). They argue that excessive use of English terms in the annual reports of German companies, which are required to be written in German, renders them almost unreadable and tends to obscure their meaning. Similarly, France’s Loi Bas-Lauriol (1975) used consumer protection legislation to enforce its regulations restricting the use of foreign terms (see Section 3.3.1). The Loi Toubon of 1994, which replaced it, refers both to consumer protection and to the protection of workers’ rights (Gaudin 2003: 192). Finally, Quebec authors (e.g., Maurais 1993: 115) stress that developing French terminology is the prerequisite for making French the language of the workplace.

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