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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton December 3, 2013

“Critical diglossia” and “lifestyle diglossia”: development and the interaction between multilingualism, cultural diversityand English

Mukul Saxena EMAIL logo


This article critically explores the classical notion of the concept of diglossia in order to re-examine its role in the study of language shift and attrition, particularly in terms of the role English is playing as part of national development and 21st century globalization. It draws on Fishman's extended definition of “diglossia” and adds to it (a) a critical perspective from the Sociolinguistics of Periphery and (b) Omoniyi's (this issue) distinction between linguistic capital and language capital. This partially allows for a reconceptualization of diglossia into “critical diglossia” that foregrounds the hegemonic “historical-structural” arrangements in language planning and policy in the study of language shift and attrition. As a further extension, the proposed concept also incorporates the role of agency and argues for development of diglossia from below, in addition to being imposed from above. The new theoretical conceptualization is then empirically applied to understand the linguistically significant generalizations of patterns of linguistic practices in a small nation state in Southeast Asia that correlate strongly with language shift and attrition. It is argued that both majority and minority indigenous languages are experiencing attrition in form and function under the pressure of modernization and contemporary forces of globalization, amongst which English is one significant factor. This language attrition is explained with the help of another proposed concept “lifestyle diglossia” which has emerged from the data. This new concept reveals that a critical appraisal of people's everyday practices highlights an asymmetrical relationship between traditional and modern lifestyles as well as associated identities which explains the attrition in the dominant local language. English is only one of the attributes of what is perceived and followed as the modern lifestyle. The data set for this article is drawn from a long-term ethnographic study of macro and micro sociolinguistic issues in a nation state in Southeast Asia collected as part of a series of research projects.

University of Nottingham Ningbo

Published Online: 2013-12-3
Published in Print: 2014-1-1

©[2014] by Walter de Gruyter Berlin Boston

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