Diglossia is the situation that occurs when two languages ​​with different social status coexist in the same territory, so that one of them is configured as a prestigious language against the other, which is relegated to a subaltern position. This situation is underpinned by the various areas in which one can use one another. Thus, the dominant language is usually that which is used officially or informally in administration, education, justice, the media, etc., while the disadvantaged variety is relegated to family and informal settings.

Origin, history or training

It comes from the Greek word diglosos (δίγλωσσος) This word is formed by the union of the prefix di-  denoting opposition and contrariety and of  gloss  which in Greek means language.

Diglosia Examples

Various examples of diglossia can be found in countries like Spain . A historical case is that of the subordinate position that Galician traditionally maintained with respect to Castilian in Galicia . This was corrected following the official recognition of the first in the Statute of Autonomy of Galicia . In the American continent, the situations of diglossia in which Spanish participates are also frequent . Despite advances in the recognition of Native American languages, Spanish generally maintains an advantageous position where it lives with them. A German researcher who went to Bolivia to study the contact of Spanish and Quechua noticed people who deny knowing Quechua , but who spoke it when they think they are not heard. The reason was in the different prestige they believed conferred on that German lord to be speakers of one or the other. But Spanish is not always favored in its encounters with other languages. In the United States, the balance is clearly in favor of English even when there are many Spanish-speaking people.

For an Arab, however, it is not true that there are two different languages. For him “fine” and “coarse” are two extremes of a gradation of ways of speaking, and he will use all the ways of speaking mixed, according to who is speaking, according to what the situation demands, and according to how far his studies arrive and their readings and how far they calculate the studies and readings of their listeners. That is the same as we do.

So, rather than say that there are two Arabic languages, the alfosja and the dialect, it would be more accurate to say that there are a thousand ways of speaking in Arabic, which fluctuate between two poles, namely, Arabic that has all the characteristics of the left , and the one with all the right ones:

good arabic
fine, elegant, typical of people with studies, official, international, ancient, always the same, rigid, clean, the same everywhere, sacred, literary, poetic, numb, difficultbad arab

coarse, vulgar, typical of illiterate, popular, homemade, modern, changing, adaptable, corrupt, different from town to town, profane, foul, vulgar and unworthy to write, expressive, natural, simple

Thus, it is not surprising that there is a popular belief that, in times of haaruwnu rraxiyd هارون رشيد, when the world was young, all Arabs spoke pure Arabic, and all current Arab dialects are corruptions of that Ursprache.


In general, the prestigious variety is usually better described and codified, that is, there is a series of grammatical treatises, dictionaries, orthographic records, style manuals, etc. In which it is explained how is the language and what is its correct use. This is usually interpreted naively in the sense of greater intrinsic kindness or complexity of the language that this grammatical tradition accumulates. This is how you have to understand, in general, simplistic judgments of the type The language X has grammar , the language Y has no grammar (all languages ​​have grammar, another thing is that someone has taken the job of describing and normalizing it).

Phenomena in Diglossia

According to C. Ferguson ( 1959 ), who coined the term, in the situations of strict diglossia the following phenomena can be observed:

  • Function : there is a distribution of functions between a high variety (A) and a low variety (B), so that each one is used only in certain areas or domains: variety A, in formal and distant situations, and B, in informal contexts. It would be improper or ridiculous to use both variants interchangeably.
  • Prestige: the diglossic community believes that variety A is more prestigious (beautiful, logical, important) than variety B.
  • Acquisition: variant B is acquired as the mother tongue, while A is only formally learned in academic contexts.
  • Grammar system: variety A has grammatical categories that are reduced or disappear in variety B.
  • Lexicon: the variety A has a cult, technical and specialized lexicon that B. lacks. In turn, it has the vocabulary and phraseological expressions of the family and popular environment.
  • Standardization: the A variety is standardized thanks to the elaboration of grammar, dictionaries and spelling regulations that allow its knowledge. This standardization process does not exist for variety B.
  • Literary inheritance: there is a literary corpus in variety A, nonexistent, on the contrary, in B.
  • Stability: the diglósicos situations can last during centuries, although the appearance of mixed sub variedades between A and B, as well as the progressive confusion of social functions during that time, can evolve until making diglossia disappear.

Uses and applications of diglossia

It is a term used to refer to a linguistic situation in which a speaking community uses two alternating linguistic varieties, differentiating social contexts of use.


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