Linguistic Convergence in Diglosssic Situation

It is said that linguistic convergence takes place due to the processes of pidginisation, creolisation, realignment or a combination, of all these.  Sometimes, the degree of convergence is attributed to the influence and impact of one particular contacting language or more languages in use, in the area concerned.  Depending upon the degree of convergence, we get a new variety of language, a new style, a mixed variety, etc. and all such varieties have different social significance in use.  For example, some varieties have restricted use; some other varieties become native tongues and attain the status of mother tongue and so on.

            As far as the diglossic situation is concerned, it is slightly different, that is, to use of non-native usages, the practice of nativisation of linguistic features, realignment of linguistic features in standard norms and the question of efficiency of the usages in communication are some of the important factors responsible for linguistic convergence.  Apart from these factors, there are some social factors like the attitude of the people towards the use of certain usages, varieties, styles, etc., the social significance of some of the usages and so on.

            As per the definition of diglossia given by Ferguson (1959:336), diglossia is explained as a stable language situation, and the use of the high and low varieties are demarcated very clearly, Ferguson 's definition presupposes a literature society although not all the members of a society are literate.  According to Feguson, diglossia comes into practice on the basis of the three conditions (with reference to the concerned speech community) viz. 1) the existence of a sizable body of literature in a language closely related to the natural language of the community and this literature embodies, whether as a source of reinforcement of the fundamental values of the community. 2) Literacy in the community is restricted to a small elite group and 3) suitable period of time.

            The diglossic situation that exists to-day, presents several problems both in language use and in language development.  The dichotomy of the varieties as high and low, though mutually exclusive in language use, there are evidences which show a kind of fluctuation and overlapping from one variety to the other with regard to some of the social functions.  The situation that is in practice in the case of Tamil language demonstrates this process.  So, it is very difficult to restrict the boundary between the high and the low varieties of a language at least in some of the clear cut cases of language case.

            The maintenance of language varieties is one of the important issues in the case of diglossic situation.  There are different standards like colloquial standard, literary standard, high literary standard etc. Functionally, the standards are distinct to a greater extent in several diglossic languages, but there seems to be a shift to a certain extent in at least some of the diglossic languages like Tamil.  For example, two or more functions share certain features from both the varieties.  This kind of use leads to linguistic diffusion which eventually brings into effect some kind of commonality in the name of convergence.  This is one of the reasons why we have to think of the study of convergence and its significance in language use even in the case of diglossic situations.  If one goes through the language of mass media, modern literature, etc. he or she can very well understand the situation.

            Tamil, which aptly suits the definition of diglossia as given by Forguson has two varieties viz. the spoken (low) variety and the literary (high) variety.  In the context of this diglossic situation we find convergence taking place.  As in the case  of bilingual convergence, it is possible to predict the nature and direction of convergence, something is possible in the case of convergence in the diglossic situation also.

            When convergence takes place in diglossic situations, it mainly comes into practice through the spoken variety.  Since the per centage of literacy in India is very low and most of the people live in rural areas, they are not very much acquainted with the literary variety of the regional languages or official languages.

            It is obvious, therefore, that those people with the least amount of formal education, usually those from the lower socio-economic classes, will be relatively unfamiliar with high variety, particularly in so far as some of the `normal' functions of high variety (eg. For poetry or political speeches) are concerned because they are not of close or immediate concern to many such people.  The extent to which the high variety is used in education, they may be at a disadvantage, but at least in the case of German, Switzerland, it seems that most teachers at the lower levels of education use Swiss, German, even though at University or equivalent level, high German, appears to be the rule (wallwork, 1978: 67).  Thus, higher learning but also to linguistic mastery of high variety, which is itself a key to many other avenues.  So, in diglossic situations of this kind the `L' variety or, a variety or style that is in between the `L' and `H' varieties may have more functional value.

            In a developing country like ours, social functions such as mass education, adult literacy, etc., occupy a significant place.  As we find a high per centage of rural population and as our literacy percentage is very low, our masses need to be educated through mass contact programmes.  Unless we try to eradicate illiteracy and educate our masses, through mass contact programmes it may not be so easy to implement social development programmes in a successful way.  In the present day formal education, we use both the high and modern literary varieties of Tamil.  At the same time when we consider the necessity and importance of non-formal adult education, such literary varieties may not be relatively more suitable.  So, we have to find out these common expressions and basic usages reflected in the day-to-day use.  Moreover, the variety that is employed in such programmes should be nearer to the living language.  As our main purpose is to make our masses considerably literate, and to impart them some basic knowledge about what is happening in our Nation, it would be better if we employ such of the linguistic variety or style that is easily accessible to and adoptable by the common folk.

            Though we find two distinct varieties in Tamil viz, literary variety (H) and spoken variety (L) if we deeply go into the language use we could easily identify the use of a third variety.  This variety is represented as modern literary variety or standard spoken variety.  As pointed out by Ferguson and other, Tamil situation is a clear cut case, of diglossia but the present situation makes us to realize the three way distinction and so we can say that there exists triglossia in Tamil.  The intermediate variety referred above also has functional significance like the other two.  That is, we find the use of high literary variety only in certain literary discussions, debates, research forums, writings, etc.  It is in a way meant for the elites.  The modern literary variety has more functions than that of the high variety.  Each of these varieties are used to perform different sets of social functions an thus they are mutually exclusive in use.  Even in the medieval period, we find variety mixing, the use of liteary and colloquial styles in literature.

When we choose such a variety and use it in the preparation of the teaching materials, then certainly it would motivate and accelerate the learning process of the adults and they could be very well introduced, at a later stage of their learning, to the literary variety.  This will be more rewarding and highly useful for neo-literatures.

The Tamil used in mass media especially in cinema was only the literary variety some twenty to twenty five years back.  However, after 1960, there was a marked difference in the use of Tamil in cinema as well as theater.  The use of spoken varieties gained gradual popularity and later on some kind of standard variety evolved which eventually replaced the literary variety form use.  Tamil masses also started preferring this type of variety in mass media, because they are able to get easy and efficient communication through it.  All this is due to the gradual convergence of the high and low varieties in Tamil.

            When we consider the question of stability, though diglossia is considered as a stable phenomenon, due to linguistic convergence the stability sometimes becomes weak.  But at the same time, brings into language use a kind of unifying function.  Sankoff (1972) explains diglossia as a case of creole and standard language situation wherein different codes may not display the property of discreteness are, therefore, more considered some problematic than in multilingualism.

            This standardization process may be explained as in the following diagram.

Language Standardization Process


Changes taking place in the language are either directly or indirectly related to the communication needs of the society.  This means that the process of standardization is also directly or indirectly related to the communication system.  This is because, we want to achieved through standardization, maximum precision, clarity, understanding and efficiency in our language use.  Besides these linguistic aims of standardization, there are some other extra linguistic aims also like the socio-political differences that could be achieved through the process of standardization.  In the diglossic situation also the same thing happens as far as standardization of usages and varieties are concerned.

            Social setting has direct bearing on linguistic convergence, this is obvious from the very fact that language is a socio-cultural phenomenon.  Each language or variety has a social setting and it varies from place to place.  In contact situations, such social setting influences inter group interactions.  Social setting of language contact and linguistic convergence include geographical area, indigenousness, cultural or ethnic identity, religion, race, sex, age, social status, occupational-cum-economic status and the nature of the population as pointed out by Weinreich (1974).  Along with these factors, duration of contact is also responsible for linguistic convergence.  If the duration is long, some times we find productive linguistic convergence, that is, the process of pidginisation taking place first, which later on leads to creolisation.  As we do ot have more systematized framework to describe linguistic convergence and diglossic situations at present, it is time that we should try to frame one.