Triglossia in Luxembourg
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).
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
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,
- German is the language of
elementary education, religion, and journalism;
- French is the
language of secondary education, official usage, government
burocracy, street signage, and a few others, while
though functioning as the only L-variety (i.e. as the language of the home,
street, work place, etc.) is also an admissible variety for addressing
Parliament. This gives it a special cachet as the language of the
people, which also legitimizes it with a special status not possessed by the
Not only that, Luxemburg requires even French-speaking
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.
- Legal Protection: Triglossia in Luxembourg is
protected by legal and administrative measures. No one, not
even immigrants, is exempted from the regulations governing the
usage of various codes. No one may become a citizen without a
knowledge of Lëtzebuergesch.
- Functional differentiation; The various domains
are clearly defined and societal institutions (church,
workplace, school, etc.) have functioned within this system for
- Geography: The two competing H-varieties receive
support not only from the above modalities, but by virtue of
Luxembourg's position on the linguistic border between two large
(and in the past very competitive) linguistic cultures they are
supported by the neighboring polities, rather than threatened by
them. Citizens can travel either into French territory or German
territory without having to sacrifice anything, and the influx of
tourists or the influence of the media (television in particular)
are not disruptive of the balance already achieved.
- Homogeneity: The speech community and the
culture are homogeneous; all citizens know L-variety;
all citizens are treated equally by the legal and administrative
regulations governing domains of various varieties. Any persons
resident in the territory not sharing in the values of the
linguistic culture are de facto not members of the speech
community, and no threat to the existing order.
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.
- Hoffmann, Fernand. 1981. Triglossia in Luxemburg.
In Einar Haugen, J.D. McClure, and D. Thomson (eds.), Minority
Languages Today. Edinburgh: University Press.
- Schiffman, Harold F.
1993: ``The Balance of Power in Multiglossic Languages: Implications
for Language Shift." 1993. Language and
Power, Carol M. Eastman (ed.), International Journal of the
of Language 103:115-148.
- Verdoodt, A. 1972. ``The Differential Impact of
French Speakers on Indigenous German Speakers; A Case Study
in the Light of Two Theories." in Fishman 1972, pp 377-385.