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The subjunctive in Guernsey French: Implications for gauging authenticity in an endangered language

Ferguson, C A


C A Ferguson


Authenticity is a salient issue within endangered language contexts, particularly where revitalisation efforts are in place. There is currently much activity worldwide to document and describe endangered languages, but whose language should go into the reference grammars? It is a common perception in endangered languages that the oldest speakers speak the most authentic language, but is this necessarily the case? This is a study of interspeaker and intragenerational variation in mood choice in Guernsey French which provides an insight into the issue of gauging authenticity in a severely endangered language.

Working within the variationist paradigm, the linguistic data for this apparent-time study are recorded natural speech, collected in semi-structured and unstructured interviews, both one-to-one and group, from forty-three participants on the island of Guernsey. Sociolinguistic data were collected using an oral questionnaire. The results show that mood choice is associated with one social factor, frequency of use of the language ‘now’ , and four linguistic factors, subjunctive trigger, trigger tense, embedded verb and, to a lesser extent, the presence or absence of a relative pronoun. A quantitative and qualitative approach is taken to examining interspeaker and intragenerational variation. The findings undermine any notion that the oldest generation can be unconditionally assumed to use the traditional variants.

The findings are discussed in relation to variationist theory and to the focal theory, authenticity. The research contributes to the field by being the first to examine interspeaker variation in a grammatical variable in Guernsey French. It adds to the small body of empirical research on idiolectal variation within the fields of variationist sociolinguistics and endangered languages, and highlights issues associated with applying variationist methodology in endangered language contexts. Finally, the study exposes the difficulties of seeking out and gauging authenticity in an endangered language.


Ferguson, C. A. The subjunctive in Guernsey French: Implications for gauging authenticity in an endangered language. (Thesis). University of the West of England

Thesis Type Thesis
Keywords Guernsey French, endangered language, subjunctive, mood, variationist sociolinguistics, language change and variation, change in progress, z-shaped distribution, interspeaker variation, intragenerational variation, idiolectal variation, authenticity


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