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Session Overview
Keynote 3: Simon Pickl
Thursday, 01/June/2023:
9:00am - 10:00am

Session Chair: Julie Van Ongeval
Location: Lokettenzaal

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Standardization and Linguistic Ideals: Relativizing the Principle of Variation Reduction

Simon Pickl

Universität Salzburg

Language standardization is often understood as a directional process aimed at establishing a uniform language variety. This is generally assumed to be achieved through the reduction of variation (e.g. Moessner 2017) and the suppression of optional variability (e.g. Nevalainen/Tieken-Boon van Ostade 2006), with uniformity as the ultimate ‘aim’ or ‘goal’ (e.g. Milroy 2001) of the standardization process. Moschonas (2019), however, contests this view as a ‘pretheoretical’ notion rooted in standard language ideology.

This talk first approaches the problem of uniformity and variation reduction in standardization empirically. In a case study on German relativizers, the variation between three competing variants is analysed diachronically, with a view to assessing changes in the degree of variation for this variable over time. The data used in this investigation are from a diachronic corpus of sermons (SermonC), which is regionally balanced for the timespan most relevant for standardization (c. 1500–1900). Taking into account the results from a previous study on relativizers with a focus on genre variation (Pickl 2020), the present analysis contributes to a fuller picture of historical variation and change in more than one dimension. The results show that variation does not unidirectionally decrease over time but can revert to previous levels and even increase in the context of standardization.

The talk will then discuss the theoretical implications of these findings. The results cannot be explained by universal principles of standardization such as variation reduction. Instead, linguistic uniformity as a goal in standardization is just one of a number of linguistic ideals. Changes in the relative importance assigned to these ideals can halt and reverse trends and lead to temporary increases in variation between alternative forms. As a result, understanding standardization as the reduction or suppression of variation is too simplistic a view of the formation and linguistic consolidation of a standard language. Instead, language standardization is the result of linguistic idealism, which is driven and shaped by ideals that can change over time and thus alter the course of the development of a standard language.


Milroy, James (2001). Language ideologies and the consequences of standardization. Journal of Sociolinguistics 5/4, 530–555.

Moessner, Lilo (2017). Standardization. Alexander Bergs / Laurel J. Brinton (eds). The History of English. Volume 4: Early Modern English. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, 167–187.

Moschonas, Spiros (2019). From language standards to a Standard Language. The case of Modern Greek. Diacronia 10, 1–44.

Nevalainen, Terttu / Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade (2006). Standardisation. Richard Hogg & David Denison (eds). A History of the English Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 271–311.

Pickl, Simon (2020): Factors of selection, standard universals, and the standardisation of German relativisers. Language Policy 19/2, 235–258.

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