top of page


AHRC Research Network Project (RG57301) Language and Social Structure in Urban France




Conference / Colloque

Thursday, 8th September /Jeudi 8 septembre
Language and Social Class/ Langue et Class Social Lubbock Room, Peterhouse 

  • 9.00-9.15 Welcome and introductory remarks (Mari Jones) Accueil, introduction.

  Format for paper sessions : 2 x 30 mins papers ; 30 mins questions and discussion.

  • 9.15- 10.45 : Session One : Chair/Président : Mari Jones

  • Jacques Durand (CLLE-ERSS, CNRS, Toulouse 2 & IUF) What can vowels tell us about levelling in European French ?


Recent studies have argued that Northern varieties of hexagonal French seemed to be slowly moving towards an implicit norm close to the standard Parisian variety. In this paper, I will look at some results which can be extracted from the work done within the PFC programme (Phonologie du français contemporain : usages, variétés et structure) : see Durand, Laks, Lyche (2002, 2009a,b), Gess, Lyche and Meisenburg (to appear) for overviews and collective results. Our study of schwa (or mute ‘e’) shows that considerable differences continue to separate southern varieties from northern one even if in word-final position urban systems appear to be slowly converging towards Reference French with factors of geographical distance and social differentiation playing a complicating role. In this paper, I will look at vowel systems particularly in southern French and Swiss French and show how geographical distance coupled with national boundaries interact with system-internal features to maintain strong differences between these varieties and Reference French.

Fichier de présentation

  • Nigel Armstrong (Leeds) Diglossic variation in French : a case of the Sapir-Whorfs ?


This paper considers the notion, sometimes raised in the sociolinguistic literature, that contemporary French is diglossic or quasi-diglossic, in the sense that the stylistic dimension is the most notable one along which variation is to be seen. This notion is examined through considering so-called hyperstyle variation, on the assumption that diglossia will find expression in this way. Hyperstyle describes a preponderance of style over ’social’ (typically social-class) variation. Pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary are considered in turn, and the provisional conclusion is reached that lexical variation, owing to its greater salience, may account for the greater prominence of style variation in French

  • 10.45-11.15 Coffee /Café

  • 11.15-12.45 Session Two : Chair/Président : Robert Gibb



  • Paul Lambert (Stirling) Social inequality in France : Measures and mechanisms


Whilst social inequality is a multi-faceted phenomena, there is a compelling case that occupations continue to mark the most important and consistent contours of stratification and inequality across contemporary societies. This paper will seek to characterise research on stratification and inequality in France from an international sociological perspective, focusing upon the measurement of stratification through occupations, and on what occupational measures may reveal about the structure of stratification and inequality in the first instance, and, secondly, about the mechanisms and processes behind such social inequalities. In the case of France, numerous characterisations of the occupational order of social inequality are possible, but we suggest that social interaction distance measures provide particularly interesting tools for exploring the social structure. Moreover, we will try to argue that methods which seek to assess the roles of other relevant mechanisms of stratification and inequality - including the possible role of linguistic variations - are best served by the detailed evaluation of occupational positions which can be supported through the social interaction analysis paradigm. A brief analysis (using French census data accessed through IPUMS-I) will be presented comparing measures of stratification based upon occupations with other socio-economic and socio-demographic differences. As is typical of large scale general purpose surveys, data on linguistic variations is not recorded, but we will discuss a brief exploration of the use of geographical and other measures which might potentially act as a proxy for linguistic variations in such research.

Fichier de présentation

  • Eric Harrison (London City) ‘Instruments du travail’ and the travails of instruments : Reflections on the cross-national measurement of social class

This paper reflects on the experience of working within a cross- national consortium to develop a socio-economic classification for use by academics and national statistical offices. The aim was, and remains, for this to be officially adopted by Eurostat as a core variable. A well harmonised instrument must retain a single, clear theoretical rationale, while paying enough attention to national peculiarities to be seen as meaningful in every country where it is used. Many countries expressed concerns about national deviations from the overall classification, but the most significant cleavage was within the consortium between the French team and the other researchers. Criticisms were levelled at the ’anglo-saxon’ nature of class in both its conception and operationalisation. These objections were twofold :

a) French society is different and the proposed international classification does not capture its own unique distinctions and divisions that characterise social inequality,

b) Many of the concepts used in social stratification, such as ’professional’, ‘salariat’ and ‘supervisor’ do not translate meaningfully into French. This therefore makes it difficult for respondents to place themselves in the classification, and for analysts to achieve accurate correspondence between national and international measurement.

The paper examines these arguments by evaluating them theoretically and empirically. It concludes that some of these objections are indeed a result of linguistics. However they are also a reflection of methodological differences, the politics of European statistics, and the ongoing concern to protect PCS – the Francophone national classification – against the inexorable influence of international English as the working language of statistical harmonisation.

Fichier de présentation

  • 12.45-2.00 Lunch / Déjeuner, Peterhouse Dining Hall

  • 2.00-3.30 Session Three : Chair/Président : David Hornsby

  • Françoise Gadet (Paris X, Nanterre) Collecting a new corpus in Paris : an opportunity for discussing methods


La problématique de cette comunication est inspirée par la réflexion de l’ANR franco-britannique Multicultural London English/Multicultural Paris French, visant à documenter l’influence des langues en contact sur le français parlé en région parisienne et sur l’anglais parlé à Londres. Le corpus anglais a été recueilli lors d’un projet antérieur, mais le corpus français est en cours de recueil, et la mise en place a été l’occasion de nous confronter à des questions de méthodes pour lesquelles nous cherchons des réponses adpatées à l’objectif global. Nous en prendons ici trois exemples. Le premier concerne le recueil lui-même (la sélection des sujets et des situations, opposant l’interview ‚sociolinguistique’ au recueil écologique, la sélection des sujets sur leurs qualités socio-démographiques à une sélection par réseau). Le deuxième concerne la transcription et le codage (quels faits, quand on poursuit des objectifs d’étude de la syntaxe et du discours, mériteront d’être épinglés dès le niveau de la transcription, et pourquoi). Quant au troisième, avant même l’analyse, il concerne la sélection de catégories „émergentes“, non seulement pour leur comportement linguistique mais davantage pour l’intérêt de leur signification sociolinguistique.

  • Aidan Coveney (Exeter) Social fracture, grammatical fracture ?


This paper investigates the extent to which social class differences in France correspond to differences in linguistic behavior, specifically at the level of grammar. In France, as in the UK, individuals are often judged according to the extent to which they conform to the standard of the country’s dominant language. There is some agreement that the phonological (including prosodic) and lexical levels are more salient indicators of social class, and, to an extent also, level of education. Although in some ways less salient, the grammatical level is perhaps considered to be particularly significant, in that deviations from the standard norm are often taken as a sign, not only of education, but even – among non-linguists - of intelligence. Two interesting claims have been made in recent years regarding the extent to which the use of grammar is socially differentiated in France. It has been said that there is now no such variety as ‘popular French’, since the grammatical features of this traditional working-class variety have either disappeared or merged with those of ‘familiar French’, the informal variety spoken by all classes. Recently, some syntacticians have claimed that France is diglossic, and that all French speakers operate with two distinct mental grammars, corresponding to the two varieties in a diglossic relationship. I will weigh up the evidence, both qualitative and quantitative, that should help us to evaluate these two claims. The evidence will relate to variable areas of French grammar, including interrogatives, negatives, subject doubling and the agreement of the past participle. Where relevant, I will make comparisons with evidence available for English in the UK.

Fichier de présentation

  • 3.30-4.00 Coffee/Café

  • 4.00-5.30 Session Four : Chair/Président : Tim Pooley

  • Roland Pfefferkorn (Strasbourg) Evolution récente des inégalités sociales en France. Quels rapports entre l’analyse de ces dernières et la langue ?

ll s’agirait, d’une part, de décrire dans ses grandes lignes l’évolution récente des inégalités sociales en France (cf notamment mes ouvrages ’Le système des inégalités’(avec Alain Bihr) et ’Inégalités et rapports sociaux. Rapports de classe, rapports de sexe’) et de discuter les conclusions principales de mes travaux sur les inégalités sociales et les rapports sociaux. D’autre part, je souhaite m’interroger sur l’apport (réel ou potentiel !) de la sociologie française des trente dernières années à l’analyse du rapport entre classe sociale et langue / langage dans la France contemporaine. Autrement dit, dans quelle mesure les sociologues français prennent-ils/elles ou pourraient-ils/elles prendre en compte la dimension linguistique en analysant les formes et l’évolution récente des inégalités sociales en France ?. Cette réflexion sur la (non- ?)prise en compte des questions de langue / langage dans les analyses sociologiques récentes des inégalités sociales en France sera éventuellement de nature générale ou provisoire.


  • Philippe Coulangeon (ENSAE Paris) How class inequalities in culture have evolved in France during the last thirty years : Theoretical concerns and methodological issues.

The paper is essentially based on the comparison between two surveys on cultural practices made in France in 1981 and 2008. Using Multi-correspondence analysis, I first address the relevance and stability across time of the structuring principles of cultural habits and attitudes in reference to class variables. The main result is a quite permanent structuring principle, given by the first axis of the MCA, which relates to the volume of cultural consumption and practices, opposing those with a lot of practices, including the most legitimates ones, but not exclusively, to those with almost no practices, except for TV watching. This first axis seems largely interpretable in class terms. The second result is that of a less straightforwardly interpretable and stable structuring principle, which seems to relate both to age and/or generation and to cultural legitimacy.

Secondly, the paper focuses on the conceptual issue of the confusion between cultural difference and cultural inequality. Said in other words, to what extent differences in cultural attitudes, habits and resources among social classes can be systematically interpreted in terms of inequality rather than in terms of diversity ? It addresses this question in relation to contemporary French debates about the conception of cultural policy, and attempt to quantify the evolution of the so-called “cultural inequality” in relation to the social space of cultural habits and attitudes constructed in the first part of the paper with MCA. To that purpose, we make use of indicators derived from those used in the field of health inequalities (relative index of inequality and concentration index). In this respect, the analysis displays a rather divergent evolution of the scope of inequalities across time as regards to the two structuring principles previously highlighted. Whereas class inequalities seem to have increased in reference to the first principle, they display an opposite evolution in reference to the second.

Finally, the paper tries to explore the possible causes of the previous results by means of multivariate analysis which suggests the prevalence of generation and social-mobility effects which could be related to the social and cultural impact of the school expansion that occurred in France between the mid-eighties and the mid-nineties.

Fichier de présentation

  • 6.30-7.30 Vin d’honneur, Master’s Lodge, Peterhouse

  • 7.30 Conference Dinner, Peterhouse Dining Hall

Friday, 9th September 2011/Vendredi 9 septembre
Language, Space and Social Change/ Langue, Espace et Changement Sociale Lubbock Room, Peterhouse

  • 9.30-11.00 : Session One : Chair/Président : Mari Jones

  • Zoe Boughton (Exeter) Locating Variation in French


Metropolitan French has been subject to processes of directional standardisation and non-directional dedialectalisation and levelling, especially since the late twentieth century, to the extent that it is now considered highly uniformised. Although the level of phonology is not exempt from this, variation is axiomatic in any living language : complete uniformity is impossible but variation in French can appear rather subtle when we consider the traditional axes of geographical space and hierarchical social structure. The chief question this paper will examine, therefore, is where variation can now be found. It will offer an overview of variationist findings with regard to region, including the urban–rural dimension, social factors, such as age, gender and class, formality of speech style, and linguistic aspects such as the relative stability of the consonantal and vocalic systems. Taking a comparative view where possible, the paper will aim to determine areas of vitality in phonological variation and potential avenues of future investigation

Fichier de présentation

  • Damien Hall (Kent) Geographical variation in the French of Northern France : do we have the basic data ?


It is often said that there is little geographical differentiation between varieties of French in Northern France ; instead, differentiation across this region (and also within the non-langue d’oïl areas) is said to be largely social, so that people from Northern France are more likely to be able to pinpoint the social class of an unknown speaker from the region than his or her precise place of upbringing. Indeed, there are solid results demonstrating this comparative inability to use accent alone to distinguish between regions of upbringing. And yet there are some dissenting voices : people can often pick out an accent du Nord, with some even feeling that they may be able to distinguish town of origin within that area ; also, recent presentations to linguists in France of the project described here have met with approval, as of a project which would have some worthwhile and interesting results. Towards A New Linguistic Atlas of France (TANLAF) is a two-year research project on the regional accents of the largest towns and cities in the Northern third of France. The project is mostly sociophonetic, following the lead of Labov and colleagues in the Atlas of North American English (2006). TANLAF aims to collect a sample of reasonably-educated speakers, on a single ‘middle’ social level, from across Northern France, and to analyse principally the vowel-spaces of these speakers, with the intention of uncovering the geographical variation that is to be found in the area of study, and also of testing the extent to which modern patterns of life (commuting) are reflected in the language of the area. TANLAF began in March 2011 ; this paper will describe the project’s design, preliminary results and future direction. Previous sociophonetic analyses of individual Northern French varieties have revealed unexpected but consistent phonetic differences between local accents in the area ; the intention is that TANLAF will do so on a larger scale, as a first step towards providing us with the basic phonetic data on regional accent differentiation in Northern France.

  • 11.00-11.30 Coffee /Café

  • 11.30-1.00 Session Two : Chair/Président : Paul Lambert

  • Catherine Neveu IIAC-LAIOS (CNRS-EHESS) (Laboratoire d’Anthropologie des Institutions et des Organisations Sociales) Citizenship talks : on working on citizenship trans-nationally

This paper will largely be based on collective work in a small international group of scholars, who have been discussing about “citizenship” for some years now. Having different birth language (Brazilian Portuguese, English English, American English and French), different disciplinary (political science, cultural studies and anthropology) and national backgrounds (Brazil, UK, USA and France), its members are endlessly confronted to issues of “legibility”, in their own work as well as that of others. Does it mean the same to talk about citizenship n these many different contexts ? How are we to understand what others mean when they use this notion ? Such issues are all the more complex since the group’s working language is English. This paper will explore some aspects of this complexity, and relate it to wider issues of categorisations in urban contexts where references to “citizenship” are used, whether explicitly or as research questions. Relying on research on “participatory democracy” and on identification processes among youth of migrant descent in France, I will try to expose the political imaginaries connected to the use of “citizenship”, and how they can be compared transnationally.

  • Aude Rabaud (Université Paris VII, Diderot - URMIS) Living with the ‘Tower Block People’ : this euphemism and its challenges


The aim of this paper is to analyse the conditions for the appearance and use of an ethnicised urban category called "tower block residents". More particularly, I would like to consider a process of categorisation oscillating between stigmatization and euphemism, by outlining a research project based on four years of participative observation in a large agglomeration on the outskirts of Bordeaux, France. First, I will restore certain assumptions underlying the injunctions of municipal policy, set in terms of integration, participation, conviviality and behavioural compliance. The attention given to the construction of "target audiences" of social intervention will highlight the fact that only a fraction of these inhabitants are subject to a major and systematic categorisation expressed by seemingly neutral and innocuous designation, (such as "the tower block people"). These categories, targeted by local government policy, are perceived as "having problems "and "creating problems" and are subject to a heavy solicitation to participate in various local activities. I will then demonstrate the effectiveness of the category designation "tower block people" in everyday interactions. I will outline how it contributes to the structuring of social relations in the neighbourhood, especially during building renovations and at events such as neighbourhood dinner parties and inter-cultural festivals. The presentation of the issues surrounding literacy and writing workshops offered in the neighbourhood will present an opportunity to show how relationships with the national language contribute to social classification within the community.Finally, the passing of a register of meaning (that of social marginalization, poverty) to another, that implicitly corresponds to its own, and is based on the criteria of differentiation and ethnic hierarchy, will be revealed. I will show how, referring to "tower block people" is used both to refer to people of lower social class, the "have nots", under house arrest in these types of habitation because they have no means to leave. I will demonstrate how this category becomes a substitute euphemist ethnic category, socially and historically constructed as "foreign " "immigrants", "people with immigrant origins", "people coming from x origins .... ". The indictment and demands of citizenship faced by "tower block people" we note two registers relied on by the use of this term : social practices and lifestyles on the one hand , divestment, resignation and lack of citizenship, on the other. Thus, transformed into a legitimate category of representation of society, the category "tower block people" is a disqualifying label which designates people constituted as foreign or immigrant and assigns them specific positions. This definition not only encloses them as target populations for local government policy, but also as a population to empower, to integrate, to make citizens of. The language issue, raised mainly in terms of lack of proficiency in French, appears implicitly as a reproach addressed at certain residents and while it is used to legitimise social intervention, it can also contribute to the minority status of some residents. A non-neutral category that expresses a definite minority status, the term "tower block people" is operational even if the strength of its hold on individuals listed may vary, it nevertheless contributes to the social activity planning of the neighbourhood.

  • 1.00-2.15 Lunch / Déjeuner, Peterhouse Dining Hall

  • 2.15-3.45 Session Three : Chair/Président : David Hornsby

  • James Costa (ENS-Lyon) Language, authenticity and urban centres in Provence : defining minorities and majorities through discourse


Based on ongoing ethnographic fieldwork in various parts of Provence, this paper will look at how competing language revitalisation groups view and symbolically construct the Marseilles metropolis, but also smaller but culturally meaningful cities such as Avignon and Arles in their respective discourses. In narratives of language revitalisation, such cities come to occupy a symbolic position as mediating centres between the countryside on the one hand and the wider world on the other. As such, the symbolic semiotisation of towns is central to language revitalisation movements, and at the heart of these discursive processes lies the definition of future legitimate linguistic practices and metalinguistic discourses. Drawing on discourses of competing militant associations, I will reflect on how, in a context of increased globalisation, such urban centres are made central in the construction of new categories which go beyond the militant movements themselves (“minority” vs. “majority”, “local” vs. “global”, “native” vs. “foreign”, “urban” vs. “rural”, “authentic” vs. “fake”) through and around language. An examination of the ideological role of cities in revitalisation narratives will also enable me to assess the place of recent or less recent immigrants in the revitalisation movements processes and in the groups they seek to create : are revitalisation movements merely inward-looking (and backward) movements, as is usually believed, or are they in fact outward-looking movements, capable of adapting to changing cultural and economic dynamics ?

Fichier de présentation

  • Cyril Trimaille (Grenoble 3) & Médéric Gasquet-Cyrus (Provence) Space in Sociolinguistics : about urban changes and their effects on language variation and change


Dans cette communication nous nous intéressons aux points de rencontre entre la notion d’espace, prise dans une acception large, les facteurs sociaux, et les questionnements sociolinguistiques, notamment ceux, centraux, sur la variation et le changement linguistique. Après être revenus sur la façon dont la discipline a pris en compte la dimension spatiale et notamment les modélisations de la diffusion socio-spatiale de variantes sociolinguistiques, nous proposons une description des relations pouvant exister entre spatialité vécue et diverses dimensions et modes d’appréhension de productions langagières. La contextualisation ethnographique des terrains à partir desquels nous avons saisi ces productions (Grenoble, Marseille) nous amène à nous interroger sur les effets sociolinguistiques possibles des changements urbains, en particulier en ce qui concerne les phénomènes de gentrification. En effet, nous postulons que ces processus d’appropriation d’espaces populaires par des habitants de classes moyennes, en tant qu’ils modifient la structure socio-spatiale, jouent un rôle non seulement dans les mutations des quartiers populaires non périphériques mais aussi dans la diffusion socio-spatiale de traits langagiers sub/péri-urbains et par conséquent dans la nécessité de redifférenciation. Nous examinons de quelles manières ces effets peuvent se manifester et, de manière plus large, comment les changements urbains et sociaux peuvent entrainer des changements dans les répertoires langagiers ainsi que dans la façon dont ceux-ci sont perçus.

Fichier de présentation

  • 3.45-4.15 Coffee/Café /

  • 4.15-5.15 Discussion/ Table Ronde

  • 7.00 Dinner, Riverside Restaurant, Cambridge

Saturday, 10th September 2011/Samedi 10 septembre

  • 9.00-11.30 Meeting of Network Steering Committee/Réunion du groupe de pilotage. Friends of Peterhouse Seminar Room. (Coffee served at 9.30)

bottom of page