Mathilde Andrews

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Linguistic Purism and Community-Building
Department:
French
Term:
Spring 2016

Purist and prescriptivist movements in languages have long been an area of interest for linguists, possibly because their dependency on the notion of language fixity is so paradoxical to a living, changing language. Particular attention has been paid to French, as the language is well known for its often-rigid prescriptivism, attested to by the existence of the Académie Française, a governmental body that concerns itself mainly with the defense and definition of the standard French language. Despite this focus on French, however, purist and prescriptivist movements have appeared in many languages, such as German and Dutch, and even in constructed languages, such as Na’vi.

The research for my Honors Thesis in French aims to re-examine the underlying assumptions about linguistic purism and prescriptivism. My research will focus mainly on French, with comparison case studies as counterparts, in order to better address the following: Do purism and prescriptivism truly develop from the top-down in societies, via hierarchical social structures or governmental agencies? Or are they actually speaker-driven? A deeper explanation of these questions will contribute to a better understanding of why and how these language attitudes come about, as well as why they are often so durable.