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diglossia | diglossie | Diglossie


Diglossia is defined as the coexistence, in the same language community, of two different linguistic varieties that are not on the same level, as in the case of bilingualism, but are functionally distinct. One of the two varieties is the “high” (H) one, generally standardised, more prestigious, taught and learned in schools, and used in formal and official contexts, contrasting with the other variety, the “low” (L) one, usually corresponding to the native language of the speakers, confined to familiar and informal contexts (see Ferguson 1959).

In the Italian tradition, a more fine-grained distinction has been introduced by Berruto (1987) between diglossia and dilalia, the latter referring to a situation in which the “high” and the “low” varieties frequently interchange in the informal domains, in contrast to the strict functional distinction between the two varieties that one would expect in a diglossia situation. This perfectly describes, e.g., the relationship between the Standard Italian variety and the different Italo-Romance dialects spoken in Italy.


In the case of the languages of the 2nd and 1st millennium BCE Anatolia, it is a difficult task to identify assured situations of diglossia, because we often lack data on the contexts of use of the different language varieties employed in a given community and, more generally, many social aspects of the ancient communities are difficult to reconstruct.

Although there have been some attempts to describe in terms of diglossia the relationship, e.g., between Hittite (H) and Luwian (L) in the Empire period (implicitly, perhaps, Rosenkranz 1938, who regarded Hittite as a merely “Hof- und Amtssprache” and Luwian as the “Umgangssprache”; more explicitly, although with caution, van den Hout 2007), or between Ancient Greek (H) and the different epichoric languages of Anatolia (L) in the 1st millennium BCE (see, e.g., Magnelli and Petrantoni 2020 on Sidetic), the actual situations, as far as we can see from the data, were probably more complex than a clear-cut distinction between a high variety for official uses and a low variety employed in informal contexts.


Berruto, Gaetano (1987), Lingua, dialetto, diglossia, dilalìa, in: G. Holtus and J. Kramer (eds.), Romania et Slavia adriatica. Festschrift für Zarko Muljačić, Hamburg: Buske, pp. 57–81. van den Hout, Theo P.J. (2007), Institutions, Vernaculars, Publics: The Case of Second-Millennium Anatolia, in S.L. Sanders (ed.), Margins of Writings, Origins of Cultures, Second Printing with Postscripts and Minor Corrections (Oriental Institute Seminars 2), Chicago: The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, pp. 221–262. Ferguson, Charles A. (1959), Diglossia, Word 15, pp. 325–340. Magnelli, Adalberto and Petrantoni, Giuseppe (2020), La dedica in greco e sidetico di Seleucia (S6): un caso di diglossia?, Erga-Logoi 8, pp. 77–87. Rosenkranz, Bernhard (1938), Die Stellung des Luwischen im Ḫatti-Reiche, Indogermanische Forschungen 56, pp. 265–84.