In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Francoprovençal

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies
  • Bibliographies
  • Francoprovençal and the Question of Its Linguistic Borders
  • Francoprovençal and the Question of Its Origins: The Burgundian “Problem”
  • Francoprovençal and the Problem of Its Glottonym
  • Language Contact and Language Change
  • Linguistic Atlases and Other Resources

Linguistics Francoprovençal
Jonathan Kasstan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0157


Francoprovençal is the glottonym (language label) assigned by linguists to a severely endangered grouping of Romance varieties spoken traditionally in parts of France, Switzerland, and Italy. Francoprovençal is also maintained by some speakers in Canada and the United States. Francoprovençal faces many problems similar to those of other endangered minority varieties spoken in western Europe and elsewhere. For instance, traditional speech communities are in terminal decline; intergenerational transmission largely no longer takes place (save for parts of Italy and one remaining community in Switzerland); and language shift has long been underway in much of the Francoprovençal-speaking region. However, Francoprovençal can be characterized too as unique in the Romance literature, for this grouping of varieties was recognized only at the turn of the 20th century, though its borders have long since been contested. While Francoprovençal was proposed as a coherent grouping in 1874, it was not recognized in France until 1999. Other problems relate to its glottonym: while Francoprovençal is employed by linguists, most speakers refer to their varieties as patois (a geographically neutral label often used to refer to highly localized vernacular varieties). As a result, most native speakers have never affiliated with the wider linguistic system that linguists call Francoprovençal. However, in spite of its obvious decline, with a remaining speaker base of much less than 1 percent of the total regional population, it is also experiencing revitalization on the part of language activists, who militate for wider recognition and increased literacy. These speakers are very different in social and economic terms from traditional native speakers of Francoprovençal, and as such the current sociolinguistic climate in which these varieties are spoken is now beginning to change. Traditional linguistic practices are in flux, and issues pertaining to authenticity, legitimacy, and language ownership are now emerging. For instance, new speakers often refer to their varieties instead as Arpitan, rather than Francoprovençal or patois, and they militate for the linguistic unification of a region that has never known any unity, linguistic or otherwise. Owing to this changing sociolinguistic ecology, there has been a recent resurgence in academic interest in Francoprovençal, though very little of it written in English. Francoprovençal has traditionally been studied from the perspective of Romance philology and regional dialectology. However, more recently, contemporary sociolinguistic methods (e.g., variationist sociolinguistics, comparative sociolinguistics) have been put into operation in this context, too. This article, which adopts a sociolinguistic stance, places particular emphasis on these more recent studies.

General Overviews

Few concise publications paint a full picture of the history and status of the Francoprovençal varieties across all regions in which they are spoken. In particular, very little literature is available on the maintenance, structure, and status of heritage varieties of Francoprovençal spoken in North America, though see notably Nagy 2011 on varieties spoken in Toronto. Most, if not all, works on Francoprovençal acknowledge Graziadio Isaia Ascoli’s seminal publication “Schizzi franco-provenzali” (Ascoli 1878), which is widely accepted to be the first effort to demarcate the Francoprovençal varieties along the Gallo-Romance continuum. Ascoli’s foundational paper attracted significant criticism from the Parisian school of dialectologists at the time, as well as a strong following of Ascolian supporters (see Francoprovençal and the Question of Its Linguistic Borders). Although there are no full translations of this work, partial translations are available in Kasstan and Nagy 2018, which gives a general introduction to the Francoprovençal varieties spoken in Europe and North America. Monograph-length publications that give a general overview of European Francoprovençal include Stich 1998 and Tuaillon 2007, as well as the posthumous collection of papers Gardette 1983, which focuses mostly on Lyonnais and Forez varieties. Noteworthy overview articles on Francoprovençal include Martin 1990, Gardette 1974, Tuaillon 1972, and Tuaillon 1988.

  • Ascoli, Graziadio Isaia. 1878. Schizzi franco-provenzali. Archivio Glottologico Italiano 3.1: 61–120.

    The seminal publication (originally published 1874, republished 1878) on Francoprovençal, in which Ascoli first proposed the label franco-provenzali to refer to a coherent grouping of Romance varieties. The publication outlines his motivations for the demarcation of the Francoprovençal-speaking region, the borders of which are based on just one feature: the tensing of Latin tonic free A following a palatal consonant, a method widely criticized in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

  • Gardette, Pierre. 1974. Le francoprovençal: Son histoire, ses origines. In Actes du 5e Congrès international de langue et littérature d’oc et d’études francoprovençales, Nice, 6–12 septembre, 1967. Edited by Gérard Moignet and Roger Lassalle, 294–305. Publications de la Faculté des Lettres et des Sciences humaines de Nice 13. Paris: Les Belles Lettres.

    A conference-proceedings contribution that gives a very short, concise introduction to Francoprovençal, as well as some of the common debates in Francoprovençal linguistics, including the history of its borders, along with issues pertaining to regional dialect geography and language obsolescence.

  • Gardette, Pierre. 1983. Études de géographie linguistique. Paris: Klincksieck.

    A posthumous collection of articles with a broad scope, but mostly focusing on Lyonnais and Forézien varieties of Francoprovençal from the perspective of regional dialectology. Gardette was a pioneering figure in Francoprovençal linguistics, and he was among the first to advocate that these varieties owed their origins to processes of koinéization in the regional metropolis of Lugdunum (now Lyon) prior to the fall of the Roman Empire (see Francoprovençal and the Question of Its Origins: The Burgundian “Problem”).

  • Kasstan, Jonathan R., and Naomi Nagy, eds. 2018. Special issue: Francoprovençal in Europe and North America. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 249.

    The first special issue published in a peer-reviewed journal that is dedicated to Francoprovençal in all of it sites of use, including North America. The issue marshals a broad range of formal, sociolinguistic, and ethnographic methodologies to the study of linguistic change and language documentation. Contributions to the issue also include papers on language policy, pedagogy, and ethnolinguistic vitality.

  • Martin, Jean-Baptiste. 1990. Frankoprovenzalisch—Francoprovençal. In Lexikon der romanistischen Linguistik. Edited by Günter Holtus, Michael Metzeltin, and Christian Schmitt, 671–685. Tübingen, Germany: Max Niemeyer Verlag.

    A concise overview of the history of the debate surrounding Francoprovençal’s borders and criteria for demarcation. It also outlines the traditional proposals for a more concrete linguistic definition for Francoprovençal, following Ascoli 1878, which is based on Hasselrot’s conception (see Francoprovençal and the Question of Its Linguistic Borders). Martin summarizes debates associated with well-known francoprovençalistes as well as those authors opposed to the further demarcation along the Gallo-Romance continuum.

  • Nagy, Naomi. 2011. Lexical change and language contact: Faetar in Italy and Canada. Journal of Sociolinguistics 15.3: 366–382.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9841.2011.00488.x

    Heritage Faetar is maintained by roughly 2,000 speakers from, or with ancestors emanating from, Celle and Faeto (southern Italy). This paper explores lexical variation among twenty-four speakers, who are also bilingual in English, unlike their homeland counterparts.

  • Stich, Dominique. 1998. Parlons francoprovençal: Une langue méconnue. Paris: L’Harmattan.

    Stich gives a linguistic introduction to Francoprovençal for non-specialists and outlines the motivations and structure of his proposed supradialectal orthographical norm (see Orthography and Standardization). The volume also provides an impressive collection of literary pieces from across the Francoprovençal-speaking region.

  • Tuaillon, Gaston. 1972. Le francoprovençal: Progrès d’une définition. Travaux de Linguistique et de Littérature 10.1: 1–38.

    Gives a broad overview of the history of the debates on Francoprovençal, from Ascoli’s early conception to debates over the borders associated with these varieties. Tuaillon is known, in particular, for his work on more robust criteria for linguistic demarcation based on his principle of “l’oxytonisme généralisé” (based on the stress patterns of Francoprovençal).

  • Tuaillon, Gaston. 1988. Le franco-provençal: Langue oubliée. In Vingt-cinq communautés linguistiques de la France. Edited by Geneviève Vermes, 188–207. Paris: L’Harmattan.

    A sociolinguistic paper that covers topics on the history of Francoprovençal, language vitality, and the mutual intelligibility of Francoprovençal varieties.

  • Tuaillon, Gaston. 2007. Le francoprovençal. Vol. 1, Définition et délimitation, Phénomènes remarquables. Quart, Italy: Musumeci Éditeurs.

    Discusses the fundamental question of Francoprovençal as a legitimately demarcated grouping of varieties. In this first volume, Tuaillon considers a series of different linguistic phenomena that have been deployed in defense of these varieties, and each discussion is supported by linguistic atlas material.

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