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Diglossia refers to speech community in which two or more varieties of the same language are used by some speakers under different conditions (Fergusson, 1996: 25). Speakers of a particular language can not be characterized as diglossic; only their behavior, or the behavior of the speech community can be considered diglossic. Thus, beliefs and attitudes about the language condition the maintenance of diglossia as a fact of linguistic culture. Habit, attitude, and values in a society are completing one another in order to avoid experience conflicts because of language.


Diglossic situation exists if it has two distinct codes which show clear functional separation (Wardhaugh, 1998: 87). In each situation there is a ‘high’ variety (H) of language and a ‘low’ variety (L) which each variety has its own specialized functions, and each is viewed differently by those who are aware of both. For example in Switzerland situation, there are standard German (H) and Swiss German (L). Ferguson (in Wardhaugh, 1998: 87).


Fergusson differentiates a language into high language (H) for formal and serious matter and low language (L) for conversation and other informal uses. H relates to religion, education, high culture and L used at homeand at factory (1996: 27). Whereas Eggenwil (in Holmes, 1992: 32) defines that diglossia has three significant features or criteria:

1. Two distinct varieties of the same language are used in the community, with one regarded as a high (or H) variety and the other a low (or L) variety.

2. Each variety is used for quite distinct functions; H and l complement each other.

3. No one use the H variety in everyday conversation.


Those two varieties are close linguistically related in some cases than others. For example, the degree of difference in the pronunciation of H and L varies from place to place. The sounds of Swiss German are quite different from those of Standard German. The grammar of H is morphologically more complicated. Standard German uses more case markers on nouns and tense inflections on verbs than Swiss German, and standard French, the H variety in Haiti, uses more markers of number and gender on nouns than the L variety in Haitian Creole.


Holmes states that diglossia has been described as a stable situation. It is possible for two varieties to continue to exist side by side for centuries. For example, England was diglossic (in the broad sense) after 1066 when the Normans were in control. French was the language of the court, administration, the legal system, and high society in general. English was the language of the peasants in the fields and the streets. For example in the following words,


English      French      English

ox              boeuf         beef

sheep       mouton      mutton

calf            veau           veal

pig            porc           pork


The English calf becomes French veau as it moves from the farm to the dinner table. However, by the end of the 14th century English has displaced French, while absorbing huge numbers of French such as beef, mutton, veal, and pork, so there were no longer domains in which French was the appropriate language to use. In conclusion, diglossia is used to describe complementary code use in all communities. In all speech communities people use different varieties or codes in formal contexts, as opposed to relaxed casual situations. In other words, the variety at the formal end of the scale could be regarded as an H variety, while the most casual variety could be regarded as an L variety.



Fergusson, C. A. 1996. Sociolinguistic Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Holmes, Janet. 1992. An Introduction to Sociolinguistics. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc.

Wardhaugh, Ronald. 1998. An Introduction to Sociolinguistics. USA: Blackwell Publishers Inc.


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