Destandardization is not destandardization | Amsterdam University Press Journals Online
Volume 68, Issue 2
  • ISSN: 0039-8691
  • E-ISSN: 2215-1214



The growing variability in Europe’s standard languages has spawned widely shared accounts of destandardization, as well as premonitions of the death of the very idea of a standard language. In this paper, we propose an alternative to these views by demonstrating that the ‘classical’ standardness criteria (uniformity, prestige, codification) have become too narrow to define standard varieties in our Late Modern era of democratization and digitalization. Rather than rejecting these criteria as invalid, however, we revise them in function of contemporary standard language dynamics. Building on corpus data and (especially) experimental perception data, we will show (1) that the overt prestige which is typical of standard languages has extended to include other types of superiority (such as media cool or dynamism), (2) that the uniformity believed to manifest itself in the absence of variation can also surface as ‘perceptual harmony’ (an intuitive agreement on how much socially meaningful variation is admissible in specific contexts), and (3) that codification as the referee of right and wrong in standard languages is being complemented with public media licensing. The three extensions are grounded in a conception of standard languages as vital (not virtual), and multi-indexical (not just neutral or traditionally prestigious) varieties. Applied to the standard language situation in the Low Countries, they reveal that more varieties than VRT-Dutch and Neutral Netherlandic Standard Dutch can claim standard status.


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