Department of Modern Languages and Cultures


French and Francophone Studies 

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Olivia Walsh

Associate Professor in French and Francophone Studies, Faculty of Arts



BA (Limerick), MPhil (Oxon), PhD (Cantab).

Expertise Summary

My research interests are as follows: Linguistic purism in France and Quebec; language standardization; prescriptivism; language attitudes; language contact; historical sociolinguistics; heritage languages.

Teaching Summary

Over the past years, I have offered the following modules in French linguistics:

MLAC2200 Varieties of French

This second-year module explores different levels of linguistic variation in French both inside and outside France, focusing in particular on geographical variation; variation between standard and non-standard forms; variation in register and style; gender variation; and variation between oral and written forms. Linguistic and extra-linguistic reasons for this variation are examined and the module encourages students to evaluate the complex relationships between language, society, culture and power.

MLAC2177 Sociolinguistics: An Introduction

This second-year module is designed to introduce students to the field of Sociolinguistics, with particular focus on the French language. It explores the relationship between language and society through an examination of the social contexts of language use. Topics include language variation across age, gender and social class; language and identity; language attitudes; bilingualism and diglossia; and language and politeness.

R13158 Language Contact and French

This fourth-year module provides an introduction to the field of language contact by examining instances of contact between French and other languages across the world. Topics include code-switching; the emergence of pidgins and creoles; language shift and death; linguistic borrowing; the shaping of attitudes towards language; and language planning. These topics are explored both generally, using examples from several different languages, and also more specifically in relation to the French language in contact with other languages in France and further afield.

MLAC3083 French 3

On this module, I contribute to teaching French language to fourth-year students.

MLAC3089 Dissertation in French Studies

On this module, I supervise students who choose to undertake a final-year dissertation in the area of linguistics or sociolinguistics.

I also contribute to postgraduate modules in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures, including MLAC4017 Research Skills and CULT4058 Mastering the Arts.

Postgraduate supervision: I currently supervise students working on sociolinguistic projects relating to French, Breton, Chinese, and Cebuano (an Austronesian language spoken in the Philippines) and I have previously supervised projects on different aspects of sociolinguistics and historical sociolinguistics in French and German.

I welcome enquiries about supervising undergraduate and postgraduate dissertations in any of the areas listed above, or any of the areas mentioned in my research summary.

Research Summary

I am currently working on two research projects. First, with Dr Thomas Godard, I am working with the French-language community in the UK, examining in particular the role of supplementary French… read more

Recent Publications

  • OLIVIA WALSH and EMMA HUMPHRIES, 2023. Metaphor as a Manifestation of Prescriptivism: The Case of France and Quebec. In: BEAL, JOAN C., MORANA LUKAČ and ROBIN STRAAIJER, eds., The Routledge Handbook of Prescriptivism Routledge. 427-446
  • OLIVIA WALSH, 2022. Discourse Analysis of Print Media. In: RUTH KIRCHER and LENA ZIPP, eds., Research Methods in Language Attitudes Cambridge University Press. 19-34
  • WALSH, O., ed., 2021. In the Shadow of the Standard. Standard Language Ideology and Attitudes towards Non-Standard Varieties and Usages Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development. (In Press.)
  • PANO ALAMÁN, A., F. RUGGIANO and O. WALSH, eds., 2021. Les idéologies linguistiques : langues et dialectes dans les médias traditionnels et nouveaux Peter Lang.

Current Research

I am currently working on two research projects. First, with Dr Thomas Godard, I am working with the French-language community in the UK, examining in particular the role of supplementary French language schools in language maintenance and support. French is generally viewed as a modern foreign language and French speakers in the UK as a socially prestigious group located mainly in London. However, the French-speaking population in the UK is socially, geographically, and linguistically more diverse/complex than this narrow perception suggests. Our project examines whether there are grounds for treating this population as a heritage language community needing support for language maintenance/intergenerational transmission. Heritage languages are usually understood to be non-dominant languages spoken by immigrant communities. For Francophone immigrants in the UK who do not all use the 'standard' variety, French often functions like a heritage language. This dual status of French in the UK has been overlooked in research to date. We are currently examining the language practices/attitudes of parents, students and teachers in supplementary French schools across the UK, and also in the US. We are also working with a heritage language school to implement a programme of teaching that introduces the notion of language variation into the classroom. We are carrying out attitudinal surveys both before and after the implementation of this teaching programme which should allow us to determine whether it may lead to a change in attitudes towards variation in French, specifically, towards non-standard French.

I am currently also participating in the large corpus-based project « Corpus des remarques sur la langue française » (Classiques Garnier) under the direction of Professor Wendy Ayres-Bennett. This corpus contains a selection of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century volumes of remarks on the French language. The text of these volumes is available in both digitized and image form, which allows them to be analysed at different levels, including analysis of authors, cited texts and metalanguage, for example. I prepared the text Les Gasconismes corrigés (Degrouais 1766) for inclusion in the corpus and I am currently preparing a critical edition of this text.

Past Research

Leverhulme ECF

In December 2018, I completed a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship project. For this project, I collected a corpus of French language columns (newspaper columns discussing language) dating from the early to the late 20th century and began the process of digitizing these to create the first online corpus of 20th-century French language columns from France. Over the course of the project, I carried out a detailed qualitative analysis of this corpus, and the results of this analysis have led to the publication of a special issue and several book chapters. These works examine questions such as how attitudes towards the French language in France have changed over time; how metalanguage is used to (re)produce attitudes towards the French language; how metaphor has been used in language columns to reflect language attitudes; how authors of language columns create the authority necessary to make pronouncements about the language; how standard language ideology has affected the attitudes towards the French language displayed in Québécois language columns over the course of the 20th century; and how language columns have contributed to a purist discourse in Quebec.

PhD research

My PhD compared language purism (LP) in France and Quebec by examining language ideology at three different levels: 1. the current government-led language planning in both places; 2. the activity and metalinguistic discourse of several online French language societies; and 3. the attitudes of individual speakers towards French. It has been published as a monograph (2016), and also led to two articles and a book chapter (see 'Publications'). My research has made three key contributions to the fields of LP and sociolinguistics. First, it was the first empirically-based study of LP to compare purism at both the official level and the level of individual speakers, thereby contributing to our understanding of LP in France/Quebec and, more broadly, to our understanding of how LP can vary at different levels of society. Second, it showed that, contrary to common belief, France is far less purist than Quebec in terms of 'external' purism (aimed at foreign words), but displays a higher level of 'internal' purism (the correct implementation of French prescriptive norms). This is significant because it shows that official language intervention (e.g. the purist linguistic legislation in France) does not necessarily have any real impact on the attitudes/behaviour of the general speech community. Third, my work was the first to apply to empirical data the only available theoretical framework for discussing/measuring LP, namely George Thomas's 1991 Linguistic Purism, and I refined and further developed this framework, thereby enhancing the theoretical underpinnings of the field.

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