School of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies

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Olivia Walsh

Assistant 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 contact; historical sociolinguistics.

Teaching Summary

In 2013-2014, I offered the following modules in French linguistics:

R12087 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.

R12092 Linguistic Variation in French

This second-year module explores different levels of linguistic variation in French, both in France and further afield. It examines how the French language can vary at the lexical, syntactic, morphological and phonological levels, focusing on geographical variation both within and outside France; variation between standard and non-standard forms; variation in register and style; and variation between oral and written forms.

R13153 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.

R11026 Introduction to French and Francophone Studies

I also contribute to the linguistics section of this first-year core module, which introduces topics in French linguistics, politics, history, thought, French and Francophone literature, visual culture and cinema.

Research Summary

My Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship project (which commenced in September 2015) will provide the first comparative history of linguistic purism in France and Quebec from 1865-2000. A detailed… read more

Recent Publications

Current Research

My Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship project (which commenced in September 2015) will provide the first comparative history of linguistic purism in France and Quebec from 1865-2000. A detailed qualitative analysis of of a corpus of newspaper columns discussing language from the period will allow me to examine how differences between France and Quebec in the development of the standard language, and in the social, economic and political spheres, may have led to differing types and degrees of purism. The project will develop the first theoretical framework for the diachronic study of LP and create and exploit a new digital research resource, namely an online corpus of French language columns for the period 1865-2000.

I am 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. The corpus already contains a selection of seventeenth-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. This corpus is now being enlarged with further texts from both the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. I have prepared the text Les Gasconismes corrigés (Degrouais 1766) for inclusion in the corpus and am also preparing a critical edition of this text.

Past 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 now been revised for publication as a monograph (2016), and has 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.

School of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies

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