Misrecognition unmasked? ‘Polynomic’ language, expert statuses and orthographic practices in Corsican schools

Alexandra Jaffe

Abstract

Over the last twenty years, “expert” discourses about the sociolinguistic character of Corsica have shifted from a focus on “diglossia” to an assertion that Corsican is a “polynomic” language. In the context of language shift and efforts at minority language revitalization, these two discourses make different claims about the relationship of language and identity, posit different kinds of power relationships between Corsicans and their two languages, and have different implications for Corsican language policy and advocacy. One of the unintended consequences of a revitalization program built on the idea of “diglossia” was the internal reproduction of dominant language hierarchies that divided rather than unified Corsicans around language. As an antidote, Corsican academics in the late eighties, introduced the notion of Corsican as a “polynomic” language defined both by its internal variation (multiple centers of “authenticity” and “authority”) and by speakers’ recognition of linguistic unity in diversity - a collective stance vis-à-vis linguistic variation that challenges the very principles of dominant (French) language ideologies in its inclusive, non-hierarchical nature. Through analysis of ethnographic data from a month-long bilingual teacher training course and from the way that Corsican orthography is taught in a bilingual school, I explore the ideology of polynomic unity in diversity and how it misrecognizes 1) contemporary speakers’ relationship with regional variation and 2) the new forms of linguistic diversity caused by language shift among both students and teachers in Corsican bilingual classrooms.

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