Language myths and the historiography of French

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Sociolinguists in the UK have recently come to recognise the importance of language mythologies (shared assumptions about language whose factual status is not established, but which are widely prevalent and support and reinforce each other), for they can be shown to have a significant effect on the way speakers use their language on a day-to-day basis. Richard Watts has recently explored the effect of such myths, not on ordinary speakers but on writers of histories of English. He has shown that certain fundamental language myths have hardened into ideology and have had a profound effect on the historiography of English. This paper looks at the historiography of French from a similar perspective and shows how profoundly language myths via standard ideology have shaped the way histories of French have traditionally been written. Although the overt effects of this ideology have weakened in recent decades, contemporary histories of the language still show the effects of this ideology in their treatment of the vernacular and in their underlying approach to language change.


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