Triglossia in Luxembourg

H. Schiffman
Handout for SARS 673,
Multilingual Education in South/Southeast Asia

Luxembourg: A successful Triglossia.

``A minority language community is in the best position to resist language shift when it can maintain a diglossic functional differentiation between its own language (or languages) and that of the majority. This is most likely to obtain when the minority is indigenous and protected legally and economically before shift tendencies gather momentum." (Verdoodt 1972).

This paper begins with a quote from Verdoodt on the question of legal protection for linguistic minorities, which I have preferred to view as in fact legal protection for the linguistic domains of diglossic and triglossic linguistic cultures. As Verdoodt has pointed out, of the three polities he examined in his 1972 study (Belgium, Luxembourg and France), only Luxembourg carefully differentiates the functions of French, Hochdeutsch and Lëtzebuergesch. That is,

Not only that, Luxemburg requires even French-speaking immigrants to send their children to German primary schools, and citizenship is not possible for immigrants (of which there are a large number who speak Italian) who cannot demonstrate the ability to speak Lëtzebuergesch.

The various domains are clearly defined and the institutions of society (church, workplace, school, the press, etc.) have functioned within this system for several generations. The system obviously works very well for a number of reasons that we have already outlined.

The Luxembourg model is one that is viewed with nostalgia as a possible model for Alsace, and much of the literature on the question of Alsace calls for a solution much like the Luxembourg model, but without naming it specifically.


As we have seen from most of the examples adduced, there are few polities as successful as Luxembourg has been in maintaining a triglossic linguistic culture. Tamilnadu (and some other states in India) have been to a certain extent, but without the administrative measures in effect in Luxembourg, I would predict that a balanced triglossia may not continue. Tamil linguistic culture in Sri Lanka, however, faced with very different conditions, has seen the struggle as a life and death issue. One could probably see certain other examples of ethnic conflict as demonstrative of threatened triglossias; the circumstances surrounding the emergence of Bangladesh, once a part of Pakistan, essentially had to do with whether the H-variety should be dominated by Urdu, English, or by Bengali.

Harold Schiffman