Vernacular, As a low variant in diglossia

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Summary

A vernacular or vernacular language is the native language or native dialect of a specific population, especially as distinguished from a literary, national or standard language, or a lingua franca used in the region or state inhabited by that population.

Details

The vernacular is also often contrasted with a liturgical language, a specialized use of a former lingua franca. For example, until the 1960s, Roman Rite Roman Catholics held Masses in Latin rather than in vernaculars; to this day the Coptic Church holds liturgies in Coptic, not Arabic; the Ethiopian Orthodox Church holds liturgies in Ge'ez though parts of Mass are read in Amharic.

Similarly, in Hindu culture, traditionally religious or scholarly works were written in Sanskrit (long after its use as a spoken language) or in Tamil in Tamil country. Sanskrit was a lingua franca among the non-Indo-European languages of the Indian subcontinent and became more of one as the spoken language, or prakrits, began to diverge from it in different regions. With the rise of the bhakti movement from the 12th century onwards, religious works were created in the other languages: Hindi, Kannada, Telugu and many others. For example, the Ramayana, one of Hinduism's sacred epics in Sanskrit, had vernacular versions such as Ranganadha Ramayanam composed in Telugu by Gona Buddha Reddy in the 15th century; and Ramacharitamanasa, a Hindi version of the Ramayana by the 16th-century poet Tulsidas.

These circumstances are a contrast between a vernacular and language variant used by the same speakers. According to one school of linguistic thought, all such variants are examples of a linguistic phenomenon termed diglossia ("split tongue", on the model of the genetic anomaly). In it, the language is bifurcated, i.e. the speaker learns two forms of the language and ordinarily uses one but under special circumstances the other. The one most frequently used is the low (L) variant, equivalent to the vernacular, while the special variant is the high (H). The concept was introduced to linguistics by Charles A. Ferguson (1959), but Ferguson explicitly excluded variants as divergent as dialects or different languages or as similar as styles or registers. H must not be a conversational form; Ferguson had in mind a literary language. For example, a lecture is delivered in a different variety than ordinary conversation. Ferguson's own example was classical and spoken Arabic, but the analogy between Vulgar Latin and Classical Latin is of the same type. Excluding the upper-class and lower-class register aspects of the two variants, Classical Latin was a literary language; the people spoke Vulgar Latin as a vernacular.

Joshua Fishman redefined the concept in 1964 to include everything Fergusen had excluded. Fishman allowed both different languages and dialects and also different styles and registers as the H variants. The essential contrast between them was that they be "functionally differentiated"; that is, H must be used for special purposes, such as a liturgical or sacred language. Fasold expanded the concept still further by proposing that multiple H exist in society from which the users can select for various purposes. The definition of an H is intermediate between Ferguson's and Fishman's. Realizing the inappropriateness of the term diglossia (only two) to his concept, he proposes the term broad diglossia.

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