Teaching Students About Diglossia
Diglossia is a linguistic phenomenon that occurs when two dialects or languages are used by a single language community. In educational settings, this can create both challenges and opportunities for both teachers and students. This article aims to shed light on diglossia, its social and linguistic implications, and how to effectively teach students about this prevalent feature of bilingual communities.
The term diglossia was coined by Charles Ferguson in 1959 to describe a stable language situation in which two varieties of the same language are used for different functions, with one variety holding prestige (High variety) and the other being the everyday vernacular (Low variety). Since then, the concept has expanded to include cases where two distinct languages or dialects coexist.
There are several factors contributing to the existence of diglossia within a community. These may include historical events, political situations, cultural preferences, and social hierarchies. Common functions distinguished between high and low varieties include formal writing, education, religious texts or rituals, literature, government proceedings, while casual conversation, informal writing or storytelling are often conveyed in the low variety.
Teaching Diglossia in the Classroom
Identifying Diglossic Contexts: To teach students about diglossia effectively, educators must first raise awareness about its existence. Start by discussing examples of global contexts where diglossia exists or has existed (such as Arabic-speaking countries, Greece or Haiti). Encourage students to analyze similarities and differences between these communities.
Exploring Sociolinguistic Implications: Educate your students about the societal consequences of diglossic dynamics. For instance, there are often linguistic prejudices associated with speakers from disadvantaged communities using low variety language/dialect within formal settings. Shed light on these inequalities and engage in dialogue about social mobility and linguistic bias.
Embracing and Encouraging Multilingualism: In areas where diglossia is present, it is essential to promote language diversity. Foster an inclusive classroom environment that encourages multiple language practices and respects all dialects and languages.
Incorporating Bilingual Materials: To help students recognize and understand the functional distribution of high and low varieties, provide them with bilingual materials, such as texts or media in both languages/dialects. This will offer them opportunities to compare and contrast the language forms linguistically, leading to a more comprehensive understanding of the phenomenon.
Promoting Language Awareness: Teach your students to recognize the distinct differences between High and Low varieties (i.e., pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary). By developing an understanding of these linguistic disparities, they can better appreciate the complexities of language variation and develop empathy for different speakers.
Teaching students about diglossia enables them to develop a deeper understanding of language diversity and fosters respect for bilingual communities. By raising awareness about this phenomenon, educators can promote a more inclusive learning environment that appreciates the value of multilingualism while combating linguistic biases. With a robust understanding of diglossia, students can better engage in conversations about language use, variation, and social equity on a more informed basis.