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FR13: The French Language: Variation and Change

This paper is available for the academic year 2018-19.

This course, which combines synchronic and historical perspectives, explores the related processes of language variation and language change in the context of French.

The course assumes a good prior knowledge of Linguistics and of the French language. Ideally, students will have read paper Fr2 ‘Structures and Varieties of French’ at Part IB.


The Michaelmas Term focuses on theories of language change and their application. Traditional approaches (such as the dichotomy between 'internal' and 'external' change) are combined with more recent theoretical frameworks (such as codeswitching, language death), and it is demonstrated that the boundaries between what appear to be very different types of change may in fact often be blurred. The Michaelmas term also introduces the additional dimension of 'unconscious' and 'deliberate' language change, distinguishing between change which occurs without speakers generally being aware of the 'linguistic decisions' they make and instances in which conscious attempts are made to influence the form (and often the status) of a linguistic variety via processes such as language planning and revitalisation.

The Lent Term focuses on three themes. It begins by exploring the interface between the French language and questions of identity. The second focus is on French dialectology from the Medieval period to the present day, with special reference to continental and insular Norman and including the Anglo-Norman spoken in Medieval England. The term concludes by considering methodologies for exploring language variation and change in written French.

Preparatory reading: 

Students wishing to refresh their knowledge of French linguistics may find the following introductory books helpful:

A. Battye, M-A. Hintze and P. Rowlett, The French Language Today (Routledge, 2000)

R. Lodge, N. Armstrong, Y. Ellis, J. Shelton, Exploring the French Language (Arnold, 1997)


More advanced preparatory reading:

N. Armstrong and T. Pooley (eds.), Social and Linguistic Change in European French (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010)

M.C. Jones and I. Singh, Exploring Language Change (Routledge, 2005)

M.C. Jones, Variation and Change in Mainland and Insular Norman (Brill, 2015)

R.D. Grillo, Dominant Languages: Language and Hierarchy in Britain and France (Cambridge University Press, 1989)


Full reading list

The full reading list can be found here.

Teaching and learning: 

The course is taught through weekly lectures and regular supervisions.



The paper is assessed via 3-hour written exam. Please see the specimen exam paper for an example of the current format of the paper.

Course Contacts: 
Professor Mari Jones