A pluricentric language or polycentric language is a language with several standard versions. It is a language with several centres, each providing a national variety with at least some of its own (codified) norms. Generally, pluricentric languages are used across the boundaries of individual political entities, so that the language and the ethnic identity of its native speakers do not coincide. Examples include English, French, German, Korean, Serbo-Croatian, Swahili, Swedish, Spanish, Arabic, Armenian, Bengali, Hindi-Urdu, Malay, Chinese etc.
Examples of varying degrees of pluricentrism
This is an example of when the languages and national identities of their native speakers do not always coincide. Valencian is the name used for the same language that is called Catalan in Andorra, the Balearic Islands and Catalonia, among other places. Valencian is the official name of the language in the Valencian Community and has its own spelling rules set out by the Acadèmia Valenciana de la Llengua, created in 1998. This institution recognises that Catalan and Valencian are different local forms of the same language—mutually intelligible to all speakers—with no single accepted common name. The University of the Balearic Islands is in charge of the rules of the different Balearic forms, which have not had a traditional common local name (Majorcan in Majorca, Minorcan in Minorca). However, as the syncretic and academic name "Catalan–Valencian–Balearic" has not established itself (beyond the title of a dictionary and the name given by Ethnologue) Catalan is generally the colloquial name accepted by linguists to refer to the whole system. It is an asymmetric case of a pluricentric language, due to the current pre-eminence of the Central Catalan dialect and the (sometimes questioned) origin of the language in the southern communities during the Reconquista.
The spoken languages of China that evolved from Old and Middle Chinese are unique in that, because they are written logographically instead of phonetically, they share a common written language - because there was no need for the logographs to change when the sounds of the language changed. This written language was a more or less uniform system until the mid-20th century.
Written Chinese has been pluricentric since the mid-20th century when simplified Chinese characters were introduced in the People's Republic of China. Simplified characters are now official in the PRC and Singapore, whereas traditional Chinese characters, the system originally used in Chinese-speaking societies before the advent of simplified characters, remain in use elsewhere, including Hong Kong, Macau, the Republic of China (Taiwan) and many overseas Chinese communities.
The same can also be said of Romanised Chinese. Apart from the Chinese Postal Map System, based on French and used only for place names, the Wade-Giles system was the dominant method among Anglophones for Romanising Chinese languages (particularly Mandarin) until the People's Republic of China developed the Pinyin system for Mandarin in 1958. Pinyin has replaced Wade-Giles in Mainland China and in most modern publications in the West; and whereas Taiwan continues to use traditional characters, it has adopted a form of Pinyin for Romanisation, along with its own phonetic system, bopomofo. There are still old books using Wade-Giles, and many overseas families whose family names use the Wade-Giles form rather than the newer Pinyin (e.g. Hsu and Chou instead of Xu and Zhou).
Mandarin is the official Chinese language of China, Taiwan and Singapore, whereas Cantonese is de facto official in Hong Kong and Macau and a traditional language in Singapore and Malaysia. Hokkien is sometimes used as an official language in Taiwan and also as a traditional language in Singapore and Malaysia. There are a few differences between the spoken standards promulgated in the PRC and the ROC (Taiwan). Some of the vocabulary is different and a few words are officially pronounced with different tones. See Taiwanese Mandarin for more details on the differences. This site also lists the differences in the pronunciation standards.
English is a pluricentric language, with differences in pronunciation, vocabulary, spelling, etc. between the United Kingdom, North America, South Africa and Oceania. Educated native English speakers using their version of one of the standard forms of English are almost completely mutually intelligible, but there are significant dialectal variations between non-standard forms. English is usually considered a symmetric case of a pluricentric language, because there is no clear cultural dominance of one variety over others.
Statistically, however, American English speakers constitute more than 66% of native English speakers, with British English in second place at 18% and other varieties such as Australian English and Canadian English having up to 7% each. Due to globalisation in recent decades, English is becoming increasingly decentralised, with daily use and state-wide study of the language in schools growing in most regions of the world.
British English and American English are the two most commonly taught varieties in the education systems where English is taught as a second language. British English tends to predominate in former colonies where English is not the first language of the majority of the population, such as Malaysia, India, Pakistan, and Singapore. British English is also the primary form taught in the European Union and the rest of Europe. American English, in contrast, tends to dominate instruction in Latin America, Korea, and Japan.
Philippine English (which is predominantly spoken as a second language) has been primarily influenced by American English. The rise of the call center industry in the Philippines has encouraged some Filipinos to "polish" or neutralize their accents to make them more closely resemble the accents of their client countries. Many Australian companies use Philippines call centers; the Philippines and Australia share a common time zone.
The three main standards of the French language are Parisian (Standard) French, Standard Canadian French (Québécois), and a more neutral International French (used in media and in teaching). The last typically represents a French marked by much greater use of archaic vocabulary no longer current in metropolitan France. Official Québécois also makes a conscious effort not to borrow foreign vocabulary (creating such words as "stationnement" for "parking", the English word used in French from France, and using "arrêt" on stop signs, whereas in France they read "stop"), making it prone to continued divergence from European. At the same time, live Québécois has more English borrowings than accepted by the Académie française as "proper" French. There is also a variety of French, Acadian, which is distinct from Quebec French and is spoken mainly in the Maritime provinces, especially New Brunswick. Acadian is marked by differences in pronunciation, intonation, and vocabulary. Both Acadian and Québécois feature pronunciation considered archaic in other varieties.
Minor standards can also be found in Belgium and Switzerland, with a particular influence of Germanic languages on grammar and vocabulary, sometimes through the influence of local dialects. In Belgium for example, various Germanic influences in the spoken French are evident in Walloon (for example, to blink in English, German and Dutch, blinquer in Walloon and local French, cligner in standard French). Ring (rocade or périphérique in standard French) is a common word in the three national languages for beltway or ring road.
Galician is a special case. Originally the same language as Portuguese, they have diverged since the 12th century for political reasons. Today, a Galician standard has emerged that is still very close to European Portuguese. In pronunciation, however, each has gone very different ways, and as a result communication may be difficult at first. To a Galician speaker, Portuguese sounds like a kind of Galician with most vowels left out, whereas to a Portuguese speaker Galician may sometimes sound like Portuguese with a Spanish accent. The latter because most speakers of Galician in the cities have learned it as a second language after Spanish.
Standard German is often considered an asymmetric pluricentric language; the standard used in Germany is often considered dominant, mostly because of the sheer number of its speakers and their frequent lack of awareness of the Austrian German and Swiss Standard German varieties. Although there is a uniform stage pronunciation based on a manual by Theodor Siebs that is used in theatres, and, nowadays to a lesser extent, in radio and television news all across German-speaking countries, this is not true for the standards applied at public occasions in Austria, South Tyrol and Switzerland, which differ in pronunciation, vocabulary, and sometimes even grammar. Sometimes this even applies to news broadcasts in Bavaria, a German state with a strong separate cultural identity. The varieties of Standard German used in those regions are to some degree influenced by the respective dialects (but by no means identical to them), by specific cultural traditions (e.g. in culinary vocabulary, which differs markedly across the German-speaking area of Europe), and by different terminology employed in law and administration. A list of Austrian terms for certain food items has even been incorporated into EU law, even though it is clearly incomplete.
Hindi, Urdu, and Hindustani languages
Broad Hindi is a large dialect continuum defined as a unit culturally. In addition to Hindustani, which is based on a Persianized register of the Khariboli dialect and has two modern standard forms, Standard Hindi and Standard Urdu, there are historical literary standards such as Braj Bhasha (closely related) and Awadhi (not so close), as well as more recently established standard languages based on what were once considered Hindi dialects, Maithili and Dogri. Other varieties, such as Rajasthani, are often considered distinct languages but have no standard form.
Apart from the Galician question, Portuguese varies mainly between Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese. Both varieties have undergone significant and divergent developments in phonology and the grammar of their pronominal systems. Brazilian Portuguese is considerably much less conservative in its grammar. The result is that communication between the two varieties of the language without previous exposure can be occasionally difficult, especially for a Brazilian attempting to understand a European. Because of the extensive and long-term influence of the Brazilian telenovelas, a Portuguese national has little problem in understanding the Brazilian accent and specific words.
Brazilian and European Portuguese currently have two distinct, albeit similar, spelling standards. A unified orthography for the two varieties (including a limited number of words with dual spelling) has been approved by the national legislatures of Brazil and Portugal and is now official; see Spelling reforms of Portuguese for additional details. Formal written standards remain grammatically close to each other, despite some minor syntactic differences.
Serbo-Croatian is a pluricentric language, with four standard variants spoken in Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina. These variants do differ slightly, as is the case with other pluricentric languages (English, Spanish, German and Portuguese, among others), but not to a degree that would justify considering them as different languages. The differences between the variants do not undermine the integrity of the system as a whole and do not hinder mutual intelligibility.
- Armenian has two literary norms: Eastern Armenian and Western Armenian
- Dutch and Afrikaans, though related are considered separate languages.
- Standard Irish, Scottish Gaelic and possibly Manx can be viewed as three standards arisen through divergence from the Classical Gaelic norm via orthographic reforms.
- Komi, a Uralic language spoken in northeastern European Russia, has official standards for both its Komi-Zyrian and Komi-Permyak dialects.
- Korean: North and South (to some extent — differences are growing; see North–South differences in the Korean language)
- Kurdish language has two main literary norms: Kurmanji (Northern Kurdish) and Sorani (Central Kurdish). The Zaza–Gorani languages, spoken by some Kurds, are occasionally considered to be Kurdish as well.
- Malaysian and Indonesian used to be two variants of the same language (Malay). Both languages are nowadays generally considered separate languages due to the growing divergence between the two and for political reasons. Nevertheless, they still retain some degree of mutual intelligibility despite a number of differences in vocabulary and grammar. The Malay language itself has many local varieties and dialects, whereas the Indonesian language, acting as lingua franca of the nation, has received a great number of both international and local influences (See: Differences between Malaysian and Indonesian).
- Modern Hebrew is grammatically and lexically uniform, but Israelis from different cultural backgrounds have different ways of pronunciation, all of which are considered standard and correct by language authorities. Among the different ways of pronunciation are: Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Mizrahi, and Temani (which is considered the closest to the original pronunciation of Hebrew in biblical times). Hebrew is therefore probably the only pluricentric language where differences in pronunciation do not depend on the speaker's place of birth but on their cultural background.
- Norwegian consists of a multitude of spoken dialects displaying a great deal of variation in pronunciation and (to a somewhat lesser extent) vocabulary, with no commonly accepted "standard spoken Norwegian". All Norwegian dialects are, however, mutually intelligible. There are two written standards: Bokmål, "book language", based on Danish (Danish and Norwegian are mutually intelligible languages with significant differences primarily in pronunciation rather than vocabulary or grammar) and modern Western Norwegian dialects (the Bergen dialect was a major contributor), and Nynorsk, "New Norwegian", based primarily on rural Western and rural inland Norwegian dialects.
- Romance languages
- Romanian in Romania and that in Moldova
- Romansh, with five written standards (from southwest to northeast: Sursilvan, Sutsilvan, Surmiran, Puter, Vallader) as well as a "compromise" form.
- Spanish, which has both national and regional linguistic norms, though all varieties are mutually intelligible (outside of minor vocabulary differences) and the same orthographic rules are shared throughout. In Spain, Standard Spanish is based upon the speech of educated speakers from Madrid. In Argentina and Uruguay the Spanish standard is based on the local dialects of Buenos Aires and Montevideo. This is known as Rioplatense Spanish (“River Plate Spanish”), distinguishable, from other standard Spanish dialects, by the greater use of the voseo; Standard Canarian Spanish and all Standard American Spanish dialects (both Latin America and United States) are closely related to Andalusian Spanish. In Colombia, the dialect of Bogotá ("Rolo") is valued across Latin America for its clear pronunciation. The related Ladino is considered a separate language.
- Persian: Three standardised varieties with official status in Iran, Afghanistan (officially named Dari) and Tajikistan (officially named Tajik). Standard dialect of Iran is based on Tehrani dialect, standard dialect of Dari based on Kabuli dialect, and standard dialect of Tajik based on Dushanbe dialect. Iranian Persian and Afghan Persian equally utilize the Perso-Arabic script in writing. Tajik Persian as used in Tajikistan utilizes a modified form of the Cyrillic alphabet, although attempts at re-introducing Perso-Arabic script are being made.
- Ukrainian and Rusyn are either considered to be two standards of the same language or two languages.
- Swedish: Two varieties exist, though only one written standard remains (regulated by the Swedish Academy of Sweden): Rikssvenska, the official language of Sweden, and Finlandssvenska, which, alongside Finnish, is the other official language of Finland. There are differences in vocabulary and grammar, with the Finnish variety remaining a little more conservative. The most marked differences, however, are in pronunciation and intonation: whereas Swedish speakers usually pronounce /k/ before front vowels as [ɕ], this sound is usually pronounced by a Swedo-Finn as [t͡ʃ]; in addition, the two tones that are characteristic of Swedish (and Norwegian) are absent from most Finnish dialects of Swedish, which have an intonation reminiscent of Finnish and thus sound more monotonous when compared to Rikssvenska. There are also a number of dialects that could be considered different languages due to long periods of isolation and geographical separation from the central dialects of Svealand and Götaland that came to constitute the base for the standard Rikssvenska. Dialects such as Elfdalian, Jamtlandic, Westrobothnian and Gutnish all differ as much, or more, from standard Swedish than the standard varieties of Norwegian and Danish. Some of them have a standardised orthography but the Swedish government has not granted any of them official recognition as regional languages and continues to look upon them as dialects of Swedish. As of today most of them are severely endangered and merely spoken by elderly people in the countryside. In the case of Westrobothnian the pejorative "bondska" is widespread, derived from the word for peasant, thus leading people to believe that it has something to do with peasantry or farming although the dialects have been spoken in all parts of society for over 1000 years. Some Swedish dialects spoken along the coast of Finnish Ostrobothnia could also be considered languages different from standard Swedish because they are also developments of Old Norse that historically have had very little influence from standard Swedish.
- Ausbausprache, Abstandsprache and Dachsprache
- Binary distribution
- Dialect continuum
- Language secessionism
- Mutual intelligibility
- Standard language
- World language
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