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A pluricentric language is a language with several standard versions, both in spoken and in written forms. This situation usually arises when language and the national identity of its native speakers do not, or did not, coincide.





For example, English is a pluricentric language, with numerous differences in pronunciation, spelling, etc. between the United Kingdom and the United States, and a variety of accents of those and other English-speaking countries. It is usually considered a symmetric case of a pluricentric language, because no variety clearly dominates culturally. Statistically, however, American English speakers constitute more than 66% of native English speakers, with British English in second place at 18% and other varieties having up to 5% 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 at a rapid rate in most regions of the world. British English was formerly dominant in the education systems of most regions where English was taught as a second language. In former colonies, British English remains strong, and is also the primary form taught in the European Union and the rest of Europe. In some regions of the world, the use of American English is accelerating, sometimes outstripping British English in popularity among student and business users. Other varieties of English, including Australian, Canadian, Indian, Hiberno English, Newfoundland, New Zealand, and South African English, are far less known as distinct varieties in terms of the teaching of English as a second language abroad.

The pluricentrity of English is not a recent phenomenon. There is ample evidence that before the Acts of Union 1707, Scots was considered to be a language of its own, representing a separate standard language within a wider Anglic family of languages.


By contrast, Standard German is often considered an asymmetric case of a pluricentric language, because 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. While there is a uniform stage pronunciation based on a manual by Theodor Siebs which 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 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 with 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.[citation needed]


Portuguese varies mainly between Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese. Both dialects have undergone significant and divergent developments in phonology and the grammar of their pronominal systems. Brazilian Portuguese is considerably more conservative in its phonology, but much less conservative in its grammar. The result is that communication between the dialects without previous exposure can be occasionally difficult, especially for a Brazilian attempting to understand a European.

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 recently approved by the national legislatures of Brazil and Portugal and is due to come into force over the next years; see Spelling reforms of Portuguese for additional details. Formal written standards remain grammatically close to each other, despite some minor syntactic differences.

African Portuguese is based on the European dialect, but has undergone its own phonetic and grammatical developments, sometimes reminiscent of spoken Brazilian.


Galician is a special case. Originally the same language, it has lost almost all contact with Portuguese since the 14th century. Nowadays, a Galician standard has emerged which is still very close to European Portuguese. In pronunciation, however, each branch 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 judgment, though, may be attributed to the fact that a large proportion of the Spanish citizens with whom a Portuguese speaker may have been in contact were Galicians. As further anecdotal evidence, a rural Galician accent is sometimes mistaken in Madrid for a Portuguese accent.


One example of a situation that does not arise of the fact that languages and national identities of its native speakers do not 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 writing rules dictated 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, that have not had a traditional common local name (Majorcan in Majorca, Minorcan in Minorca). However, given that the syncretic and academic name Catalan-Valencian-Balearic has not succeed—beyond the title of an excellent dictionary and the name given by Ethnologue—Catalan is generally the colloquial name accepted by the philological community to refer to the whole system. 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.


Spanish is not completely pluricentric because all the Hispanophone world has the same common orthographic rules for the written language. There are differences in pronunciation, like ceceo or seseo, and hundreds of slightly different regional pronunciations. All varieties are perfectly intelligible in their acrolects (standard or accepted local forms), except for minor vocabulary differences. The mesolects and basilects (non-standard local usage such as Chicano in relation to Mexican Spanish for example) have diverged more, with different slangs, foreign influences and choices in verbal forms. However, the worldwide diffusion of telenovelas and Spanish-language music favor intercomprehension and have led to an unusually high degree of linguistic conformity in areas like New York City where large numbers of Hispanics are in close contact. This process is known as linguistic levelling.

Because of this (and because it has traditionally formed relatively few creoles) out of all the modern Romance languages Spanish is the least divergent in its local forms and the standard local varieties are universally understood by all speakers wherever the language is spoken.


Writing system

Chinese, at least in terms of its writing system, 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, while traditional Chinese characters, the system originally used in Chinese societies before the advent of simplified characters, remain in use elsewhere, including the Republic of China on Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and many overseas Chinese communities.

Spoken Chinese

Standard Mandarin is the official Chinese spoken language in China, Taiwan and Singapore, whilst Standard Cantonese is de facto official in Hong Kong and Macau. There are a few differences in the spoken Standard Mandarin 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.


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), 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 archaic pronunciation.

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.

Hindi, Urdu and Hindi-influenced languages

Hindi, sometimes called Hindustani, is spoken in India. In addition to the spread of standard Khariboli Hindi by a burgeoning Indian diaspora, Hindi, derived from Sanskrit, has generated multiple other languages often considered to be the product of distinct civilizations or cultures. These include (via culture) Bihari, Maithili and other Indo-European languages descended from Sanskrit. Urdu developed from the interaction of Persian speaking Muslim soldiers and native Indians. As a result, it is basically a Persianized version of Khariboli. Therefore, Urdu speakers can understand Hindi, and this explains the subsistence of Urdu speaking cultures and peoples on Hindustani culture, entertainment, and other language-influenced sectors.


  • Arabic has a standard acrolect, with several mutually unintelligible basilects.
  • Danish: Once identical with Danish Rigsmaal, a number of spelling reforms have brought the Norwegian Riksmål closer to spoken Dano-Norwegian.
  • Dutch: despite sometimes significant differences in vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar between the Dutch, Flemish, Surinam, and the Netherlands Antilles variants, there is just one Standard Dutch orthography as regulated by the Dutch Language Union.
  • Korean: North and South (to some extent—differences are growing; see Korean language North-South differences)
  • Modern Hebrew is grammatically and lexically uniformal, 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 pronunciation, Sephardic pronanciation, Temani pronunciation (which is considered the closest to the original pronunciation of Hebrew in biblical time), and others. Hebrew is therefore probably the only pluricentric language where differences in pronunciation do not depend on the speaker's place of birth, but on his or her cultural background.
  • Serbo-Croatian: Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian standard forms that are sometimes considered either two or three separate languages. Perhaps the biggest difference is in orthography, with the Serbian variety being written in the Cyrillic alphabet.
  • Romansh, with five written standards (from southwest to northeast: Sursilvan, Sutsilvan, Surmiran, Puter, Vallader) as well as a "compromise" written standard, Rumantsch Grischun.
  • Swedish: Two varieties with official status exist: "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 /e/, /i/, /y/, /ä/ and /ö/ as [ç] (as in German "ich"), this sound is usually pronounced by a Swedo-Finn as the /t͡ʃ/ sound in English "cheese"; in addition, the two tones which 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'.
  • Persian: three standardised varieties with official status in Iran, Afghanistan (officially named Dari) and Tajikistan (officially named Tajik).

See also


  • Clyne, Michael G. (Ed.). (1992). Pluricentric languages: Differing norms in different nations. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-012855-1.
  • Clyne, Michael G.; & Kipp, Sandra. (1999). Pluricentric languages in an immigrant context: Spanish, Arabic and Chinese. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-016577-5.
  • Dua, Hans R. (1992). "Hindi-Urdu as a pluricentric language". In M. G. Clyne (Ed.).

External links


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