Diglossia is a situation in which two languages exist in a single community and the use of one or other language is dependent on different conditions. One language is considered the ‘high’ language and the other considered as a ‘low’ language. It is used by people to classify the main (High) language and sub (Low) language used by separate communities differently. ‘High’ language is used in the public, formal and learned domain. The ‘Low’ language is spoken in a more popular and intimate domain. Though it is a broad term that refers to bilingualism and bidialectal speech, bilingual or bidialectal individuals must live in a community where two languages are spoken based on different situations/context. According to Eckert “Diglossia does not exist if the bilingual individual does not experience diglossia in their own speech habits” .
Diglossia is a situation in which two languages or dialects are used by the same community. I didn’t know the meaning of this word before, but after reading its definition I came to know that I have experienced diglossia since my childhood. I am from Pakistan. During Britain ruled Pakistani and Indians spoke different languages. Persian was a formal language or high language, and Urdu was spoken by communities and considered a low language. People switch languages depending on the people who they are speaking to.
After getting independence, Urdu language was spoken in cities while Punjabi was a village language. People usually speak Punjabi at home. Urdu is considered a high language and Punjabi is considered a low language. I speak both languages and I switch my dialect depending on who I am speaking too. I have experienced racism because I didn’t switch. it’s been long, I have moved to the United States. I only speak Punjabi at home, so my Urdu is not that good. When I visited Pakistan last year, I faced difficulty in speaking Urdu. So, I started speaking Punjabi in public. People started looking down on me. You are considered illiterate if you speak Punjabi outside.
The country where I grew up is called Nepal. Nepal has very unique geography, Nepal is divided into three regions: mountainous regions, hilly regions and plains. Nepal used to have 123 reported languages and in 2019 six new languages were discovered and now there are 129 reported languages. The main reason for so many languages to exist is because it’s unique geography, there are many hills and mountains which separate many cities and villages. There are clusters of groups which speak similar languages but because of separation of many groups of people, each cluster of groups that speak their own languages. The main(High) language is Nepali and the low languages are a different language spoken by different groups. The high language is used in school, public places or cities, and with other people not from their community. Nepali is the official language and other languages are considered as the language of the nation because the constitution of Nepal states “all languages spoken as the mother tongues in Nepal are the languages of the nation”.
The place where I grew up consists of a cluster of 12 villages and they share the same language but each village has their own accents and dialects. I code-switch From my language and Nepali all the time. When I was little I used to speak Nepali I had my accent which was often mocked by others. I am more fluent in Nepali than my own mother tongue because I grew up mostly in a city where people do not speak my but speak Nepali and their own language.
Diglossia is a term that I am exposed to almost everyday. Despite being from a diverse city and growing up in a predominantly black/hispanic neighborhood, the way that I speak English is still seen as anything but good. Though I haven’t witnessed or experienced first-hand the way people discriminate against AAVE, it’s all over the internet and on mainstream media. Today, AAVE is seen as both “Gen Z slang” and “Twitter stan language”, when other non-black people speak it, then AAVE is used because it’s trendy. Once the hype of using it dies down, it no longer is “funny” and becomes “overused” which is still a negative correlation to the dialect, as people are essentially mocking it. The dialect has always been correlated with us as “ghetto”, and many of us have been looked at as less than intelligent for speaking it. This discrimination actively prevents us from attaining good jobs and this judgement has cause us to use “code-switching”. By speaking “proper” we are seen as equals in the eyes of others (others being white people), and we are given access to more opportunities that should have already been available regardless of how we speak. This greatly diminishes the value of our dialect and may lead some to abandon it all together.
An example of diglossia that I could relate to is from my mother’s dialect and my family history because my family is from the Island of Dominica. It is one of the Caribbean Islands between Martinque and Guadeloupe that was colonized by both the French and the British. In Dominica, English is the official language or the main language that is spoken. It is the only language that is taught in schools, however many other languages are considered low languages and are often spoken among the people more casually. For example, my mother learned Dominican Creole among the villagers and she spoke it with her family sometimes.
Over generations, less and less people have taught their children Creole because they wanted them to learn the English. However, many Dominicans are making the effort to keep the Creole dialect alive because it is wrong to consider any language as inferior to another.
Diglossia exists in every country, since different groups in the countries have a couple of different languages. All languages are not treated equally. Some are considered a high language and some considered a low language. There is a hierarchy between high language and low language.There are stereotypes and stigma attached to low language. If one speaks a low language in public one is considered illiterate or not smart enough. Oftentimes because of these prejudices people from low language communities are forced to speak mostly the high language which often cause one to forget or lose their own mother tongue. This experience is similar to people in Hawaii who speak Pidgin and are forced to speak ‘standard English’ instead of Pidgin.