Europe’s sociolinguistic unity, or: A typology of European dialect/standard constellations
By Peter Auer

At first sight, the diversity of the dialect-standard constellations found in Europe is enormous and seems to defy any attempt to find a common denominator.
Many believe that the sociolinguistic situation, say, in England, Germany and Italy is fundamentally different and that what is meant by ‚dialect‘ and ‚standard‘ in these countries cannot be compared at all. In this paper, I would like to advocate the opposite position and argue for a uniform description of the European sociolinguistic repertoires. More specifically, my claim is that on a sufficient level of generalisation there is a systematicity behind the superficial heterogeneity which unfolds from a historical perspective.

I will suggest a typology of speech repertoires which distinguishes five sociolinguistic types that also represent a chronological order. The typology aims at the standard-dialect dimension, while multilingual constellations will only be commented on to the degree that exoglossic standard languages enter the repertoire. There have been some previous attempts at more comprehensive typologies valid for all sociolinguistical areas in the world.1 By comparison, the present attempt is a good deal less ambitious since it is restricted to Europe and since it leaves out many multilingual repertoire types; however, it is supplemented by a historical component which is usually absent.

A number of preliminary remarks are necessary. I will use the term ‘dialect’ as a purely relational concept (following, for instance, Coseriu 1980), which means that by definition, without a standard there can be no dialect. (The opposite is a contingent fact and an important generalisation over the European sociolinguistic history.) Also, the term will be used exclusively in order to refer to areal variability within a language (i.e., there is no ‘standard dialect’ of a language according to my usage of the term, but only a standard variety). On the other hand, the term ‘dialect’ will not be restricted to the ‘base dialects’, i.e. the most ancient, rural, conservative dialects, but will be used such as to include regional and urban varieties with a larger geographical reach as well.

More controversial is the term ‘standard‘. Here, it is employed in order to designate a variety of a language (which follows a ‘norm’ or ‘codex’, i.e. ‘standard’ does not designate the norm itself), which is characterised by the following three features: (a) it is orientated to by speakers of more than onevernacular variety (which does not necessarily imply that it is mastered by everybody), (b) is looked upon as an H-variety and used for writing2, and (c) it is subject to at least some codification and/or conscious Ausbau (in the sense of Kloss 1967).3 A standard variety therefore is more than a ‘common variety’ (Gemeinsprache), which only satisfies the first criterion, and more than an H-variety (Hochsprache), which only satisfies the second Europe’s criterion. The third requirement excludes from consideration, for instance, the various H-varieties of Middle High German as used in the medieval literature. But taken alone, it would not be sufficient to define a standard variety either, since there are codifications of dialects as well (for instance, there is a Zürichdeutsche Grammatik in which people look up what Zürichdeutsch dialect should ‘really’ be like, although no Swiss person would think of Zürichdeutsch as a standard variety).

My focus will be on the emergence of the endoglossic national standard varieties in Europe in the 2nd millennium A.D. and their relationship to the dialects in their respective geographical area. These standard varieties are closely linked to the emergence of the European nation states; since the codification of a national language has often been looked upon as an important if not an essential step in nation building, the history of the standard variety and its status today usually reflect the way in which nation building has proceeded.

In some areas, there has been a straightforward development from the late Middle Ages to the present day (such as in the prototypical European nation states, e.g. in England or France), in other cases, the process set in much later (as in Romania, Luxembourg, etc.), or was restarted after a period of destandardisation (Ireland, Greece, etc.). Note, however, that not all national standard languages (e.g. those whose emergence is due to a nationalistic ideology) are state languages in Europe.

Some have failed to reach this status and are used as minority languages within one or more European states (such as Standard Basque/Euskara Batua).