Volume 48, No.1 - Spring 2002
Editors of this issue: Violeta Kelertas
ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 2002 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.


University of Illinois at Chicago;
Institute of Lithuanian Language, Vilnius

The history of various European standard languages is currently being studied by many scholars throughout the world. This is the concern of the sociolinguistic history of language, or to put it more precisely, the history of standard varieties of language. Numerous works have been published in this field, including multiple reworkings of any single history of a standard. On the other hand, the research done comparing various histories of standard languages is not as extensive. For example, J. H. Fisher compares the emergence of standard varieties of English, French, Italian and Spanish and then complains that he does "not know of a discussion that points out how similar this process was in various countries and discusses the implications of this similarity for our general understanding of the nature of standard languages" (1996: 65). Consequently, the fundamental objectives are: research of individual aspects of the history of various standard languages; a comparison of them; a description of what makes histories of standard analogous or different; conclusions as to what standard language types most of the European languages could be allocated to according to these criteria; an evaluation and critique of inadequacies of extant theories in the field.

J. E. Joseph discusses many theories of the rise of standard languages in his book Eloquence and Power: The Rise of Language Standards and Standard Languages (1987). This is an important, meticulously written work. Although Joseph describes the theoretical aspects of standard languages in detail, he does not write a general history of standard languages.

The aspects mentioned above crucial to the history of standard languages would be: a) the stages of the development of a standard (the chronological aspect); b) selection of a dialect; c) the written standard's relation to the spoken one; d) one variety's domination over the other (High and Low varieties); e) prestige; f) codification; g) elaboration of functions; h) unintentional development versus language engineering; i) acceptance by society and j) double standards (in English, the double orthography of the eighteenth century).

These and other aspects are described very differently by scholars of different languages and countries. For example, the first aspect is chronological. There are at least two generalized approaches to the stages of development of a standard: (a) according to the historical events of a nation or simply according to centuries (this approach describes a history of standard language only as a part of "broader" language history), and (b) according to the history of a standard language itself. Thus, Migliorini (1984), Jonikas (1987: 11-23), Palionis (1995: 14-15), Chaurand (1999: 11) emphasize the first approach, while Ferguson (1968), Haugen (1972: 252), Leith (1983), Joseph (1987), Milroys (1987), Rickard (1989), Lodge (1993), Thomas (1991) stress the second.

The second approach has more potential. Haugen grouped the stages (aspects) of standard languages in the following way: "The four aspects of language development that we have now isolated as crucial features in taking the step from 'dialect' to 'language,' from vernacular to standard, are as follows: (1) selection of norm, (2) codification of form, (3) elaboration of function, and (4) acceptance by the community" (1972: 252). This theoretical outline of stages made by Haugen was widely accepted by a considerable number of scholars: Leith (1983: 32), Joseph (1987), Milroys (1987: 27-28), Muljačič (1988: 223), van der Awl (1992: 119-120), Lodge (1993). However, some chronological inadequacies occur among scholars applying Haugen's outline (e.g., Leith describes a stage of acceptance as prior to the stage of elaboration although Lodge retains Haugen's model). In any case, Haugen's model provides an appropriate methodological basis for a comparison of the chronology of standard languages.

There have been other attempts at chronological models. Charles A. Ferguson singled out three diverse stages: (1) graphization, (2) standardization, and (3) modernization (1968). However, these stages could not isolate some crucial features of standard language evolution. Another linguist, George Thomas, applied one more version of standard language development: „The standardization of languages is a complex process involving several possible stages, which we may identify as: (1) Minimal standardization, (2) pre-standardization, (3) standardization proper and (4) post-standardization" (1991: 116). Since Thomas, however, failed to demonstrate the efficiency and rationality of his theory, he appears not to have attracted many followers.

The next aspect is the selection of a dialect for the standard written language (the first of Haugen's stages; some linguists label it the emergence of the standard). Most likely, this process of selection is described more exhaustively than any other. Every historian of a standard language is extremely concerned with this symbolic beginning of a standard (cultural, prestige) variety.

Different European languages have chosen a dialectal basis in different periods. The origins of some standards lay in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, e.g., Danish, Dutch, English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Polish, Spanish, Swedish; [cf. Klemensiewicz (1965), Milewski (1969), Haugen (1976), Steblin-Kamenskij (1977), Kloss (1978), Migliorini (1984), Goldblatt (1984), Wells (1985), Willemyns (1988), Lodge (1993), Fisher (1996)]. Users of other standard languages made their dialect selection much later, during the time of Enlightenment, Romanticism or even later: Byelorussian, Bulgarian, Estonian, Faeroese, Finnish, Croatian, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Nynorsk (New Norwegian), Russian, Serbian, Slovakian, Slovenian, Ukrainian; [cf. Haugen (1976), Steblin-Kamenskij (1977), Kloss (1978), Goldblatt (1984), Wexler (1974), Jonikas (1987), Zinkevičius (1990), Palionis (1995)]. Therefore, it is possible to discern two groups of European standard languages according to the time of selection of a dialect: early or late.

The next aspect is the relation of the written standard to a spoken standard. It is much more complicated and much less researched in every single history. There are lively discussions about the nature of the spoken standard among specialists. Some say that the spoken standard is only a different form of the written standard (cf. Honey, 1997). Others deny this, claiming that written language alone can be labeled as standard, and that there is no linguistic difference between spoken standard and any other variety of spoken language. For example, Crowley remarks: "Honey's use of 'Standard English' to refer to both writing and speech, without clarification, is a common error" (Crowley, 1999: 272). The attitude that might be defined as intermediate is that of van Marie: „The written standard became a determining factor for speaking resulted in a language variety—the spoken standard—which is not as formal as the written standard, but which has as its defining characteristic the fact that it is directed towards the written language" (1997: 15). Referring to standard Dutch, van Marie claims that "It was only in the course of the nineteenth century that a spoken standard gradually developed" (1997: 15). This means that spoken standards are to be researched and considered separate from written ones.

Language domination (Milroys, 1987; Wardhaugh, 1987; Grill, 1989 etc.) and switching from a Low to a High variety in a given territory is another comparatively popular and widely researched field. Beginning with Ferguson, who had introduced the terms High and Low variety (Ferguson, 1972), many linguists accepted and developed this division. It is also generally assumed that the switch from Low to High variety is mostly dependent on the prestige attributed to the part of society using Low language.

Codification. "Codification in a general sense involves the production of a systematic and explicit set of rules laying down what is and what is not permissible [...]. Language codification entails the production of grammars [...] and dictionaries" (Lodge, 1993: 153-154). Most prestigious, decisive dictionaries and grammars for different standard languages were written in different periods (French, English etc. late seventeenth century to the middle of the eighteenth century, Lithuanian—end of the nineteenth century). It seems that a tendency can be discerned: languages of early dialect selection accomplished their final codification (uniform orthography at least) during the eighteenth century (sometimes a little later) and the languages of late selection—during the nineteenth century (or even later). There are definitely some languages that may be considered an exception to this rule, depending on the specific social environments of language development, e.g., Czech (extended interruption of the natural development of a language by another dominant language—German, cf. Širokova, Nieščimenko, 1978: 27), German and Italian (split territories, cf. Wells, 1985; Migliorini, 1984: 365).

Elaboration of functions and acceptance by society refer to functions of developing standard languages (Haugen, 1972: 252). Dialect selection and acceptance of a standard are concerned with society, codification and elaboration with language (Haugen, 1972: 252). If one tries to separate, at least in part, an aspect of unintentional language development from language engineering, one has to admit that societal determinants (selection and acceptance) depend much more on unintentional evolution. Conversely, linguistic aspects (codification and elaboration) are influenced by conscious interference on a much wider scale. Conscious intentions to change the development of language are labeled differently (prescription, questions della lingua, language planning, purism, artificiality of a standard, bewusster Gestaltung) (Thomas, 1991; Wexler, 1971; Wexler, 1974; Migliorini, 1984: 214-215; Goldblatt, 1984: 120-125; Scaglione 1984: 48; Baum, 1987: 4; etc.). The possibility of describing the history of intentional efforts depends crucially on the level of research done in the field of any individual language history.

The aspect of possible double standards of orthography is also very intriguing. I am referring here to the research done by Osselton (1963; 1984), van Ostade (1998) and others in the history of standard written English. They have proven that there was a period in the history of English orthography (at least the first half of the eighteenth century) when there were two different official spelling standards—the so-called orthography of gentlemen and that of printers. The theoretical possibility for such a double standard to exist in any single written language is very important and could successfully be researched in histories of other standard languages.


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Artwork of Vytautas O. Virkau