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A TYPOLOGY OF THE PRESTIGE LANGUAGE Henry Kahane University ofIllinois, Urbana The recurrent features of a 'prestige language' are broadly reviewed. The prevailing socio-political constellation provides motivations for its rise, the ways of acquiring it, the domains it transmits, and the causes of its decline. The process of its nativization can be analysed synchronically in terms of creolization, and diachronically in terms of stratigraphy. The linking of a native language to the dominant culture results in either substratum or superstratum influences. Nativization may be overt—as lexemic, morphosyntactic or phonological borrowing—or it may be covert, expressing itself in style, caiques, and metaphors. The lasting impact of the prestige language consists in standardization , the creation of a sprachbund, and a relatively stable culture of bilingualism.* English is the great laboratory of today's sociolinguist. We are aware of the role of English in our time, 'the other tongue' on a global scale. A blooming industry, acronymed TESL and ESL and TESOL, has sprung up on the dry soil of English grammar. But the event is not new. Like everything else in our times, it is larger in size, but in principle the situation of English is no different from earlier case histories; and as our experience with English enlivens the analogous events of the past, so the examples of the past are apt, in their completed stage, to throw light on our situation, which is still in flux. To add insight into the happenings around us, I shall therefore concentrate, among the multitude of particular features, on those that appear to be the most typical of the process. The great prestige languages of the West which will serve as models reach from Antiquity into modern times. They are the Greek Koine; Latin at various stages such as the vernacular of the Empire, medieval Latinity, and the Latin of Humanism; Old French and Old Provençal of the castle culture; Italian as the Mediterranean lingua franca and as the language of the Renaissance; and the 17th-18th century French of the court culture. Even a cursory observation of these case histories reveals a recurrent linking of two patterns: that of social contact and that of linguistic impact. A certain political/social constellation favors the appeal and the spread ofthe language behind it, and this constellation determines the course of events: (a) the social structure of the target culture which is going to absorb that language; (b) the ways in which that language is acquired and integrated; (c) the domains of modernism which it represents; and (d) the causes of its retreat. Let us take a look at these four processes. (a) In literate societies, one of the primary motivations for acquiring the prestige language is its identification with education, which transfers to it the values of a class symbol. The sector of society in which a familiarity with the prestige language takes root varies with the time and cultures. In ancient Rome the intellectuals knew Greek; in Byzantium the civil servants were expected to handle Latin; in the Carolingian Empire (largely patterned after Byzantium), * This paper represents the Presidential Address delivered to the LSA Annual Meeting, Baltimore , December 1984. 495 496LANGUAGE, VOLUME 62, NUMBER 3 (1986) a dying Latin was revived for the administration of Church and State; in the Age of Feudalism the international languages of the Castle were Provençal and French; in the courts of the Renaissance the Humanists resuscitated classical Latin; and from the 17th century court culture prefigured in Versailles, down through the Enlightenment into the bourgeoisie of the 19th century, French was the long-living 'must'. Short 1980 and Kalinke 1983 stress the link between class and prestige language in the Germanic countries: in the Anglo-Norman civilization, bilingualism extended somewhat (but not very far) down from the aristocracy. In medieval Iceland, the upper classes realized that the mastery of foreign customs implied a knowledge of the respective languages; and Latin and French, being the languages of the 'right people', had, in this respect, the greatest currency. The Danish nobility sent their sons to Paris to learn French. In sharp contrast, the non-aristocratic majority of Northern Europe was monolingual . When French spread a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1535-0665
Print ISSN
0097-8507
Pages
pp. 495-508
Launched on MUSE
2015-04-01
Open Access
No
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