“Je suis circonflexe”: grassroots prescriptivism and orthographic reform
This paper addresses the role of bottom-up prescriptive pressures in language policy debates and their interplay with institution-driven, top-down influences. I approach this issue through an analysis of social media data concerning debates surrounding recent orthographic reform in France. Building on Heyd’s (Lang Soc 43: 489–514, 2014) discussion of grassroots prescriptivism, I illustrate how French speakers on Twitter oppose the suggested changes through a set of common strategies. I argue that these strategies largely hinge upon the mobilization of particular discourses, especially that of the ideal French speaker. This ideal French speaker is presented as a figure with which speakers in opposition to the reforms may align themselves, thus casting those in favour of the reform as “bad” French speakers. The dynamic in these social media discourses shifts the traditional balance of prescriptivist power away from the institutional level and toward the public. I conclude by arguing that prescriptivist ideologies need to be understood in terms of the interaction of top-down and bottom-up pressures, and in this context the role of policymakers in language planning projects becomes more challenging.
KeywordsLanguage policy Language planning French/France Orthographic reform Grassroots prescriptivism Social media
The author would like to thank Rakesh Bhatt, Doug Kibbee, and the Language in Society Discussion Group (UIUC) for their helpful feedback on early drafts of this paper, as well as the three anonymous reviewers for their suggestions and insights. Any remaining errors are my own.
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