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FR13: The French Language: Variation and Change

This paper is available for the academic year 2024-25.

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 perspectives. 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.

The Lent Term focuses on three themes. It begins by exploring the interface between the French language and questions of identity. The second focus is on French dialectology from the Medieval period to the present day, with special reference to continental and insular Norman and including the Anglo-Norman spoken in Medieval England. The term concludes by considering methodologies for exploring language variation and change in written French.

Preparatory reading: 

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

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: 

The course is taught tgrough weekly lectures and regular supervisions.



The paper is assessed via a 5-hour open book written exam. Please see the specimen exam paper for an example of the current format of the paper.

Course Contacts: 
Prof. Mari Jones