Regional variation and the commodification of language in southwest France

Lead Research Organisation: Queen Mary, University of London
Department Name: School of Languages Linguistics and Film


In societies that develop strict hierarchies of linguistic
prestige (like France), subordinate language varieties can be
threatened. The survival of linguistic and cultural diversity
can come to depend on a community's capacity to
commodify their traditional practices within a particular
regime of ideologies. This project examines how French
regional language becomes commodified as emblems of
place in different ways in two southern French regions:
Bordeaux and Toulouse. The project uses language practices
and language change as a window into the wider political and
economic dynamics of place.
In France, a strong prescriptivist tradition has led to a high
degree of standardisation of regional French as well as
dialect levelling in favour of uniform supralocal norms
(Amstrong & Pooley, 2010; Blanchet & Armstrong, 2006;
Pooley, 2000). Nevertheless, some regionalisms remain. This
project focuses on how such regionalisms become
commodified as emblems of place in Bordeaux and
Toulouse. The two sites are chosen because while they are
both located in a similar geographical area (southwest
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France) and share certain cultural and administrative
features (e.g. southern gastronomy, capitals of their local
administrative districts), they also differ in important ways. A
major difference is their physical and symbolic proximity to
Paris. The Bordeaux city council has a stated goal of
distinguishing itself from other southern cities and drawing
closer links to the capital, goals that Toulouse does not
share. Both have large tourist industries, though while
Bordeaux tends to attract a wealthy clientele to its nearby
seaside and wine-growing region, Toulouse relies instead on
business tourism (it is a European centre for the aeronautic
industry). Thus, these characteristics impact differently on
the ways regional varieties of French (and regional language
in Toulouse) are commodified and linked to place. In both
cities local gastronomy is a symbol of regional identity and
authenticity, however consumer targets are different and so
are the commodification strategies. For instance, while
gastronomy in Bordeaux is presented as a luxury and relies
on social prestige, Toulouse gastronomy promotes terroir
cuisine. In this way, when selling/promoting local produce,
speakers in Bordeaux may want to erase their southwestern
accent - perceived as funny and ridiculous by Parisians
(Pustka, 2011) - while those in Toulouse would emphasise
their regional features. Finally, although Bordeaux and
Toulouse are both historic homes to varieties of Occitan
(Gascon and Languedocien, respectively), Gascon has
disappeared entirely in Bordeaux, whereas Toulouse
maintains an explicit language policy promoting the visibility
and use of Languedocien. Bordeaux and Toulouse thus
diverge in terms of their social attitudes and language
norms, with Bordeaux converging towards Parisian prestige
norms, whereas Toulouse distances itself from them.
These differences raise a number of questions about the
relationship between language, place and identity. Given the
differences between Bordeaux and Toulouse, when and
under what conditions do people living in these locations rely
on linguistic regionalisms to add value to who they are and/or
what they sell? In addition, since urban and rural areas of
these regions do not display authenticity in the same ways
(e.g., production of local food in rural peripheries and their
sale in urban areas), what different strategies do urban vs
rural dwellers draw upon to convey and sell their own regional


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000703/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2322811 Studentship ES/P000703/1 01/10/2019 30/12/2023 Célia Chloé Richy