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FR13: The French Language: Variation and Change

This paper is available for the academic year 2021-22.

This course explores the related processes of language variation and language change in the context of French throughout the world, from both synchronic and diachronic standpoints. Students should have a good prior knowledge of Linguistics and of the French language, and ideally will have read Fr2 ‘Structures and Varieties of French’ at Part IB.


The Michaelmas Term focuses on theories of language change and their application. Traditional approaches (such as the dichotomy between 'internal' and 'external' change) are combined with more recent theoretical frameworks (such as codeswitching and language shift), and it is shown that the boundaries between what appear to be very different types of change are often not clear-cut. We also examine the distinction between ‘unconscious’ change which occurs without speakers generally being aware of the linguistic decisions they make, and ‘deliberate’ change in which language planning and policy seek to influence the status, form and function of a language.

Lectures and supervisions in the Michaelmas term will cover lexical and syntactic borrowing, codeswitching, language shift, French lexifier creoles, typological change, standardisation, and language planning and policy.

The Lent Term begins by examining the historical and current status of French in the world, which underpins our subsequent discussion of the role of French in the construction of personal or national identity, and the emergence of endogenous linguistic norms in post-colonial contexts. The primary focus here will be on central Africa, a fascinating sociolinguistic environment where French is increasingly being appropriated and indigenised, and where language has often been a tool in post-independence nation-building. We will then consider the situation of regional languages within France and examine methodology which may be used to collect sociolinguistic data, which leads on to a discussion of dialectology and regional French within France. The course will explore the linguistic situation of French in England in the centuries following the Norman Conquest, and conclude by focussing on variation and change in written French throughout the ages.

Lectures and supervisions in the Lent term will cover the Francophonie, endogenous norms, the relationship between language, identity and nationhood, the regional languages of France and regional French, sociolinguistic methodology, dialectology, the French of medieval England, and variation in written French.


Preparatory reading: 

N. Armstrong and T. Pooley (eds.), Social and Linguistic Change in European French (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010)

W. Ayres-Bennett, J. Carruthers and R. Temple, Problems and Perspectives: Studies in the Modern French Language (Longman, 2001)

A. Battye, M-A. Hintze and P. Rowlett, The French Language Today (Routledge, 2000)

R.D. Grillo, Dominant Languages: Language and Hierarchy in Britain and France (Cambridge University Press, 1989)

M.C. Jones and I. Singh, Exploring Language Change (Routledge, 2005)

R. Lodge, N. Armstrong, Y. Ellis, J. Shelton, Exploring the French Language (Arnold, 1997)



Full reading list

The full reading list can be found here.

Teaching and learning: 

There are sixteen lectures in total (eight in Michaelmas Term and eight in Lent Term), and eight supervisions (four during Michaelmas Term, four in Lent Term and two revision supervisions in Easter Term).



The paper is assessed via 3-hour written exam. Please see the specimen exam paper for an example of the current format of the paper.

Course Contacts: 
Prof. Mari Jones (Michaelmas Term 2021 & Easter Term 2022)
Dr Rebecca Mitchell (Lent Term 2022)